Humans are social creatures. No matter how independent we might be, we inevitably seek out the support and companionship of others. Being part of a community helps us meet our basic needs and build mutually beneficial relationships. Early humans formed collective societies where they lived, worked, and raised children together. But today, living like our ancient ancestors isn’t an option for most. As we enter adulthood, we are much more likely to move away from the places and people we grew up with, and many of us will need to build and rebuild connections and support networks as the course of our lives unfolds.
So, what is community? A community is a mutually supportive group of people who share common interests, attitudes, beliefs, and/or goals, and who transfer knowledge through shared language and rituals. We often seek this fellowship through family, friends, religion, or special interests. Through these bonds we hope to find a sense of belonging within a supportive group of people with whom we can share our lives; people who we can count on in times of need.
We spend one-third of our lives at work. That’s a lot of time. Time away from our families, friends, and other traditional sources of community. This reality leads many of us to turn to our coworkers as a source for developing new friendships. These relationships are often built due to individual efforts with minimal support or facilitation from employers. But what would it look like if employers and employees worked together to build an intentionally designed workplace community? Let’s explore some possibilities.
What Is an Intentional Workplace Community, and Why Does It Matter?
Before diving into the process of creating an intentional workplace community, let’s define what it is.
An intentional workplace community is guided by a clear vision and shared values, and it invests in the wellbeing of its people and the environment in which it operates. Companies that care for their people have better outcomes overall. Employees are more engaged and committed to delivering good work. And employees who feel valued by their company are more likely to stick around and encourage others to consider working there too.
The DNA of an Intentional Workplace Community
Every healthy workplace community has three components:
A shared culture with established cultural norms, rituals, stories, and language, all of which are designed with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in mind. Read Handprints blog about building a DE&I workplace.
Compensation and benefits that support the well-being of all workplace community members and their loved ones, with a focus on increased quality of life.
Supportive relationships built on mutual interest in each other’s well-being. When people get to know each other well they care more about helping each other, both within and outside the workplace.
Community Building Through Company Culture
Every company has a culture, regardless of whether it was intentionally designed or not. But healthy company cultures don’t happen by accident. They are designed with care, with the well-being of employees in mind, and they are embraced by leadership. And while every company is different, here are some waypoints to help you infuse your culture with the essential ingredients of community.
Respect for others - Create an environment that encourages people to treat each other with care and kindness. This is a key aspect of building a healthy community. Respect goes hand-in-hand with trust and helps to create more collaborative and resilient work relationships.
Accountability - Normalize accepting responsibility for mistakes and actions that cause harm to individuals or the community as a whole. When leaders model what it looks like to take full responsibility, it reassures others throughout the organization that it’s ok to do the same. Celebrate those that own and learn from their mistakes. It will send a clear message that personal accountability is not only safe, but encouraged.
Humility - By fostering a culture of humility, you encourage everyone to be open to learning from each other and accepting critical feedback. Humility fosters collaboration and makes it possible to celebrate the accomplishments of others without causing jealousy or toxic competition.
Curiosity & Creativity - Without curiosity and creativity, your organization and culture runs the risk of becoming stale. So seek out new ways of working and connecting. Infuse your culture with a tolerance of ambiguity, embrace the unknown and explore different ways of doing things. This openness to change enables more autonomy and adaptability. Approach conflict with creativity and curiosity as well. Conflicts can be uncomfortable, but they are also great opportunities for growth and innovation. So stay nimble, be curious, and get creative.
Authenticity & Inclusion - Create an inclusive and supportive work environment in which all employees feel safe and encouraged to be themselves. It’s impossible to create the sense of belonging we look for in a community when we feel pressured to suppress aspects of who we are at work. We need to be able to show up as our full selves to feel truly included and connect with others authentically.
Aligning Mission and Values - Company mission and values provide the shared beliefs and goals your employees can rally around. Celebrate the positive impact your company is making in the world, let your people know that they are valued contributors to its mission, and demonstrate your company values in action from the top down.
Effective Communication - Encourage active and empathetic listening throughout your company. Unblock communication channels so that your company can become a responsive organization which fosters respect, belonging and safety. Help all community members overcome the fear of accidental offense by establishing healthy ways to explore sensitive topics and learn from each other.
Building your company culture around these concepts will help you promote safety, trust, respect, mutual care, collaboration, and continuous improvement — all of which are key factors in creating and maintaining a healthy community.
Supporting Well-being Through Compensation & Benefits
In healthy communities, people feel valued and cared for. This is also true within the context of the workplace. If your desire to build an intentional work community is authentic, you need to show your people that their well-being matters. Provide compensation and benefits that enable your employees to take care of themselves and their families. Create realistic and flexible work schedules that make it possible for people to balance their responsibilities inside and outside of work. Allow people to take time off for vacation, mental health, parental leave, sickness, family leave and personal development experiences. Make the time off and transition back to work as painless as possible for both the employee and those still at work. You can also develop cross training programs to help team members jump in and support each other, and bring in extra temporary help as needed.
Encouraging Supportive Relationships
Employee well-being isn’t only about the compensation and benefits the company can offer — it’s also about the relationships. Your company leaders can encourage relationship building through social events and by facilitating acts of service for their coworkers. Encourage employees to communicate, coordinate support efforts and provide assistance to each other in times of need. They can create a buy-nothing group to swap things they no longer use, coordinate meal trains for employees in moments of need, or even set up playdates for their kids. This is an opportunity for employees to create their own approaches to supporting each other and providing mutual aid. These networks can also help employees come together to celebrate birthdays, holidays, graduations, births, adoptions, marriages and major accomplishments. Supportive relationships are all about being there for each other in both the hard and joyous moments in life.
Nurturing Your Community
A community starts off as a small seed. It needs to be cared for so that it can grow into something that then nourishes us in return. Once the community is established, it’s the responsibility of all members to practice good stewardship — helping it adapt to change and stay healthy for years to come.
“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” – Cesar Chavez