Disability Works-I

Creating Vibrant E/BRGs In Virtual And Hybrid Workplaces

At many firms, 100% in-person work is a thing of the past. Fortunately, it is still possible to enjoy vibrant E/BRGs in virtual and hybrid spaces. By Jeremiah Prince

One of the major evolutions of the 2022 work world has been the way virtual-only and hybrid workspaces have supplanted fully in-person work as the norm at many firms. While this has boosted engagement and retention broadly across the employee population, it does present certain challenges for employee and business resource groups (E/BRGs) that thrived as a result of in-person interactions. Fortunately, it is still possible to maintain and improve the vibrancy of such groups, even in a virtual or hybrid environment.

The key? Adaptability and a certain openness to new experiences. Even in the “new normal”, existing E/BRGs can lean on past in-person relationships to drive fresh engagement, help on-board new hires in a dynamic and welcoming way, and grow membership by providing an attractive and inviting space for sharing, support, and career development. In this way, the vibrancy of E/BRGs can be maintained even as the format of the workspace changes.

Using past in-person relationships to drive future E/BRG activity

Even when employees haven’t been face to face in many months, it is still possible to use past in-person relationships to drive new E/BRG activity. The key is leaning on the elements of sharing and support the defined the in-person relationship, rather than placing a priority on the in-person format itself.

For example, before Philips 66, the energy firm, shifted work formats for the pandemic, a small group of employees in its Bartlesville location were informally meeting and sharing resources and support. After they went virtual, they realized that the need for connection was actually greater than ever, especially among their population of neuro diverse and alternatively abled employees. As a result, they formalized their goals and established the Diverse Abilities Network, an all-virtual ERG for employees with disabilities, caregivers and advocates. The group now has more than 300 members and is working on becoming Philips 66 10th official ERG with its own official executive champion.

Leaning on virtual E/BRGs to help onboard and welcome new hires

New hires have had a particularly interesting experience at many firms over the last two years. Without in-person opportunities to connect with teammates and colleagues, it has been difficult to gain a sense of the organization’s culture and forge vital links with other employees. Virtual E/BRGs can help fill the gap and make new staff feel welcome.

For example, at Limeade, a firm providing online employee experience tools to HR teams in more than 100 countries worldwide, their Working Parents & Caregivers ERG stepped up to welcome new hires who came onboard post-COVID. The group had already established a regular meeting rhythm pre-COVID, and once the organization went virtual, they maintained the rhythm but expanded their reach. The group also made a special point of contacting new hires, ensuring they knew when the group met and how to join online meetings. For many, the ERG served as a key source of support and navigation throughout the onboarding period.

How virtual E/BRGs can provide expanded opportunities for employees to participate and engage

Some company E/BRGs were unevenly distributed in their pre-pandemic, in-person impact on workers. Regional outposts or smaller locations might not have shared the same opportunities for mentoring, connecting with executive leaders, or building a network as large urban sites or headquarters-based groups. In a virtual and/or hybrid environment, on the other hand, E/BRGs have more opportunities to meaningfully connect with a broader swathe of the interested employee population.

For example, at Seramount, a consultancy dedicated to advancing women in the workplace, the move to a hybrid and virtual model broadened the collaboration opportunities within the organization and at client sites, too. Teams and employees who would not have previously participated were showing up more often and in different ways than pre-pandemic. Additionally, those who did participate were doing so more intentionally, making special space in their schedules and arriving ready to interact in ways that casual in-person participation hadn’t been encouraging. As a result, engagement with the E/BRGs at Seramount and within their client pool actually turned out to be higher than pre-pandemic, with more stories of how the E/BRG made a visible difference for participants.

As another example, Mindshare is now offering a virtual E/BRG in support of mental health in the workplace. Rather than being tied to one specific employer, this affinity group is open to interested workers from around the world. By recruiting participants from multiple organizations, this E/BRG seeks to serve workers who need support but who may be at organizations too small for a meaningful E/BRG of their own, or at firms where mental health ERGs are not yet available. Sessions have been well attended and are sparking connections between community members who would not have otherwise met or supported each other in an in-person model.

Concluding thoughts

While in-person E/BRGs were the norm in the “before times”, the virtual and hybrid workplaces that represent the new normal demand a fresh approach. Fortunately, the core feature of the E/BRG experience – meaningful connections – lends itself well to virtual adaptation. As a result, in organizations and E/BRG groups willing to lean into the new format, it is possible to leverage past in-person relationships to form fresh online-first partnerships, onboard new team members, and even expand the reach of affinity-based communities. Plus, as formats for work continue to evolve, seeing how E/BRGs can thrive in a variety of settings is a strong vote for their importance and usefulness to employees and organizations alike.