As local businesses, we have a responsibility to the communities that support us to create spaces. Both literal and figurative – for connection at a time when it is needed most.
As business owners, it’s up to us to build this responsibility into the way we run our companies. That starts with ensuring that our businesses are more than just a place for employees to punch the clock – by deliberately and thoughtfully creating a culture of transparency and community.
Why a Culture of Community Matters – During COVID and Beyond
Despite the physical distance the pandemic has created in our workplaces and beyond, you’ve probably felt a little closer to the people you work with this year. It’s not surprising; the switch to remote work for companies across practically every industry has over half of the United States workforce inviting coworkers into their homes via video calls from their kitchens, dens, and home offices. With that invitation naturally comes a deeper view of one another’s lives: pets strolling by, curious kids asking questions, doorbells ringing, partners sharing makeshift office space. With millions resigned to quarantining at home, and over a third of Americans reporting feeling lonely and isolated multiple times per week since the start of the pandemic, our workplaces have become vital sources of sorely-needed social connection.
Creating community is about more than just connecting, though; it’s about connecting deeply and meaningfully. It’s about making space, not just for your teams, but for every individual on those teams to be heard, seen, and valued. This year also brought another crucial reminder about the importance of community in the form of powerful calls for racial equality. Just as business leaders must find ways for employees to connect even when in-person interaction is limited, we must also find ways for employees to talk openly and compassionately even when the conversations are difficult.
How to Foster a Culture of Community
Creating a culture of community at your company will help everyone feel more appreciated, engaged, and acknowledged – not just now, but always. Here are a few ways that you can foster a culture of community in your business:
Create comfortable spaces. Nothing makes you appreciate the incredible variety in the way spaces are designed than being stuck in the same one for too long. While safety and sanitation guidelines may change after the pandemic, our new shared awareness of the importance of space likely won’t. When you begin thinking about what a return to physical office space will look like for your team, consider how you can create variety in your workplaces. In the new RedKey Training and Media Center, we designed with health and safety (and different work styles) in mind; with the new RedKey office, we created a coffee bar designed specifically for social distancing and equal spaces for individual, small team, and large group work – with enough room to safely spread apart.
Inspire your team. During high-stress times, your team needs to know they’re supported. Find ways to make it easy for your team to support one another, both personally and professionally. We started an internal video series called ‘Lead Connect Grow,’ where leadership, real estate agents, and staff can share helpful, inspirational, or empowering information to the group. Each day, we also provide ideas for random acts of kindness so our team can find easy ways to touch the lives of people outside of the company, too. Getting personal with your team will not only help them feel supported during difficult times, but also help them work together more effectively.
Create a digital connection. With so many people staying home, it’s pivotal that your business is taking advantage of technology to stay connected with clients and the community. As RedKey is expanding our offices, we’re looking for ways that our physical spaces can facilitate virtual connection, too. This includes a recording space in our new Training and Media Center that is open to all agents to help them connect with clients through videos, podcasts, and other digital channels.
Get personal with your team and client meetings. The use of video conferencing has been steadily surging since the pandemic began – and for good reason. When we can’t be face-to-face, being screen-to-screen is a substitute that coworkers and clients alike are grateful for. Something else that will be appreciated by your team in a time of potential video-overload is going the extra mile to make internal video meetings unique. We’ve started using bits of pre-recorded videos, live music, and other creative elements to make our virtual meetings just as special and fun as if we were sitting at the same table.
Be vulnerable. It’s important to commit to discussing things as a team: it will help you build trust and embed inclusion into the DNA of your company. Vulnerability begins at the top, so create dedicated time to give tough conversations the focus they demand – and lead by example. We’ve started by having full-team discussions about topics that may be uncomfortable at times, like race and mental health. Our leadership team has prioritized re-examining how we can make a difference internally, implementing special programs and creating specific goals around the ways that we, our teams, and our business as a whole can become a fiercer advocate for inclusion – including a deeper understanding of the role that Fair Housing, race, and behavioral health have in our industry and our community.
While these measures seem small, they will make a big difference to your team. Creating spaces, both physical and figurative, where employees are free to speak openly and safe to connect meaningfully is what turns your company into a community.
When you foster a sense of community in your company – deliberately, passionately, and authentically– you’re showing your team that their personal successes are just as important as their professional ones. That they— and every client, customer, partner, coworker, and neighbor – are uniquely and equally valued. The best thing about a culture of community is the ripple effects: when your employees feel connected, the clients they serve see the positive impact, too. And when your business is built around connection, it becomes a source of true togetherness and positive change in your community.
Jill Butler is the founder of RedKey Realty Leaders St. Louis—an independent real estate agency built on a foundation of love, service, and fun. Jill was named 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year by the state of Missouri and St. Louis Chapters of the Women’s Council of Realtors. She has held an Officer position for the Women’s Council of Realtors and serves on the St. Louis Association of Realtors Board of Directors. For more, www.redkeystlouis.com.