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How do we create a sense of belonging in the hybrid workplace?

When describing physical workplaces, we usually talk about “space”. Somewhere we can collaborate, concentrate on solo work, manufacture, pack, etc. Practical and functional, we need spaces to perform work functions. However, to form an attachment to a work environment, we need to talk about “place”. That is, how we order and personalise our spaces, so people feel a genuine sense of belonging.

The quality of our physical environment is essential for all sorts of reasons, not least because it enhances our well-being. For example, research shows that the physical environment of health care facilities impacts how quickly people recover from operations. Looking out over trees and green spaces rather than brick walls has been shown to reduce recovery times. In addition, access to daylight significantly benefits both patients and staff.

What is a ‘sense of place’?

A sense of place is more than just the view and décor. Instead, it is how we use spaces – our interactions – and the memories we form. And it’s developed through all five of our senses. That is, what we see, hear, smell, touch and taste. It shapes how we connect to an environment and our enduring feeling about it.

Building and landscape architects initially coined the term “sense of place” in the 1970s in response to a globalised world where whole cities look increasingly alike. Where restaurants, shops and offices offering similar products and services were built to the same template.

Town planners now design distinct areas offering authentic food, music, architecture and art. These express a spirit that locals recognise and own, and visitors experience and remember.

A sense of place is when people feel a longing for belonging towards a place or a city they are familiar with…This sense of returning to the place frequently and having that deep connection with the place makes the ‘space’ become a ‘place’ of meaning and connection. The particular place, whether it be a public space or an office building, if it has led to a positive consequence, then people will return, leading to a sense of place. [Source: Medium.com]

To understand what a “sense of place” feels like, close your eyes and remember happy places from your childhood. It might be a playground, a stream, a neighbour’s house, or your childhood home. Then, describe your connection to those places and why you feel it.

What does this mean for the workplace?

In the workplace, the “place” is as critical as the “work.” However, it often plays second fiddle to performance, relationships, culture, vision and purpose. Moreover, finding a genuine sense of belonging can be hard when we travel or move jobs.

Some companies have embraced the idea of making the office more than just a functional space. For example, adding ping pong tables, canteens, hammocks, indoor gardens, and hospitality encourages warm interactions and memorable experiences.

With remote and hybrid working, nurturing a sense of belonging is more critical than ever. But it’s not easy to create that ‘sense of place’ when much of the workforce is working remotely. There is much emphasis on teamwork, technology, culture and decor to improve productivity and collaboration. Yet there is little emphasis on making the workplace warm and alive – somewhere your employees want to be.

How can we order and personalise our workspace so employees feel connected through their experiences, memories and senses? And how can we create that ‘sense of place’ where people truly feel they belong?

How can we nurture a sense of belonging in the workplace?

Ask yourself:


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