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People are funny. They are filled with contradictions they don’t even realize, and these are woven into our workplace communities. 

On the one hand, Gen X’ers and older employees feel that “kids today” don’t know how to talk to each other. All they do is double-tap, swap memes like marbles, or send strings of emojis. They have thousands of Instagram and TikTok followers, but few people they actually talk with. 

Yet, these same “older generations” that are now at the height of their work careers and largely responsible for a healthy workplace community are failing to build one. They lead meetings or training sessions and dive right into content. They’re hosting meetings, finding investors and clients, and building talent-rich teams yet are not building relations or creating a community with the people in the room.

It’s a catch-22 that I’ve seen deflate teams, initiate an employee churn domino effect, and harm employer branding—in turn haltering talent acquisition.

So, how do we build community?

Although it would be counterintuitive to say building a community isn’t a team effort, a healthy workplace community needs to root from somewhere. In this guide, I’ll walk you through initiatives you can implement to build (and maintain) a strong sense of community. And, here’s the trick: these strategies emerge from, and work for, all generations of the workforce.

The benefits of building community at work

“Community is a group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another’s welfare.”—Christine Porath, The Harvard Business Review

As simple as community sounds, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find. The Business Review ran a survey in collaboration with The Conference for Women (1,500 participants) and found that: 

  • A sense of community at work has declined by 37% since the pandemic
  • People with a sense of community at work are 58% more likely to thrive
  • Those with a sense of community at their workplace are 66% more likely to stay
  • Those with a sense of community in their organization experienced less stress and were more likely to thrive in their personal life 
  • A healthy workplace community leads to Increased employee satisfaction, improved collaboration, and increased innovation

A 10-step guide to build community at work

With those statistics on the table, let’s explore the 11 steps you can take to build a prosperous community—both for your people, and your business

1. Plan inclusive social events with purpose

Happy hours are great, but they can only go so far and are often called out for being shallow or even exclusive for those who do not drink. Consider building beyond the happy hour so employees feel they can get involved no matter if they drink alcohol or not. 

A few other after-work-themed events to consider are: 

  • Talent shows: great for humanizing your management 
  • Game nights: anything from PlayStation Fifa leagues to board games 
  • Quiz nights: build some cross-team collaboration by pairing those up with others they don’t typically work with
  • Movie nights: a perfect fit for more introverted team members who don’t feel as confident speaking in group environments, yet still want to be part of things
  • In-office treasure hunts: more fast-paced fun for competitive teams 
  • Fireside chats with SMEs: a slightly more somber tone and learning opportunity for highly-invested teams 

These types of light-hearted events are great for community building as they give people a common cause. Employees leave with common memories that build a shared history, tying them closer together. 

2. Start or end meetings with a success story

Success is often difficult to achieve and easy to forget. And, as humans, we tend to dwell on the negative rather than indulge in the positive—it’s in our DNA. A great way to get around this is by asking a different member to share a success story since the last meeting. 

In doing so, you’ll encourage every team member to look for success in the work they’ve done. Outside of our data, success can come in many different forms, and each team member will have a different way of quantifying success: perhaps it’s hitting a company milestone, a growth goal, or something small and personal like cutting down on a coffee intake!

What’s important is that you vary the story-telling time within the meeting so that people cannot intentionally plan to skip that part of the meeting: easily done if they know it’s in the first five minutes! Mix things up, and keep people on their toes.

3. Set up individual meetings and buddy sytems

Get to know your team members through informal meetings over coffee, tea, or any other “hot beverage” (as Sheldon Cooper would say). However, don’t let it end with you! Formalize this process into a buddy system and make it part of your teams’ task lists. 

Ensure team members are using the time to learn about hobbies and activities and activities team members love—not just how they like to operate in the office. 

This peer-to-peer recognition and understanding what interests people provides great insight into what motivates them. Remember that this is a dialogue, not an inquisition: Both parties need to share their interests so everyone can feel more comfortable with each other.

4. Create an ask-and-listen culture of communication

Communication is not a one-way street. For great dialogue to happen, we need to be open to receiving information, not just dishing it out. Good listening skills are one of the core skills for a great manager, and poor listening skills are often signs of a bad trainer at work. Although not all managers have them, they can be trained. 

Practice not interrupting your speaker. Practice keeping your mind clear and concentrated on what they have to say rather than thinking about how you’d like to respond. Practice searching for information from your speaker rather than presuming and confirming.

This communication culture can be practiced in focus groups. When HR or leadership members are searching for honest feedback from employees, actively show you’re listening to it, taking note of it, and reiterating it to show you’ve understood.

Building community and culture at work doesn’t come easy. Get in touch today to see how I can help you achieve a positive workplace.

5. Encourage a culture of diversity, inclusion, and acceptance

When we have more inclusive, diverse, and accepting businesses, we build the same with our products. In-house diversity increases the likelihood of providing a more representative range of services and products to everyone. At the same time, inclusivity and acceptance enable people to bring their truest self to the workplace, and therefore deliver their best work. 

