How Fostering a More Purposeful Workplace Community Drives Collaboration and Retention
The events of the past several years have caused tremendous upheaval at any company with a physical office. Prior to March 2020, the office was rarely something considered, it just was. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced knowledge workers into remote work, companies adapted. But much like the office was a one-size-fits-all space, so too was remote work. With everyone offsite, companies didn’t have to consider all the options. Now, however, hybrid work has introduced new challenges, particularly around how companies can maintain culture and develop community when worker schedules are more fragmented than ever before.
Remote work is here to stay, and anyone who says otherwise isn’t caught up with current trends. Flexible schedules or remote options are the top ideal workplace qualities for 2022, according to a global worker study. Further, 76% of employees prefer to work in a hybrid environment, coming to the office a few days a week while working elsewhere the rest of the time.
For Elena Beloshapkova, EY’s 2019 Businesswoman of the Year and founder and CEO at inspace, this preference for flexible and hybrid work is an opportunity for companies to retain high-performing talent — but only if companies are willing to put in the work. “We need to reevaluate how the office fits into our lives,” Beloshapkova said. “Then, offices can be redesigned to nurture employee collaboration and camaraderie. This is our mission at inspace: to transform offices into purposeful spaces that focus on creating the best employee experience possible.”
We spoke to Beloshapkova on how organizations can build workplace community in hybrid environments, what needs to change from the way things are and why organizations should prioritize community building.
Changes for Leadership: Overcommunication
Visibility is a challenge for hybrid working. Although productivity increases with remote work, managers and leaders might not see the fruits’ of workers’ labor when they aren’t directly in the office. When employees are offsite, leaders don’t have the visibility or opportunity for spontaneous conversations that they would otherwise in an office setting.
Beloshapkova argues that for better visibility, leaders need to be purposeful about communicating with their teams and take advantage of the technology tools available to them. “We see three main challenges to developing workplace community in a hybrid environment: miscommunication, unrealistic expectations and lack of communication. There’s plenty to account for surrounding hybrid work — from workers in different time zones to contrasting generational attitudes about remote work. Leaders should overcommunicate to mitigate these challenges and ensure they’re being heard by all employees.”
Beloshapkova continued, “Technology has changed how we connect with one another. Technology can be used to its full potential to make sure all employees are being heard.” From video calls to Slack channels, leaders have plenty of ways to reach their teams. And incorporating the little touches that tools bring — online notifications, posted working hours, hashtags and so much more — allows leaders to connect with employees in a more purposeful way and increase visibility.
Changes for the Office: Deliberate Collaboration
With the increase in remote and hybrid working, the office is no longer a place where people go by default. Thus, the office needs a new strategy to determine how best to use it as a human-centric space. Having a flexible work-from-home policy is the start of reimagining how the office is used. “Setting up specific office days for collaboration can transform the office into a pace of deliberate collaboration and bring back some of the camaraderie that may have been missed with entirely remote work,” said Beloshapkova.
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A reimagining of the office brings about more opportunities to use technology to foster workplace community. “Managers, leaders and employees all need to know who’s in the office at the time, to maximize collaboration and prevent a situation where people commute to the office for nothing,” said Beloshapkova. “Tools that allow employees to see who’s in the office can help prevent miscommunication. Research says that 46% of employees already use technology in a hybrid environment. Thoughtful technology use can help reimagine the office into a place of purposeful collaboration.”
How Community Positively Affects Retention
The benefits of purposeful communication, office design and community building are numerous. At the forefront, organizations that prioritize workplace community can expect greater retention rates of their top talent. “We hear it all the time: people don’t quit bad jobs, they quit bad managers,” Beloshapkova said. “Generating manager buy-in to hybrid workspaces sets the workplace free from antiquated thinking and gives employees the freedom to craft their own jobs that work best for them.”
Hybrid work has a positive effect not only on employees, but on the bottom line as well. “Engaged employees are 17% more productive and suffer less burnout than their peers,” Beloshapkova said. Giving employees choice, flexibility and the tools to do their best work will benefit the company many times over.
When properly nurtured, workplace community has an outsized effect on employee retention and can be used as a recruiting tool and brand differentiator to potential talent. Employees want to work for companies that prioritize their well-being and companies benefit from having a strong workplace culture and community that comes from a purposeful hybrid workplace strategy.
“It’s everyone’s job to provide all team members with the tools to do their best work,” Beloshapkova said. “Even though it’s quite challenging, employees and managers will all benefit from embracing the new hybrid world of work. Change is never easy, but having a strong workplace community is beneficial if done right with the right tools; it empowers your workers and managers.”
Learn how inspace can help develop community at your workplace at inspace.app.
About the Author
Tim is the senior manager of research and content for Simpler Media Group. In his role he writes content, market guides and data-driven research reports for all of SMG’s internal and external clients.