The pandemic, as well as heightened social unrest spawned by the death of George Floyd, has upended work routines for employees and leaders alike. What hasn’t changed is our need to feel we belong at work. As we power through a “new normal,” I think it’s critical for employees to feel welcome, included, valued and connected. How we as leaders do that needs to be intentional. Here are my thoughts on ways we can ensure all employees feel a sense of belonging in the workplace:

  • Feeling welcome. The act of being welcomed provides an important signal that we’re wanted in the workplace. I joined Cognizant in February of this year – just a short six weeks before the “lockdown.” And like many others, I have to admit I found it challenging to adjust to a new company work environment using only digital tools to orient myself to the culture, establish relationships and develop a daily work routine.

    As our chief people leader, I think it’s important to openly acknowledge that the workplace “look and feel” has changed and will continue to change dramatically. We need to intentionally identify new ways of expressing organizational culture and build a welcoming place that is engaging regardless of where our employees work. 

    The reality is, we all face issues so big that no one person can solve them. If there was ever a time to leverage the power of a diverse workforce, now is that moment. In this spirit, I’m asking employees for their insights and ideas on how we can evolve our culture given our current circumstances – and they’re responding! Working together, I know we can successfully navigate the challenges ahead.

  • Feeling valued. The pandemic has changed how we respond to each other. The ritualized greetings and expressions of care that were hallmarks of a pre-pandemic meeting have given way to more robotic digital experiences. Even if we can see people on a screen, it’s easy to miss the important paralinguistic cues that provide insight into their frame of mind.

    As the very nature of our work together continues to change, we need to be intentional about letting colleagues know they are valued. I find myself being far more deliberate about responding to communications, catching up, recognizing contributions, expressing appreciation and offering encouragement to colleagues. 

  • Feeling connected. Our personal connections to others are an important part of feeling like we belong. Our experiences working virtually during a pandemic have created a certain level of individual vulnerability. Suddenly, colleagues are regularly entering our personal lives. This has the potential to create a new sense of closeness that might not have been achieved at the office. Home decor choices give colleagues new insights into what’s important in our lives. Children, pets and spouses make routine appearances on conference calls. When we as leaders make it safe to share the personal realities of our working lives, it helps build a broader and more inclusive sense of community.

Staying Connected While Maintaining Distance

As cities and regions navigate a staged reopening of business, only some associates will return to the office – many will remain remote for the foreseeable future. All the while, new employees will join the organization. Keeping everyone connected is an important part of making employees feel like they belong, regardless of where they work. 

Who knows what tomorrow will bring or what new obstacles, challenges or hurdles will stand in our way. What I do know is that even in the “new normal,” creating and maintaining a sense of belonging will motivate and empower individuals, enhance team collaboration and inspire organizational innovation. 

Becky Schmitt

Becky Schmitt

Becky Schmitt is Cognizant’s Chief People Officer. She leads all aspects of people management and company culture, including attracting world-class, diverse talent... Read more