Human beings have a deeply ingrained desire to belong to a group and feel included, accepted and respected. There has always been a strong focus throughout history to create efficient working groups. Looking back at ancient civilizations and ancient myths, we begin to see that those societies that were successful were the ones where everyone worked in harmony together. Work is central to our identity and to our group identity. This innate need to belong could be what’s underpinning the drive to build socially cohesive and collaborative teams.
A community should be seen as a network of people communicating and sharing with each other in a variety of ways. It is useful to make a distinction between a community that is based on geographical location and the community that refers to the “quality or character of human relationship”. Using this second definition, we can begin to understand ‘community at work’ as an interactive, agentic process – one which is constantly in flux as it responds to the different qualities and characteristics impacting upon it.
A desire for an inclusive environment
There's a huge range of workers in the modern workplace. Regardless of the industry, there will always be a mix of those who prefer working alone and team players – however, I think it’s fair to say that most of us, if not all, would prefer to work in a supportive, inclusive environment, with people who respect and accept everyone for the individuals they are.
Our latest data, taken from over a quarter of a million respondents worldwide, each with different activity portfolios and from various sectors, reveals that only 58% of people agree that their workplace contributes to a sense of community at work. This statistic suggests that nearly half of respondents feel that the workplace forms an obstacle rather than an enabler that has the potential to connect them with their colleagues.
Physical characteristics that contribute to community
When we look at the Leesman+ portfolio of certified buildings (the highest performing workplaces that Leesman has surveyed), the percentage of those who feel their workplace contributes to a sense of community jumps from 58% to 73%. The data also suggests a link between community spirit and productivity. Those that don’t experience that their workplace contributes to a sense of community are also less likely to agree that their work environment enables them to work productively.
So the physical workplace has a role in promoting or hindering a sense of community. Our data suggests that workplaces that receive high satisfaction with features for collaboration – whether that might be communal areas, such as cafeterias where people can group together and work, or break-out zones where people can come together in an informal setting – also do better in supporting a sense of community. The areas where we find the largest satisfaction score differences in relation to community spirited versus community lacking infrastructures are:
- Accessibility of colleagues
- General décor
- Atriums and communal areas
- Informal work areas / breakout areas
- Variety of different types of workspaces
Facilitate collaboration through your workspace
The silos and secrecy of workplaces which were formed in the 19th and 20th centuries are being outdone by new, more flexible and open ways of working. We are also experiencing significant changes in the organisational culture of work.
Changes in power relationships in the workplace are occurring: there is increasing pressure for worker participation and control over the planning and conduct of work. As hierarchical relationships are being replaced by more egalitarian work teams, we need to address why nearly half of employees surveyed do not agree that their workplace contributes to a sense of community.
To counteract this, there are several things we can do. Firstly, we need to ensure the spaces we provide facilitate social cohesion and support collaboration – from our dataset, this is essential when striving for a strong sense of community at work. Secondly, based on the work our clients are doing, engaging with employees can help ensure there’s a support network in place that transcends the basic scope of a workplace experience. Both the physical workplace and the workplace culture can play an important role in fostering healthy working relationships.