Social belongingness is a fundamental human need. It is how we label and identify ourselves. The families, cities, countries that we belong to, the spiritual groups we identify with, the charities we support, our political party allegiance, the sports clubs we cheer for - all of these are forms of belonging that are basic to our identities. It serves our need to feel accepted, form social connections and helps build an identity.
Belongingness in a work environment is important to encourage organizational commitment, engagement and dedication. For the same reasons, it is essential to create a conducive and inclusive work environment for employees working remotely.
1. Communicate frequently and openly: One of the main activities that help us bond is talking, however, we miss out on the little chats and catch-ups that make us feel like we are part of a group while working remotely. Allowing employees to freely and frequently talk to each other fosters a sense of closeness and gives them a channel to also share their grievances, promotes honesty and an openness among co-workers. Along with free communication, encourage employees to take time out to discuss mundane, everyday issues. This helps to validate others and feel validated.
2. Enable flexibility of time: When working remotely there are many factors in an employee’s immediate environment that will need their attention. Allowing flexibility of time enables employees to work at their own pace and schedule meetings based on availability. Strict restrictions on time could lead to stress or inefficient work.
3. Establish trust: The lack of being physically present to deliver on outcomes can lead to worry in the employer’s mind about the quantum and quality of work being done. Studies have shown that employees perform their best when expectations on work to be done has been set and a clear line of how to communicate during times of doubts and completion status has been established. Focusing on the process being performed and helping the employee perform their best helps build on that trust. Once the employees have earned it, trust them to do the work designated to them.
4. Encourage follow-up & feedback: Follow-up ensures that all the work done for the company is being reviewed, thus, establishing its importance and relevance. Feedback promotes the sharing of knowledge, provides space for self-improvement and learning. Everyone likes to know how they add value to the company and how they can further streamline their efforts for optimum benefit.
5. Openly acknowledge and appreciate each other: It is human nature to seek validation and appreciation from people who live or work closely to us. Appreciate coworkers for their contribution, input and everything they bring to the table. This strengthens team spirit and helps one to identify as an integral part of a bigger unit. However, when expressing appreciation always ensure that it is relevant and genuine.
The downsides to working in isolation is the lack of connection, decreased work/life balance, impaired relationships among coworkers and an increase in distractions. Creating belongingness helps to eliminate or decrease side effects that isolation has on the work community. Belongingness at work is important because it significantly improves job performance, reduces employee turnover and reduces overall leaves taken during the year.
Devi Mani is the founder of Skooc, a health tech start-up focused on children's health and well being. Prior to starting Skooc, she worked in global giants such as GE Capital, IBM, Target and Hewlett Packard.