By Rachel Kaplowitz, CEO of Honey
Take a moment, and think about what makes you happy.
No, really. Visualize the times throughout your life that you’ve been truly happy. Are you alone, or are you with friends, loved ones, or peers?
Humans are social animals, and we thrive on social contact, whether we’re at home or at work. Even those of us who enjoy solitude need to feel included. Company executives know they want their employees to feel happy and included at work, but their effort to build such a community can feel forced or even artificial.
However, there are a few straightforward steps you can take to build community naturally. We’ll examine the meaning of community at work, the financial benefits community can bring to your company, and the difference between community and culture. We’ll also take a look at how some real companies have built community and how you can do the same at yours.
What Is Community at Work?
Community at work is the honest, organic expression of a company’s values and internal relationships. People commonly mistake workplace culture and community, but they’re very different concepts.
A company’s culture is the values and ideals outlined by the executive leadership, often by the founders. As Claudia Fry of Fivestars puts it:
A culture is imposed. It's established by the company and employees are expected to be a part of it, to participate, even if it doesn't fit their style or personality. Culture is about the company, and how you as an employee fit within it.
On the other hand, community is more grassroots. Community reflects the values of the employees that make up a workforce, and that community changes and evolves with a workforce over time. If culture is the leadership’s idea of how people should think and behave, then community is the true manifestation of those thoughts and behaviors.
Don’t get us wrong — both culture and community at work are important. Companies need a culture to aspire to and take direction from. But culture can take a company only so far, and it’s difficult to maintain a culture as a company scales. Think of it like a game of telephone, where a message passed down a row of people changes over time.
In the workplace, as people and departments come and go, what started as a cohesive set of guidelines evolves over time as is passed down through memos and layers of management.
Benefits of Community at Work
Keeping employees happy is a no-brainer. Happy employees demonstrate 31% higher productivity. People are happier at work when they feel included in a community of their peers, making them less likely to quit. Employees who don’t feel like they fit in are 12% more likely to seek work elsewhere. On the other hand, happy team members spend more time on tasks than unhappy employees and take 43% fewer sick days.
So how do you make employees happy? Facilitate connections between them, and make them feel like they are part of a community. McKinsey research shows that companies connected by social technologies demonstrate increased productivity of up to 25%. That means companies that use intranets and other forms of technology to foster communication are more productive. With that in mind, the approach to building community in this article is not just ideological but also practical and technological.
Four Tips for Building Community at Work
Follow these four guidelines to build a stronger sense of community at work.
1. Make Employees Part of the Conversation
Employees are expected to adapt to a company and its culture. However, it’s equally important that a company learn about and listen to its employees. To build community, companies need to make a place for each employee, where they feel heard, understood, and involved.
An EY Belonging Barometer study revealed that 39% of respondents felt a sense of belonging when their colleagues checked in on how they were doing. The same study indicated that 56% of respondents felt they belonged most at work when they felt trusted and respected.
It’s not typically feasible for C-suite executives to have a close relationship with hundreds or thousands of employees. Middle managers are instrumental in learning about employees and integrating them into the overall workplace community.
It’s not as easy as it sounds to facilitate conversation between employees. Email is not well-suited to building rapport, and traditional intranets aren’t much better. The outdated user interfaces of older forms of workplace communication don’t foster a comfortable user experience, and this can get in the way of natural conversations.
Honey was designed to solve this problem, and the company director at Six Black Pens pointed out that Honey was easy to adopt due to its alignment with products employees use outside of work.
The Australian-based team at Six Black Pens uses Honey to stay connected as the company scales, with a user interface designed to organize evergreen resources as well as distribute company-wide and team-specific updates.
By encouraging all members of a company to share updates (not just a small intranet management team), a community forms naturally, and employees feel more connected to the company.
2. Encourage Colleagues to Share Their Skills
Everyone has something to teach, and allowing employees to share their skills and knowledge is validating for them and rewarding for everyone involved. In fact, people often prefer to learn through colleagues rather than more official channels.
An Italian study entitled “Building Communities of Practice that work” studied apprenticeships and skill-sharing and found that learning in the workplace wasn’t simply a 1:1 experience — it was shared.
For example, the study showed that technicians attempting to solve a problem were more likely to consult colleagues before turning to official materials, such as handbooks. The researchers concluded that “learning is a social fact, pushed by involvement and participation in a practice.”
Rather than a top-down approach to learning, where one person dictates the learning materials, a bottom-up collaborative learning approach gives everyone a say in what to learn and how to learn it. Encourage your workforce to conduct peer-led seminars, courses, and skills workshops; peer-to-peer training; and peer feedback. Collaborative learning has many benefits, not least of which is the faster pace of learning among employees.
Bolt Threads, a company with approximately 100 employees, uses Honey to share information and brainstorm solutions in a collaborative environment.
As with all tips on how to build community, the easier you make it to share information, the more effective your efforts to build community at work will be.
3. Maximize Engagement and Strengthen Bonds
In a strong work community, employees don’t simply share the minimum amount of information they need to do their jobs — they talk to each other. They’re enthusiastic about being a part of the company, and it shows. The level at which employees demonstrate enthusiasm and interact is measured by engagement, and all companies would do well to evaluate and foster high engagement within their ranks. The average rate of engagement is 71% — but you can do better.
Companies can build engagement with activities such as remote watercooler meetings, where employees can chat about anything they like, as long as it’s not work-related. Setting up chat rooms related to a particular theme, such as sports, crafts, or other hobbies, is another great way to connect like-minded people based on their passions and interests.
Giving transparent group assessments also builds engagement. A study showed that companies that assessed employees and gave them access to their assessments had an average employee engagement rate of 87%, compared to just 64% for those without access.
Beauty Barrage is a distributed company with over 300 employees. A company spokesperson said they used Honey to significantly raise engagement and strengthen the bonds between employees, many of whom had never met each other in person.
Honey gives employees at Beauty Barrage a place to get quick answers, access important documents, and share ideas and inspiration. Most importantly, Honey has helped the vibrant Beauty Barrage community emerge in a visible and accessible way, making it easy for employees to get to know their colleagues and better connect to the company mission and vision.
4. Facilitate Group Activities Outside of the Workplace
One of the best ways to build community in a company is to encourage employees to spend time with each other after work. While many companies organize official team-building exercises, these exercises don’t appeal to everyone. For those who prefer less socialization, frequent mandatory outings can be stressful.
Research shows that team-building exercises are ineffective, with no evidence to suggest that traditional team-building efforts lead to better workplace interactions. In fact, many commonly used corporate team-building exercises can even be counterproductive. These exercises often involve sports or other activities outside of some people’s comfort zones, and that can lead to feelings of exclusion and resentment.
Team-building exercises are no substitute for genuine socializing. If a company has followed the tips from section 3 about building engagement in a company, odds are that employees already communicate their shared interests to each other. Now, they just need a way to organize group activities, either in person or remotely.
Unbabel, a company with over 170 employees, commented on the importance of building relationships between employees to bring them together as a team.
Facilitating group communication without making it mandatory fosters friendship, collaboration, and trust, all of which contribute to community at work.
Form Your Own Community
If you’re reading about building community at work, you’ve already taken the first step. It takes just a few people willing to make an effort in order for a thriving workplace community to grow. When people see that their company and their coworkers care about their happiness, they inevitably respond positively, and that benefits everyone involved.
To learn more about how you can use Honey to build community at your company, all you need to do is get in touch.