While the hybrid work model is here to stay and preferred by employees, it can adversely affect employees’ ‘sense of belonging’ to the organization. Working in isolated settings and interacting with and through screens can affect camaraderie and connection.

Belonging matters because it impacts business performance and employee well-being. Research by Great Places to Work reveals that when employees experience belonging in the workplace, they are:

  • 3 times more likely to look forward to coming to work
  • 3 times more likely to say their workplace is fun
  • 9 times more likely to believe people are treated fairly regardless of their race
  • 5 times more likely to want to stay at their company for a long time.

However, leaders need to work harder to instill belonging when team members operate in a hybrid model. Given below are some steps they can take to foster belongingness in their organization-  

Create a culture of appreciation. Employees who feel their efforts are noticed and appreciated experience a stronger sense of belonging on their teams. By regularly celebrating your employees’ strengths, skills, and experiences, you’ll create a stronger, more united team. Leaders can create a culture of appreciation in many ways, e.g., by honoring work anniversaries, celebrating wins, and acknowledging those who help others and live by the values of the organization. Encouraging employees to celebrate each other also creates a sense of community.

Create virtual avenues to foster connection, such as virtual clubs for people with similar interests (books, movies, recipes, sports, social activities, etc). Virtual events can also raise awareness, invite suggestions, and provide support and guidance. These can be employee-led resource groups that bring people together,  help them collaborate, and display leadership as they support each other.

Listen to employees. One of the most powerful ways to foster a sense of belonging is simply to listen to your employees. Giving employees the opportunity to share their thoughts and feedback about what matters to them makes them feel seen, heard, and valued. This can be done via surveys and regular one-on-one check-ins. Organizations build trust by creating follow-up plans for the suggestions received from employees and sharing them transparently with employees.

Communicate openly and often. All efforts to communicate need to be amplified in hybrid work settings. Beyond frequent updates on progress, what is working well, and what needs to change, leaders can do much more to reinforce the feeling of community among employees, e.g., frequent ‘all hands meetings’ to –

  1. Address questions and concerns.
  2. Dispel uncertainty to the extent possible.
  3. Celebrate differences among teams.
  4. Share setbacks experienced and lessons learned.

Being open, transparent, and vulnerable are powerful tools to create psychological safety and foster accountability and innovation.

Train employees on active listening and emotional intelligence. It is now possible for employees to choose mentors without any location constraints. Encourage them to pick mentors who inspire them and, as leaders, make time for mentees. It tells employees that their leaders are invested in their growth and increases belongingness. Train managers to coach their teams. It helps them be better leaders and increases employee engagement.

Be fair. Ensure everyone has access to the same information and resources, including your attention. Know and be mindful of your biases. Create fair and transparent systems and processes. You are responsible for creating an environment where everyone feels respected and valued.

Be inclusive and build diverse teams. Acknowledge and respect people for their varied experiences. Highlight role models. Train your teams on inclusive behaviors. Invite employees to share their views. Do not assume their silence is due to shyness or lack of confidence.

Regardless of the operating model, employees want to feel accepted and valued by their organization and colleagues. A sense of belonging makes people feel safe and allows them to bring their whole, authentic selves to work. By intentionally creating belongingness in employees for the workplace and encouraging them to create it for those around them, you can create an organization where people are motivated, accountable, and dedicated to making a meaningful impact.