Creating Community in the Workplace

By Payal Singh, SWE Editorial Board and Nicole Woon, SWE Editorial Board Chair-elect

We’ve all been the new person on the team, trying to learn how to do new tasks and manage the transition from your previous circumstances, but are also trying to meet people and develop meaningful connections.

When it comes to work, having a community is critical to our success. In a survey of nearly 1,500 participants by Christine Porath, Ph.D., professor of organizational behavior at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, and Carla Piñeyro Sublett, a member of the board of directors at Conductor, the researchers found “when people had a sense of community at work … they were 58% more likely to thrive at work, 55% more engaged, and 66% more likely to stay with their organization. They experienced significantly less stress and were far more likely to thrive outside of work.”

All four elements of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, or DEI&B, are critical for community building. Recognizing and celebrating diversity shows that our differences and distinct lived experiences bring a valuable perspective to a group. Treating individuals equitably means that we all deserve a fair opportunity to succeed and provides different support and resources to make that possible. Creating an inclusive culture helps people feel welcomed and respected. Developing a sense of belonging for all is essential to attract, retain, and empower people to show up as their authentic selves.


When looking for a community to associate with, approach it from the perspective of making genuine connections. 


When looking for a community to associate with, approach it from the perspective of making genuine connections. Do you share an interest that you can bond over, or is there knowledge, time, or effort that you can exchange to benefit yourself and the community? A trap that some fall into when joining a group or community is trying to get their name out to as many people as possible purely for visibility.

Research conducted by Rob Cross, senior vice president of research at the Institute for Corporate Productivity, and Peter Gray, Ph.D., professor of commerce at The University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce, found that “‘brand building’ across a very broad network was not necessarily better; in fact, it was correlated with departures in years two to four. Successful newcomers were instead more selective and less superficial in their outreach. They still set up a lot of exploratory meetings, but they used them to ask plenty of questions, offer expertise and assistance where they were able, create mutual wins, and generate energy.”

By shifting from a transactional “what’s in it for me” mentality to a “how can I help you” approach, you can more easily pull people into your orbit compared to forcing your way into theirs. This can also help you increase your sphere of influence and set you up for success as you work on projects, become more integrated in your community, and look for future opportunities.

Here are a few practical tips and strategies that you can implement to connect with others in your new workplace.

  • Put yourself out there. Whether you’re working in an office or remotely, it’s important to be recognizable. If you’re working from home, turning on your camera during virtual meetings allows your colleagues to put a face to your name, creating a more personal connection.
  • Find individuals with similar interests. Participate in new employee events, employee resource groups called ERGs, outreach events, and social groups within your organization. These can be team or social group lunches or happy hours, coffee chats with organizational and strategic leaders, or internal seminars. These activities can help you meet people from various departments and build relationships across the company. Consider both top-down (i.e., what management has set up) and grassroots (i.e., created by those around you) initiatives to see what is available.
  • Reach out and initiate conversation. Maybe you attended an interesting internal seminar or met someone at a recent ERG meeting. Reach out to the person! Most of the time, people will be happy to talk to you. (And if they aren’t, the worst they can say is no.) Try to set up at least one or two, 30-minute, one-on-one meetings with a connection every week. Overall, it is a small portion of your work week, but it can have a huge impact. You might connect with the people you meet, and they might be able to refer you to someone or something else that addresses a need or interest you have.
  • Say yes and volunteer. Be open to new opportunities, and volunteer for new projects or initiatives. This can not only expand your skill set but also introduce you to colleagues you may not have otherwise met. For example, I volunteered to be an event organizer for summer student activities at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and through that, I met scientists, administrators, and former interns across my organization who are now employees.
  • Create your own space. Consider hosting a roundtable for open discussion on topics such as career growth, finance, mentorship/sponsorship, wellness and mental health, DEI&B activities, and other topics. Casual interactions could be game sessions or happy hours, or even learning opportunities based on your interests. For example, if you are learning how to cook or bake, sharing pictures of the bread you’ve just baked and swapping recipes is one really fun way to connect with others.
  • Maintain existing connections. While making new connections is important, don’t forget about your old connections and friends. Existing relationships already have a foundation of trust that takes time to build with new people. Keep nurturing your connections often, and your network will grow organically.

Incorporate a few of these suggestions into your networking efforts and use them as a roadmap for connecting with others to help you thrive at work.

About the authors
Payal Singh (she/her) is a software developer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, supporting the National Ignition Facility. She graduated from the University of California San Diego with a B.S. and an M.S. in electrical engineering. She has been a SWE member since 2017 and currently serves on the SWE editorial board.

Nicole Woon (she/her) is a senior product manager at Microsoft, owning the product life cycle for various SharePoint features. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an M.S.E. (mechanical engineering and applied mechanics) and two B.S.E.s (bioengineering and management/entrepreneurship and innovation). Recognized as a SWE Distinguished New Engineer in 2021, she is an active SWE life member and is chair-elect of the SWE editorial board.


Endnotes:
1. Porath, C. and Piñeyro Sublett, C. (2022, Aug. 26). Rekindling a Sense of Community at Work. Harvard Business Review (online): hbr.org/2022/08/rekindling-a-sense-of-community-at-work
2. Cross, R. and Gray, P. (2018, March 19). The Best Way to Network in a New Job. Harvard Business Review (online): hbr.org/2018/03/the-best-way-to-network-in-a-new-job


Additional references:
• 2023 SWE Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Report, alltogether.swe.org/2023/10/2023-swe-deib-report/, Society of Women Engineers
• Ask Alice, magazine.swe.org/ask-alice-fall-23/, (SWE Magazine, Fall 2023 issue) on building camaraderie through DEI&B activities
Mastering Community: The Surprising Ways Coming Together Moves Us from Surviving to Thriving, by Christine Porath, Ph.D.

 

COPYRIGHT 2023 SWE MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.