Turning co-workers into a community

Written by David Singh with contributions from Gerlinde Herrmann, published in Metro News April 8, 2014.

Turning Co-Workers Into A CommunityFrom introverted employees to a tight- knit team. ’Cause wouldn’t it be nice to work together, in the kind of office where you belong?

If you have a full-time job, chances are the office is your primary home. Try to fight the idea as much as you want, but in the end, it’s the cold, hard truth. “When you think of the amount of time an individual spends at work, it’s more time than they spend with their family.” says Gerlinde Herrmann, president of The Herrmann Group, an HR consulting firm. That’s why it’s so important to develop a sense of community at work. Walking into a warm, pleasant environment each day can have a profound impact on your well-being. And guess what — the power to improve this community spirit lies squarely in your hands. Here are three steps you can take to build fellowship at work.

The first key to building community spirit is conversation. This means being in a workplace where people actually talk to each other as opposed to burying their heads independently at their desks. “If you work in a silent environment, don’t be afraid to take the initiative to just say something and break the ice,” says Myles Harrison, founder of The Conversationalists, a Toronto group that brings members together to engage in stimulating discussions and ‘revive the lost art of conversation.’ Harrison says to avoid clichés like “How was your weekend?” or “How about the weather …” These are basically conversation killers. Instead, focus on common interests that your co-workers may share, such as current events.

Office get-togethers
An office outing is the next step in uniting your colleagues. First off, ask your team what they want to do, says Meg Sethi, president of Evolution Public Relations, a firm that plans events to create awareness around different brands. After that, make a feasible budget and present the idea to your HR department. “It would be nice to ask for financial support — if it’s a company get-together and the main reason is to create community spirit,” says Sethi.

Don’t be afraid to venture from the traditional company dinner. Instead, maybe plan a trip to the aquarium, or take part in a wine tasting or a food-making class. There are also plenty of charity-related activities to consider. “I think it’s just nice to offer different types of activities that will really initiate conversation between employees,” she says. “Making sure you do something different that stimulates them is always more successful than just a party.”

Rearranging the office space
This is obviously the most ambitious step. It involves some effort on your behalf, but it can be done, says Herrmann. Rearranging the office to foster community spirit can range from removing high walls from cubicles, creating collaboration rooms, and making a centralized water cooler. The trick is selling it to your employer. “I think you have to present things as a win-win,” Herrmann says. “In a non-confrontational way, say something like, ‘(We) have some ideas on how we can create a more collaborative work environment. Would you be interested in testing some of this out?’” While it can be intimidating to bring this up with your boss, Herrmann says that most companies welcome ideas for improvement from their employees.