While innovation in the built environment is at the core of Spaceflow, we’ve always had an emphasis on community as well. So it fits that one of our most popular write-ups ever was about the research behind community engagement. Back in 2019, we wrote an article that broke down what communities are and why they are so important. We posited back then that communities are particularly important right now because of the pervasive loneliness that affects people in all walks of life. To wit, 3 in 5 Americans are lonely according to this pre-COVID research, and a McKinsey study performed in the early days of the pandemic found that across Europe, people who said they were lonely most or all the time hit a high of 17 percent.
In that article, we also explained the positive impacts of business communities on the firms and products that launch them:
- Brand awareness and growth
- Relevant feedback
- Increasing sales
But as mentioned, that article was written before COVID-19. How exactly has the pandemic, and in particular the large-scale adoption of hybrid work, impacted communities and the need for communities?
Communities after COVID
According to CMX’s recent 2021 Community Industry Report, which included a survey of community managers, 56 percent of respondents said that the leadership teams of their organizations view community as “more essential since the start of the pandemic.” Another interesting conclusion from this survey was the finding that 65 percent of respondents said they expected to offer hybrid events with both remote and in-person components.
That statistic underscores the new era of hybrid community we are moving into. Workplace communities are one of the most clear examples of why this is important. Under hybrid work strategies, managers need to offer engaging, enjoyable experiences for each of the following personas:
1. John, who works in the office from Tuesday to Thursday
2. Elise, who is remote on and off with little predictability
3. James, who is always in the office
While every organization will have its own hybrid work policy, firms need to help their employees connect – or in other words become part of their community – whether they are a John, an Elise, or a James. According to Harvard Business School professor Teresa Ambile, “People are more creative and productive when they experience more positive inner work life, including more positive emotions, stronger motivation toward the work itself and more positive perceptions of the organization. And one of the things that contributes to positive inner work life is a sense of camaraderie with teammates and close co-workers – a sense of bonding and mutual trust.”
It isn’t just workplace communities that demonstrate the need for community in the hybrid age. Consumer research shows this theme is true as well. According to data from Amazon, “80% of U.S. and 82 percent of European consumers agree that they yearn for real-life experiences, slowness, and authentic human connections, rather than the more digitally based lifestyles that new technologies are creating.”
In the hybrid age, where people are increasingly tied to their devices and unable to truly step away from work, these kinds of real connections are ever more important.
One outcome of this increasing emphasis on real human connection in communities is that many communities will likely look to individual community members to plan and promote events and activities of their own. Instead of focusing 100 percent of planned, rigid, top-down engagement opportunities, empowering community members themselves with the ability to plan and execute activities on their own terms is a great way to build a real, long-lasting community. Leading Danish real estate company NREP took that approach, and across their portfolio, their community grew organically, with space user-run initiatives like a clothes-swapping program and marketplace. Additionally, NREP space users began to share relevant information with each other, spreading interest in an on-site recycling program and communicating other building news updates.
Empowering community members to plan more of their own activities, and develop relationships organically could allow smaller groups of community members to share the kind of experiences that work for them, whether that is a group of employees that are 100% remote planning a meetup in their region, or a group of employees who are really into rock climbing as a hobby.
Bringing on community members to take over some parts of management is not a new approach. Product help forums, fandoms, and even Reddit itself have been doing it for years and years. Expect to see more of this as work becomes more personal and flexible for many of us. For our part, we built Spaceflow to help enable this sort of community at the property level. Our platform gives
- on-site events a place to live and attract attendees
- building questions a spot to be asked (via polls and messaging functions)
- and community info sharing a single destination, via our Newsfeed.
The hybrid world requires a large-scale pivot for many communities, but one last lesson readers should take away is that no two communities are exactly the same. Whether you are talking about a community of product users or a workplace community, the real people that constitute each community will all vary in what they are looking for. Statistics such as those suggesting people want more in-person events are useful and accurate, but they do not apply to everyone. The communities of 2022 and beyond will likely focus on finding an appropriate scale and type of engagement that works for their members without needing to rely on least common denominator solutions that don’t offend anyone but also don’t really satisfy anyone, either.