ERGs and Regional Groups: Key Drivers for Workplace Engagement and Inclusion

Ever wondered how to use groups and communities to transform workplaces into vibrant, interconnected hubs of diversity and inclusion? In the dynamic landscape of contemporary workplaces, the role of distributed communities–such as Employee Resource Groups, Regions, and interest groups–have evolved into a strategic imperative for fostering connectivity and boosting cross-collaboration.

Post-pandemic, the concept of returning to the office has often faced backlash, with the traditional office environment losing its allure and individuals expressing a lack of motivation to show up physically. Because most companies face poor attendance rates, showing up to an empty and uninterrupted office has become a real pain for hybrid and remote-first employees. As attendance rates continue to decline, companies are increasingly concerned with reduced productivity, heightened isolation, and increased turnover rates.

Managers and executives seek to increase office attendance without enforcing mandates as they navigate the post-pandemic landscape. Social interactions are pivotal in enhancing attendance, so events and initiatives that connect distributed communities are essential for promoting employee engagement and a positive workplace experience. These communities address the challenges of isolation and disengagement and contribute significantly to an increase in employee feelings of belonging

According to a recent study led by HBR, 84% of employees would be motivated to go into the office if they could socialize with coworkers.

As more teams adopt a distributed and hybrid work model every day, building interest-based or regional communities is necessary to create a more connected and collaborative workforce.

Understanding ERGs and communities for fostering connectivity

Formally recognized in 1970, the first employee resource group was created by Xerox's CEO, Joseph Wilson, to support the National Black Employees Caucus by providing a structured platform for black employees. 

In today's ever-changing work landscape, regional and Employee Resource Groups have become essential communities, finding a home in 90% of Fortune 500 companies, with approximately 35% augmenting their support since the pandemic, as reported by a 2021 McKinsey & Co. study. The recent focus on ERGs, especially since the pandemic, highlights their crucial role in well-planned Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategies. These groups serve as spaces for people with interest-based connections, significantly impacting corporate diversity efforts.

ERG's impact on inclusion scores - McKinsey

Alongside these often come regional groups, also proven to be an efficient way to increase connectivity based on where employees work. Many companies work across countries and time zones and are at least partially remote, so encouraging regional communities is a powerful way to boost employee belonging. Establishing regional hubs makes it easy for companies to coordinate local events that unite people. Connecting people within a region is a great way to break down silos and boost cross-collaboration.

A recent study from highlighted that only 2 in 10 people say they have a best friend at work.

Typically, organizations begin setting up distributed communities with the goal of:

  • Fostering Diversity and Inclusion: They provide a platform for underrepresented groups to express their voices and gain recognition (often defined as Equality Groups).
  • Professional Growth Opportunities: Many ERGs offer valuable resources such as mentoring, workshops, and training sessions, facilitating the professional development of their members.
  • Serendipity and Connectivity: Organizations with active ERGs attract diverse talent and cultivate an environment where employees are more likely to feel represented and supported.
  • Facilitating Networking: They create opportunities for employees to foster cross-departmental collaborations and encourage a broader network within the company.
  • Boosting Employee Engagement: Being part of an ERG enhances employee engagement by instilling a feeling of belonging and purpose among its members.
  • Community Involvement: Many engage in community service, enabling companies to contribute to social causes and strengthen their relationships with local communities.
  • Providing a Safe Space: They serve as safe spaces for employees to openly discuss workplace or personal issues, creating an atmosphere of trust and support within the organization.

Distributed communities, described as voluntary grassroots groups, are vital to company structures, bringing together people with interest-based connections while encouraging cross-collaboration. 

