People, Videos

It’s Personal: Creating a sense of belonging in the workplace

Axiom Workplaces

Axiom’s Annelie Xenofontos and Culture Amp’s Chloe Hamman discuss various employee engagement strategies, such as demystify the concept of personalisation at work. In this five-minute video, they explain how the little things can make a world of difference when it comes to helping your people feel like they belong.


It’s Personal – Creating a sense of belonging in the workplace

Chloe Hamman
Lead People Scientist, Culture Amp

Annelie Xenofontos
Senior Workplace Strategist, Axiom

Annelie: We all know people have a tendency to want to ‘personalise’ their space. What’s your take on that?

Chloe: Yeah, that’s actually linked to quite a well-known theory called Personalisation, and it is, it’s the idea that we all want to add our own mark on the space we’re at. So, in the workplace that might look like people wanting to bring in photos or their own memorabilia or pictures that are home to them. People who also tend to have a clear workspace to some extent, also express in their own personalisation.

Annelie: That’s really interesting from a designer’s perspective because that’s very challenging, particularly with agile working spaces. We now find, “Ugh, we can’t put our photos up, how do we overcome that challenge?” So we found, you know, people are moving towards digital scenarios displaying family photos, but teams having space to actually be able to show a pet tree or a family tree really grounds them in their home zones if they’ve got that opportunity. Is there anything else that you could suggest?

Chloe: Yeah, we tend to say it doesn’t have to be someone having their complete mark on all their space. Sometimes shared areas, where people have shared responsibilities for adding their own logo. Also where individuals have input into something, so, if it’s say, the company logo that gets displayed, if individuals have a part in what colours go up, or designing the kitchen or choosing some of the crockery that goes in, even simple things like that can help people feel like they own the place, and it’s part of their personalities being expressed.

Annelie: A sense of belonging.

Chloe: Absolutely.

Annelie: And I think we’re going to talk about that a little bit later on.

Chloe: We will.

Annelie: What would you say about people really taking ownership of particular habits and wanting to go to certain spaces where they feel safe?

Chloe: Yeah, that, so a couple of theories, in case you didn’t realise we’d go through theories, but Territoriality is another one, and that is kind of the idea that we want to have some sort of, it’s not so much ‘ownership’, but to some extent that’s what it is, so owning the place. Where there are formal kinds of, where there aren’t any formal kinds of ownership where you’re designated a space, we tend to get territorial. You see this in human behaviour, and animal behaviour as well, just linked back to, kind of, the playground: we all had our favourite spot that we used to go to. So like I said, if there’s no formal kind of designated areas, people tend to gravitate towards these behaviours, where they’ll go to their favourite spots, they’ll have their same meeting room that they’ll use. If they kind of arrive in the office and their favourite spot is gone, it can kind of put people out a little bit. So that’s territoriality and it can, of course, as I’m talking about human behaviour, the culture piece is really important. So culture’s that, kind of, don’t necessarily encourage this real kind of territoriality, can support that behaviour coming out really strong.

Annelie: I think going through the whole design development process, working with people on not only the physical space, and the technology that needs support it, but also the behavioural aspect is really important, so that staff going into work environment where they feel like they losing a little bit of something they were clinging on to – getting them ready, getting them excited, and making them aware that the whole space now belongs to them, instead of, “Oh it was just my little desk, now the whole office is mine.” And shifting their thinking to taking greater ownership and being respectful for that greater space, is really important and actually really supports a stronger culture, it builds a stronger culture.

Chloe: Yes, definitely. And, another thing on that these, especially when it comes to personalisation and territoriality, is it is down to individual preferences. So it’s not that everybody is going to be, you know, extremely territorial or want lots of personalisation or individual personalities come into play and doesn’t make the designer’s job any easier. The last one I’ll talk about it is Belonging. So how can your workplace create a place or create a sense of belonging for individuals, and this one probably has the strongest impact on engagement, especially for underrepresented groups. When I read about it in literature it all comes down to social spaces and social interaction and a place where people feel like they can be themselves as well as meet their social needs. Not sure how that plays out in design?

Annelie: It’s really up to us to understand the organisation and the company to really knock down what it is that’s really important for them. So there’s no point in creating the Google bean-bag when everyone’s in stiletto heels and pencil skirts – it’s just not going to be a space where they feel comfortable using, and they’re not going to feel like they belong in that space. So we really like to spend time to get to know the people up front, so we’re designing spaces that really engage them as people, and as a company.

Chloe: That sounds like it’s tying together nicely, the idea of belonging as well as personalisation and understanding in individuals as well as kind of the group culture to design a really nice workplace.

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