Connecting Beyond the Camera: Creating Community in a Virtual Landscape

Connecting Beyond the Camera: Creating Community in a Virtual Landscape

It is January 2023, nearly three years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that altered business as usual in our professional worlds. There was an abrupt shift in operations for many of us; we whirled in uncertainty for some time, re-writing the rules as we went. It is clear to us now that the landscape of the workplace has been permanently altered as remote work opportunities seem here to stay.  

Many employees find remote work favorable for several reasons – accessibility for underrepresented workers, flexible work hours, reallocation of time usually spent commuting, reduced emissions and vehicle congestion on the roads- yet identify feelings of social disconnect from their coworkers, contributing to a diminished sense of community in the workplace. Though some employees may not perceive a disconnect and find these conditions favorable, others may find a deteriorated sense of community consequential to their overall feelings of job satisfaction. 

Community in the workplace is cultivated by a shared sense of purpose and camaraderie in an environment where employees feel seen and heard. Although remote work landscapes have redirected our avenues for spontaneous communication and relationship development with our coworkers, the infrastructure for community in the workplace remains if we are human behind the screen.  

As we pioneer the new year, many organizational leaders and staff may be considering ways to be more present, more authentic, and more connected in their workplaces. At the same time, some employees may be content with distance – and that’s okay too. We must respect an individual’s choice to determine the extent to which they wish to invest their personal resources in the workplace at any given time. To that end, some strategies for personal connection are offered as possibilities rather than requirements. 

Recommendations for Organizational Leaders:  

  • Consider the context of your workplace and the values you hope to emulate:  what are your shared values and goals? How can you communicate that commitment clearly, and demonstrate that commitment through actions?  

  • Reflect on whether your staff feel comfortable in seeking your guidance without fear of repercussions. Do they usually turn to you when an issue arises? Demonstrate your commitment to creating a supportive space where staff feel safe to ask questions, seek help, express concerns, and communicate new ideas. Seek feedback and identify ways to incorporate it.  

  • Express confidence in your staff by trusting them to do the work, minimizing micromanagement and overcorrection. 

  • Commend your staff for the work that they do, often.  

  • Establish a welcoming committee for new staff during the onboarding process by connecting them to existing employees.   

Strategies for all Staff:  

  • Greet your coworkers by their names.  

  • Celebrate the small successes of others – with their permission. This could look like simply expressing gratitude to a team member for their dedicated work in an e-mail chain or during a meeting.  

  • Identify someone at work you feel safe to confide in and seek guidance from them as needed. Agree on a preferred method of contact to initiate a conversation, or schedule recurring check-in meetings at a frequency that works for both. 

  • Incorporate a (brief!) iceberg or relationship building activity at the beginning of team meetings, along with the opportunity to opt out if an individual chooses to.   

With a bit of practice and sustained commitment, we all have a role in helping our coworkers to feel like they belong in any room they enter.   

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