Ways to create a sense of belonging

The shift to remote working has put pressure on leaders and staff across various sectors and settings. So what can you do?...

The shift to remote working has put pressure on leaders and staff across various sectors and settings. Remote working has some significant advantages on the old way of interacting, with many enjoying less commuting time and more focussed meetings.

However, Fosslien et. al. (2020) suggest that people are struggling with zoom fatigue and feeling more isolated. There are several possible reasons for this. One, it is very easy to get distracted and do other things whilst you are on a zoom call, reducing our genuine engagement with one another. Two, we lose out on the essential information that we take for granted in face to face communication, we miss out on social cues and body language that aide relationship development. Three, our natural genetic make-up favours face to face connection (Cacioppo cited in Brown, 2018), so extensive time spent interacting on virtual calls fails to satisfy our basic human need for belonging and connection.

So what can you do?

  • Increase psychological safety in your organisation and executive team– Given the loss of connection, it is important to invest more in a climate of psychological safety in which people can express themselves without fear of sanction
  • Regular open forums to express and share painful emotions Organizations tend to focus on the more tangible aspects of organizational life including; targets, actions and bottom line performance. However, it’s important to organize forums where staff at all levels can discuss some of the intangibles, such as the quality of our relationships with each other during Covid – 19,   the anger on loss of face to face contact, anxieties about job security, and frustration over the loss of belonging and connection with others
  • Allow for some informal time for networking –Similarly to in-person meetings where we are used to casual conversations before the meeting commences, it’s useful to open up the call 15-20 minutes early and allow for team members to connect informally with each other, share personal stories and anecdotes.  
  • Start the meeting by checking in on how each team member is feeling –We have learned that before moving into the business agenda, it’s helpful to spend 5-10 minutes listening to any recent positive stories from each participant on the call. You can also ask everyone to share their current mood and why? Acknowledge all emotions including ‘negatives’ and ‘positives’. 
  • Ask for continued and explicit feedback– In order to compensate for missing out on important contextual information such as body language or the emotional atmosphere in the room, it’s helpful to encourage colleagues to provide feedback by raising their hands or using emojis. 
  • Overcome the temptation to multitask –In a digital age, we are bombarded with information and it’s easy to get distracted. We worked with a manager who explained that he was able to play video games while participating in important business meetings online.   Be accountable for your own presence even if others can’t see what you’re doing.
  • Do not give up on difficult conversations –Make concerted effort to notice and respond to colleagues’ emotions and body language which can give you important clues for what they really need and want; create the space for difficult conversations even if it’s easier to avoid them in the virtual space.
  • Don’t neglect the phone call – If there is a problem or misunderstanding, always aim to pick up the phone instead of sending an email.
  • Set up a buddy system– On top of big town hall meetings, you can set up a buddy system across the organization that will help maintain a sense of belonging and a safe space for people to receive support from each other.

Further details on how to create a sense of belonging in a remote environment, can be found in ‘Connect – Resolve conflict, improve communication and strengthen relationships’ 

Dr Guy Lubitsh (Left) and Dr Tami Lubitsh-White (Right) are the authors of Connect: Resolve Conflict, Improve Communication, Strengthen Relationships (available now, published by Financial Times Publishing, priced £14.99). 

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