3 things that create belongingness at work

⏳4 minute read

Foster a culture of belongingness even while working remotely


Published on May 29, 2020

by Neil Rojas

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay 

In the book, “The One Thing You Need to Know” by Marcus Buckingham, he writes that though people come from different cultures and have different languages, humanity has five universal fears that transcend these barriers. These fears and needs are: (1) Fear of Death—The Need for Security, (2) Fear of the Outsider—The Need for Community, (3) Fear of the Future—The Need for Clarity, (4) Fear of Chaos—The Need for Authority, and 5) Fear of Insignificance—The Need for Respect. During this unprecedented time, we are forced to stay indoors and trade-off our need for community in favor of our need for security.

In our article about how to prepare for life post-quarantine, we shared practical steps we can all take to prepare to work from home at least twice a week. The questions that we naturally asked ourselves next are: “How can we feel belongingness at work with minimal to no physical interaction with our teammates, colleagues, and leaders?” and “Whose responsibility is it to make people feel that they belong?”

Belongingness means that people feel that they are part of the culture

The burden for setting the drumbeat of the community falls upon our leaders. However, it takes all of our collective efforts to make sure that everyone around us feels that they belong.

According to the book Work Tribes” by Shawn Murphy, there are three feelings that people need to experience belongingness: (1) Feeling Valued, (2) Feeling Wanted, and (3) Feeling Welcomed.

#1 – Feeling Valued

This is when people are expressly appreciated for their contribution. In the era of remote work when our interactions are confined to the four corners of our screens, our words and conversations carry the most weight in building connections. According to Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” It may be not be the norm for some companies and teams but start celebrating the small wins. Every little thing counts. Though it has been a couple of months since the start of the pandemic, it is still traumatic for everyone. The Canadian Federal Government’s Covid-19 Guiding Principles say it beautifully: You are not “working from home”, you are “at your home, during a crisis, trying to do work”. 

How to make people around you feel valued

Express your gratitude to your team and to everyone you interact with. You don’t know what each other went through to finish the task. Thank them for their contribution and let them know how important their specific work is in achieving the goal. Make them feel valued by doing this as often as you can.

#2 – Feeling Wanted

Shawn Murphy defines this as “my boss and the organization care about me as a human being.” This is about acknowledging the person for who they are and not just for their role in the organization. Since the start of the pandemic, we constantly found ourselves struggling to balance work and home responsibilities. Most of us have multiple working or studying family members who are now at home with us 24/7 also trying to establish their own routines. Let us all do our part to help each other cope and adjust through this situation. We are all in this together and some are definitely experiencing it worse than the rest of us. Take the initiative to find out more about what people in your team are going through.

How to make people around you feel wanted

The simple step is to ask how your teammates are doing. The challenging step is to carve out the time to genuinely talk about how their week has been. Pre-pandemic, we all know that our teammates wear different hats. They are also fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and breadwinners, among others. It hasn’t been more evident than during this crisis. Build events and rituals together such as sharing a meal while on video once or twice a week. Make them feel wanted by genuinely getting to know them.

# 3 – Feeling Welcomed

According to Shawn Murphy, this means “I have a place in the team” and is associated with psychological safety. Psychological safety as defined by Amy Edmondson, is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” After all, the only way to get to Great Ideas is by starting with the Crazy Ideas. In physical and remote working environments, the way to get the most out of your team is not only by having each of them contribute to the conversation, but also for each of them to welcome and discuss differing opinions. The most successful brainstorming sessions are those when you cast the widest net of possibilities and solutions and freely discuss them with everyone involved. Amy Edmondson suggests three things to foster psychological safety: 1) Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem, 2) Acknowledge your own fallibility, 3) Model curiosity, and ask a lot of questions.

How to make people around you feel welcomed

Probably the most difficult to practice is intellectual humility and vulnerability. Intellectual humility is simply having the capacity to admit when you have made a mistake. On the other hand, vulnerability creates an atmosphere of trust that can open doors for brilliant ideas. Nobody is right all the time and the next bright idea may come from the most soft-spoken person in the room. Invite them to speak. Try asking, “You’ve been quiet about all of this; I take it that you don’t agree?” You’d be surprised by their responses. Make them feel welcomed by being intentional in rewarding open communication and dissent, especially when the opinions go against your own.

Final Thoughts: Shawn Murphy suggests that no belonging experience is more important than the other. I agree. In our team, we’ve written our “Be an” (bean) values very early on: be an intellectually humble human, be an honest and constructive communicator, and be an owner, among others. It took us at least 9 months to get to a place where we would openly disagree with each other during meetings, listen to each other’s positions, rally towards the direction that we think is best, then all have bubble tea afterwards. There is no shortcut to creating belongingness within your team. Each individual will have her own time before she can feel valued, feel wanted, and feel welcomed. Good news is, you only need one thing to keep reminding yourself in order to succeed in fostering belongingness: above all, BE HUMAN.

Neil Rojas

Neil is the co-founder at Workbean. He is a certified Employer Brand Leader from the Employer Branding College. He is fascinated with extracting talent data to help companies understand their people better. He is fuelled by bubble tea and can often be sighted inside bookstores reading back covers. 

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