Yet building diverse and inclusive workplaces is often easier said than done. While providing resources and educating your workforce is one way of doing things, businesses are rapidly adopting employee resource groups (ERGs) forming communities around diverse people that lift and support each other in the workplace. Today, 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs in place.  

A McKinsey study of 25,000 employees across the United States found that employees are most likely to rate ERGs as effective at building community. 

Graph showing employees are most likely to rate their employee resource groups as effective in building community within the organization


6.  Make sure your workspace enables them to come together socially

All workspaces need to have the capability to bring together your employees in common spaces to help create community. For office-led businesses, this is relatively simple. Common spaces within the office to host “water cooler” conversations that inspire cross-team collaboration are common and come naturally. 

However, for fully remote teams this is a little more complicated. You’ll need to actively invest in technology to bring your teams together in a way that feels organic.

7. Engage in regular communication 

For a positive work environment, regular communication is a great thing. Yet, one of the biggest challenges we face in the workplace today is overcommunication. People have trouble keeping up with their email and spend too much of their day just responding. That leads to longer days as people don’t have as much time to do their work. 

Your workforce should be practicing considerate communication. This means communicating in a way that is most comfortable for the recipient of the message. For example, younger workers tend to be more into SMS and Slack, while older workers tend to be more into email or face-to-face (F2F) discussions. There are similar differences with introverts/extroverts, people with disabilities, etc. So, a multitude of methods helps get the word out better. 

What’s more, regular communication doesn’t mean micromanagement, your leaders don’t need to be always talking about work with their team. However, providing channels and thought topics to communicate on: personal successes, popular culture, book clubs, and more, are all great ways of providing reasons for conversations to spark. It’s up to you to decide what those sparks look like. Consider things like: 

  • Themed Slack or Teams channels 
  • Company internal newsletters 
  • Digital or physical bulletin boards 
  • Themed weeks:  people, places, or something else  

8. Encourage employees to get involved in local corporate social responsibility (CSR) 

Gartner research found that employees are seeking a sense of purpose at work now more than ever. Plus, despite 82% of employees saying it’s important for an organization to see them as human, only 45% of employees actually feel this way.  

In order for strong communities to build in the workplace, consider working with your local community and external community members and develop a strong corporate social responsibility program. Encouraging and practicing empathy is a great way to let employees know that you see them, and their peers too. 

The Human Deal Framework by Gartner


9. Use technology to connect employees 

In recent years, an organization’s ability to rapidly adopt technology was the make or break of many. Even large corporations struggled to implement processes quickly enough to keep employee engagement high in a world of remote workers. Technology is second nature to many generations of workers, but it’s also totally foreign for older generations and typically offline industries. 

As of 2023, over 40% of employees work from home in some capacity—what was once a must-have is now a nice-to-have for many employees as people are prioritizing their mental wellbeing and families over the office. 

With all of that being said, don’t be afraid to lean on technology in order to help build and automate connections in your workplace communities. As long as you provide the right engaging training activities for employees to adopt your tech, and prosper with it, then you’re on to a winning combination. 

Remote workers by education level image by Forbes


10. Lead group meetings with icebreakers 

The problem with skipping “social niceties” is that it is harder to have honest, open discussions everyone seeks. Just like “Instagram followers” don’t always become “real friends,” meeting or training participants are not always participative just because they are in the same gathering. You need to take the time to build genuine relationships if you want to have truly open and productive conversations.

Of course, most managers will agree: meeting time is too short to “waste” on team building when there are problems to solve and other meetings to attend. Similarly, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who lead training sessions often skip icebreakers because there is just too much content to cover.

If you are meeting with people who do not usually work together (whether in a group meeting or training setting), take the time to conduct some type of opening activity. The activity can directly relate to the challenges the session will address and should also allow people to get to know each other. People need to get answers to these basic questions (questions I often use in my own employee training methods) before they can seriously think about more serious issues:

  • Who are all these other people in the room?
  • How do I compare to them?
  • Will they support or deride me?

Until they feel they can trust the other participants, they will not likely say much of substance. Opening activities focus participants’ attention and answer these questions, leading to a more productive and engaging session.

Closing out on building a positive workplace community

With this information in hand, I’d like you to think of your own company culture and ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. What do you do to build community?
  2. What activities have you found helpful for your work team? 
  3. What have you found effective to build a community with remote stakeholders?

Please share your ideas in the comments so we can continue to learn from each other and grow as a community. 

Have you considered training or facilitation services to help your community thrive? Book a call today, and see what I can do for your team.

Building community at work FAQs

What are some challenges to building community at work?

Common challenges for building communities at work are: lack of technology, lack of knowledge, lack of leadership, a low-to-no communication culture, employees stuck in old habits, and fearful of change. 

How to build a community in a remote workplace?

A few ways you can build a community in a remote workplace are: implementing digital tools and processes to connect people, making connections part of peoples’ task lists, implementing a community mindset in employee training and onboarding, and creating connection exercises at random points throughout online meetings.


Karen Feeley
Karen Feeley

Instructional designer

Karen Feeley is a seasoned professional with over 25 years of experience in workplace learning and development. She is a published author, trainer, instructional designer, editor, and project manager with a proven track record of success in the private, public, and non-profit sectors.

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