The rise of remote work during the pandemic has seen a subsequent drop in connection at the workplace, as more companies were forced into WFH without knowing how to care for their employees. And while some companies have returned to the office or hybrid models of working, many are staying remote.
In either case, the effects of a lack of connection aren’t magically going away. And they’re having disastrous results on companies and their employees.
“The effects of reduced connection in teams could easily be high turnover, bad reviews — whether online or by word of mouth — of the current employer, poor performance, increased absenteeism, lack of focus, longer term loss of motivation, and withdrawal from peer-to-peer interactions,” says Glenda Gataleta, Global People Ops Partner at Commsor.
A 2022 study by O.C. Tanner revealed that there was a 664% increase in burnout in employees with weak connections. It’s not surprising, then, that employees with strong connections reported an increase of 488% in sense of well-being.
Building connections between employees — and between employees and your company — can go a long way in creating an environment where employees have a sense of belonging, wellbeing, and purpose. These are the characteristics of an inclusive community, and companies can use the principles of community management to build an internal community that creates authentic connections.
Before we dive headfirst into how an internal or employee community can help your company, let’s take a step back and unpack the principles of community.
In simplistic terms, a community is a group of people who come together over a common goal, interest, characteristics, profession, or skill. Communities can form organically when people with shared goals or interests come together. Formal, external communities — especially in the context of a brand’s Community of Product or Community of Practice — are deliberately created to meet certain goals that the brand will determine when building its community strategy.
While these are not hard and fast rules, there are common threads that run through most communities. These can be applied to an internal community as well:
An internal community or employee community is a community of people who work in an organization, which is built with intention and with goals and programs designed to foster relationships and build trust within the company.
There’s an overlap between ‘community’ and ‘company culture’, but the two aren’t synonymous.
“We often confuse community with a location or a website or a gathering place. It is that, but more importantly, it is the people who make up your community. It can be on an enterprise platform or a Slack group or a group text message, but it comes back to the people and how they reflect your culture,” says Community Builder Shannon Emery.
“A lot of companies will talk big about culture, but when you walk in, everyone seems to be the same and the culture is just pretty words on a wall. Nice words, but empty because they aren't building a culture or community. They just want people to work and do their job. That's okay too, it's how business works. But the ones who truly understand that their culture is important and how they build that community will fare better in the longer term.
“Culture is your building blocks. Community is your success.”
Social exclusion provokes a similar biological response as physical pain. It literally hurts to be excluded. A community does the opposite — it gives people a sense of belonging, helps build strong personal relationships, creates intentional connections between employees, opens up avenues for personal and professional growth, and fosters inclusion. A strong internal community leads to happier, more fulfilled people. That alone is a huge win!
Taking care of your people is reason enough to build an internal community of your employees. And if you need more, there are many benefits to having an internal community for your organization too.
When members of a community feel belonging instead of isolation, it opens up more avenues for communication with each other and with leadership.
“Community within a company is built by the moments that bond employees as humans. While your shared experiences through work are important, a solid relationship with a coworker grows and deepens through conversations about where you grew up and what personal wins or challenges you’re experiencing — the other parts of you that influence how you show up at work,” says Marcie Walker, Head of Community Engagement at Gatheround.
“These conversations help colleagues see one another more fully, building the empathy and trust that make a team work together much more smoothly. Ideally, the community within a company is not something that’s ‘created’ by leadership, but it's certainly heavily influenced by their example and the opportunities they give their employees to connect.”
One of the common issues Shannon has seen employee communities address is internal communication. “Everyone wants to know everything all at once because we live in an age of instant gratification, but in business there are things that can be shared beyond C-level and reasons why things can't be shared,” she says.
“Community can find the balance between those two by creating consolidated communications. Set up a communication content calendar, a place for people to ask questions in your community, and have your leadership commit to supporting the community.”
Community empowers employees and reduces the turnover risk by 50%. “Employees have found a place where they belong and are valued, with ways to connect with others easily and, when appropriate, see the inner workings of the org. Work becomes less of a job and more of a career when you can stay somewhere and invest back because you are also being invested in,” says Shannon.
”From a company perspective, you’re allowing your employees to bond in different ways, beyond the obvious, as hopefully your culture defines being yourself as a good thing in your org. And I don't mean the majority feels welcome, I mean all feel welcome and like they belong.
“When that happens, people tend to stay. And when they stay, companies do not lose the knowledge and the skills of that person because it will take six months, on average, for a new person to completely onboard and really show results.
“The dedicated community is not going to be the number one reason someone stays at a company, but if you can ensure communication and transparency are happening, people build trust and are less apt to leave. Paired with a strong culture and the right development opportunities, a community can add to the experience, if done correctly.“
Having a company-wide community breaks down silos, giving employees opportunities to get to know teammates from other departments they might not work or even interact with regularly. “It creates an organic way for people from different teams and departments to form bonds, which will naturally promote better collaboration among teams,” says Marcie.
We’ve seen this in action at Commsor, where our Education and Success teams collaborated to host a webinar for Commsor customers on the relationship between community metrics and business outcomes. The result was a success (pun intended!) for both Commsor and our customers. “Not only did the customers who attended rate the event highly and get to meet our Education team, but it also prompted a number of previously disengaged customers to engage with our CSM later and become long-term Commsor advocates,” says Kate Reed, Director of Success at Commsor.
Companies may not be cultivating internal communities to find leaders — but that’s one happy side effect that directly results from a community.
“These folks saw an opportunity to lead but also bring others like them together and work to ensure voices were heard. When I look back, those folks may not be at the same company, but they used what they learned to thrive in their careers and ensure that all around them have a voice and are championing others. That's the powerful part of internal communities — allow others to find their voices and stand up,” says Shannon.
The possibilities for natural leadership opportunities are endless, says Marcie, through initiatives such as Employee Resource Groups and book clubs. “It gives employees more freedom to discuss what’s important to them and feel camaraderie with other coworkers who have similar opinions or experiences,” she says.
“It gives everyone at the company, no matter what level, a leadership opportunity, which promotes the feeling of accomplishment and purpose that causes employees to stick with jobs a lot longer.”
There are countless statistics on word-of-mouth marketing that show that people trust people — and you don’t have to limit this referral method to selling your product or services. Employees that are happy working for your company can be an extension of your employer branding and talent acquisition functions.
“A strong internal community can impact their interactions with others — how people would speak about your company to others, how likely they’d be to refer someone for open vacancies, as well as promote internal mobility or role sharing between different departments,” says Glenda.
The list of benefits to nurturing an internal employee community runs long. It’s a powerful way to bring your team closer together and support their personal and professional development, which leads to a tangible positive impact on your business. Surely starting one is a no-brainer? The answer isn’t as simple as saying, “Yes, you should”. To make a difference, your internal community needs to be truly intentional and not an afterthought. Do you want to start building an internal community for your company? Find out more about how our Services team can help.