COVID-19 has been a major disruptor, forcing countless organizations to innovate and make a rapid shift to the virtual world. In some ways, this has been a good thing. Many businesses—including ours—have expanded operations and found new revenue streams online. People working from home have gained more flexibility in their work day and are saving money and time they used to spend on commuting to the office.
A Troubling Trend
Yet the negative impact of the pandemic on people has been significant. For example, those working remotely are dealing with the stress that comes from having no physical difference between the workplace and their personal space. They are discovering that it takes extra effort to maintain meaningful work relationships. Perhaps the most troubling trend is that people in organizations around the world are experiencing the loss of a sense of community.
In our recent interview with Chief Executive, my wife, company cofounder Margie Blanchard, talked about the sense of community that has slipped away during the pandemic—and what people could do about it.
Why Should People Come to the Office?
“We have a challenge right now about why people should come to the office when they can do their work at home,” Margie said. “We need to be a lot more intentional about what’s good about coming to the office.”
A major good thing about coming to the office is that it can spark creativity.
“I was in the office not too long ago,” Margie shared, “and I noticed that when I was able to interact with people between meetings—when they’re relaxed, more casual, and maybe thinking thoughts that are more creative—I had some of the best conversations I’d had in a year.”
In short, breaking away from our home office work routines and interacting with colleagues at the office can boost our creativity—and sharpen our collaborative and social skills.
The Power of Gathering Together
At its best, a workplace is a community, a group of people inspired by a shared vision and guided by shared values. The advantage of a community is that it creates a collective energy even greater than the sum of its individual energies. The problem is that many leaders don’t know how to foster this collective energy by making the best use of time when people are gathered together.
“I’ve just finished this book called The Art of Gathering,” Margie said. “It’s about taking responsibility to make the most of coming together. Don’t just assume that by bringing people together, they’ll take care of themselves. If you’re having a meeting, make sure that meeting is facilitated well.”
The key is to be intentional about fostering community.
“Left to their own devices, people will spend time with the people they already know,” Margie said. “They won’t even get the richness of belonging to an organization. You need to take care of people knowing each other better—not just dip right into the work that needs to be done.”
Good things can happen when people connect in a common physical space. When planned safely and well, these gatherings can bring joy and fulfillment that simply isn’t possible in the virtual world.
Community as an Antidote to Loneliness
Margie Blanchard sees a purpose for organizations and businesses that goes beyond simply accomplishing the organizational mission or making a profit.
“There’s so much loneliness out there today, so much isolation,” she says. “The workplace may be the one spot where people can connect. Connection is happening less often in churches and a lot of other places, even families. Maybe there’s a supreme purpose for having a boss that cares about you, for having work that’s meaningful, for feeling good about the work you’re doing and the progress you’re making.”
The workplace is where we can cheer each other on and get in touch with our shared humanity.
Create Community through Servant Leadership
The coming year will see a shift toward more compassionate leadership as leaders continue to adapt to people’s shifting needs and circumstances. But whether it’s in the office or online, leaders must learn to foster greater community. The first step is to become a trusted servant leader, focused on the growth and well-being of your people and your community.
On Wednesday, January 26, 2022, trust expert Randy Conley and I will be giving a special online presentation called Simple Truths of Leadership: Becoming a Trusted Servant Leader. If you’re interested in learning how to become a trusted steward of your workplace community, we invite you to sign up for the webinar here.