I’m fascinated by the process of communication inside companies. Each workplace has its own community ethos that online tools can amplify or erode. Social networking platforms in the workplace include instant messaging, blogs, bulletin boards, chatrooms, and listservs. Although the technologies and formats vary, these tools help build a sense of community—feelings of membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and bonding.
My research examines whether organizational members exhibit community-like behaviors and processes in intranet communication. The results of a 2012 survey of 112 employees working at Southwest Airlines revealed that both exchanging and observing support increased a sense of community (SOC). Sense of community measures included confidence and influence, asking respondents whether they cared what other members think about their postings. The third construct of sense of community focused on members’ fulfillments of needs in SWALife, an online platform for employee communication.
Respondents reported that when they had a problem, they were comfortable asking questions in SWALife. Finally, participants were asked about their perceptions of shared values and emotions— the fourth construct of SOC. Respondents reported that they believed they used SWALife for the same purposes as other employees and that they shared similar values, priorities, and goals with those who use SWALife. A majority of the respondents acknowledged that the Golden Rule of SWA (to treat people the way that you want to be treated) is a shared value that shapes their interactions online.
Active participation is essential for building a sense of virtual community (SOVC) in intranets. Without active participants, the survival of an online community depends primarily on the content creator. In such cases, intranets become just another means of hierarchical business communication.
While the study shed light onto antecedents of employees’ sense of community perceived through intranet communication in Southwest Airlines, the findings may not be generalized to other organizations due to SWA’s unique corporate culture. Future research should test factors that contribute to SOVC in intranets in various organizations. Measures of social influence and job satisfaction could provide further insights into understanding sense of virtual community at work.
Note: This research post is based on data collected in 2012.
Nur Uysal, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the College of Communication at DePaul University, USA. Her main research interests include the adoption and use of digital communication technologies in corporate communication, stakeholder engagement, and corporate social responsibility. Follow her on Twitter @nurefeuysal.