Developing Connections When People are Geographically Remote

At the heart of building community is developing a bond of connection among the members of a group. In other words, when the members of a group feel positive emotions related to being understood, respected, appreciated, and included by their group’s leaders and fellow members, it forms a bond that strengthens cooperation and commitment among group members.

Emotions are important to organizational effectiveness. Research by the Corporate Executive Board has shown that emotional factors are four times as effective as rational factors when it comes to the amount of effort employees put in their work. Emotional factors include how an employee feels about his organization’s identity and the people he works with whereas rational factors include what an employee thinks about his compensation.

Typically, an organization’s managers and stars feel emotionally connected while three-quarters of all employees do not. What happens to those who don’t feel connected? They stop caring. They stop giving their best efforts. They stop fully communicating and, as a result, decision-makers don’t get the information they need to make optimal decisions. This disconnection results in a gradual spiraling down of performance that may eventually threaten an organization’s survival.

Connection is grounded in human needs. I’ve found that two of these needs, recognition and belonging, can be partially met through participation in online communities. The need for recognition is in our DNA. It’s almost as if we have a “recognition battery” that needs to be charged regularly but the curious aspect of this battery is that its plug-in is located at a spot on our back that we can’t quite reach. As such, we rely on the people around us to charge our recognition battery. If it’s charged, we are energized; if not, we become drained and lose energy.

In addition to recognition, we have a need to feel that we belong to a group — to be in a place where “everyone knows your name,” as the popular theme song of the old comedy television show Cheers stated. Positive interactions on a regular basis with members of a group bring about this feeling of belonging.

There are a number of online capabilities that organizations can put place to help meet the needs for recognition and belonging, and bring about feelings of connection.

Online Personal Profiles that allow people to express their personal identities through posting photographs, hobbies and interests outside of work provide recognition. When co-workers inevitably comment on these personal expressions of identity, it provides recognition and a sense of belonging that makes people feel more connected. Giving employees a place to express who they really are helps them avoid feelings of isolation that occur when they begin to feel like cogs in a machine. Also related to personal identity are affinity groups such as book clubs and alumni groups. These groups can be encouraged and supported with online intranet websites and social media that increase connection among people with shared interests outside of work.

Social Media can be used to inform employees and invite them into conversations about corporate issues. Leaders who mine the resulting body of content for good ideas, implement them, and give credit where credit is due will discover that this helps employees feel more connected. This practice will also improve decision-making and innovation as decision makers gain access to new information and participants to identify new business opportunities, process improvements and product possibilities.

Podcasts and Webcasts are helpful tools to facilitate connection by reaching employees who have visual and auditory learning styles. They can also be used to increase awareness of thought leaders and experts in an organization. For example, Polly Pearson, former Vice President of Employment Brand and Strategy Engagement at EMC, interviewed thought leaders and experts on an internal webcast entitled “Culture Talk.” Polly helped several EMC employees to become internal bloggers and eventually to blog externally. As a result, EMC developed more than 40 bloggers.

These are but a few of the online means that can be utilized to foster connection among the members of an organization. By helping everyone to feel connected, organizations will increase the employee engagement, strategic alignment, productivity, innovation and overall performance.

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