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For many companies, 2020 brought a sudden transition to remote work. Teams were scattered as everyone worked from home, and the only interaction people experienced with their teams was virtual. One challenge that has emerged in this period of rapid change has been building community in the workplace. But why is community so vital at work?

The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food.

  –Dean Ornish

Community: A Historical Perspective

Humans are hard-wired for connection. We are tribal creatures, and evolutionarily speaking, we literally used to depend on one another for survival. In tribal times, if a hunter was injured while on the hunt, he depended on his tribe to provide him with food and healing care until he was ready to get back on his own two feet and resume providing.

So even when a hunter was unable to hunt and provide for the tribe (the hunter not giving something), the tribe was there to care for him and nurture him back to health (the hunter taking something). It’s the hard-wired nature of our brains for that connection that kept us together as humans, increasing our chance of surviving, adapting, and evolving.

In today’s times, our dependence on one another looks different. Our interdependence has become more transactional in nature. For example, you probably depend on your grocery store to provide you with the food you desire, and you probably use money that you have earned yourself to pay for that food. That is transactional interdependence.

But our hard-wired need for connection has not gone away.

How Community Works Within an Organization

In an organizational context, it can be easy to think of examples of interdependence, or times when we need each other to get our work done. The sales department needs Sales Qualified Leads (SQL’s) from the marketing department to hit their revenue numbers. The customer experience department needs clarity from the sales department about what promises have been made to the customers, so they are able to fulfill those promises. The product team needs information from the sales department to know what the target market is saying they want from the product so they can continue to grow their sales.

Transactional Interdependency vs. Community

Organizations are filled with interdependencies. So, what is the difference between doing things at a transactional level and creating a real sense of community?

It’s the difference between gears that are turning like cogs in a machine and actual human beings. Because we apply the science of human behavior to organizations, we want leaders to use what we know about human beings to create an environment that truly brings out the best in people, accomplishes organizational goals, and makes the lives of others better.

And connection is an inherent human need. Even today, when our dependence on one another can feel different, numerous studies have connected loneliness, or the absence of human connection with premature death, and other negative physiological symptoms.

Although humans may differ in terms of how we get our energy, our need for human connection is inherent and shared across the species. And our ability to connect with one another is what enables the sense of community every leader wants in their culture. Read more about culture and community on the Gallaher Edge Blog.

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Also published on Medium.

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