But most importantly, these groups can have major benefits for both collaborators and organizations - at different levels:

  • Feeling of belonging: They cultivate a community atmosphere, nurturing a profound sense of belonging and connection within the organization.
  • Mutual Support: ERG members, united by shared employee experience, can provide pertinent support to one another, enriching the workplace experience.
  • Building Professional Networks: They facilitate networking prospects for employees from underrepresented backgrounds seeking mentorship and professional growth.
  • Visibility to Opportunities: They bridge employees across diverse organizational levels, granting junior team members exposure to leaders and potential avenues for career development.
  • Effective Advocacy: Formal ERGs act as a unified voice, empowering employees from underrepresented groups to voice concerns and champion change within the organization
  • Enhanced Retention Rates: Active ERG engagement boosts employee retention by fostering organizational connections.
  • Increased Productivity: They contribute to a more inclusive and supportive environment, resulting in heightened employee motivation and commitment and increased productivity.
  • Unlocking Potential: ERGs serve as catalysts for tapping into employees' diverse skills and talents, unlocking untapped potential within the workforce.
  • Effective Team-Building: They facilitate team-building, fostering collaboration and camaraderie among like-minded employees.
  • Valuable Feedback: Participating in them offers employees input and feedback, contributing to organizational innovation and continuous improvement processes.

ERGs emerge as central catalysts in cultivating a feeling of belonging within the workplace through diverse channels. 

How to efficiently implement ERGs and regional groups to create a more engaged Workplace?

Initiating regional hubs and employee groups requires essential steps, including collecting initial data, establishing guiding principles, securing executive sponsorship, and providing growth prospects. Additionally, incorporating groups into regional contexts guarantees inclusivity, linking employees in various locations and cultivating a more inclusive workplace culture. Upon establishment, extending invitations to all employees promotes inclusiveness, contributing to a lively and interconnected workplace culture.

For a smooth and effective implantation of employee and regional groups, here are the key steps you should follow:

  1. Define Specific Goals and Advantages for both Employees and your Organization

Establish goals for them and regional hubs to enhance diversity, support employees, and foster personal and professional growth, promoting a sense of belonging and engagement. Define desired outcomes for these distributed communities in your organization.

  1. Distinguish your Employee's Interests and Needs

Survey employees remain the best way to gauge their interests and need to ensure your groups are relevant and valuable to your workforce - which also increases the chances of success.

  1. Create Processes and Guidelines

Clearly outline the goals and operations of each group by establishing their mission, objectives, membership criteria, and meeting structures. Draft descriptions for each group and ensure members can easily access this information.

  1. Appoint Leaders

Choose passionate and capable leaders for each ERG or region. Foster regular collaboration among leaders, enabling them to learn from one another and ensuring they have the necessary support to achieve the established objectives from Step 1.

  1. Allocate Resources

If feasible, provide a budget for leadership, diversity, and inclusion training and the tools to consolidate information for easy access. If on a tight budget, seek cost-effective ways to foster community and support among employees.
If you're considering selecting a new technology, consider solutions with social features such as group pages, event management, or surveys to promote communities better and boost engagement.  

Create groups, ERG's and regional hubs in Café

  1. Emphasize Clear Communication and Collaboration

Encourage consistent communication among group members, between groups and company leadership. It is a very effective way to drive engagement around groups within the organization. 

  1. Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Continuously gauge group performance against objectives. Gather feedback from members and employees to assess impact and identify areas for improvement.

  1. Report and Communicate Impact

Regularly update senior management and the organization on ERG and regional hub activities. This maintains support and visibility, showcasing the positive impact of investing in personal connections on engagement and morale. 

Successfully managing them and regional initiatives involves overcoming challenges like sustaining engagement, organizing events, and supporting active members and leaders. Establish clear objectives and susceptible subjects, and consistently measure and adapt initiatives to align with company growth. Recognizing and addressing the potential counterproductive effects of ineffective ERGs and regional hubs on the sense of inclusion among distributed teams and hybrid workers is crucial.

How do we overcome these challenges? 

To overcome any challenges you may face when implementing communities, you must prioritize strategies such as leadership buy-in to ensure sustained support and commitment from organizational leadership. Clear communication maintains transparent communication to keep members informed and engaged. Feedback loops establish effective feedback mechanisms for constant improvement. Regular events schedule consistent events to foster continuous connectivity.

These strategies and a commitment to overcoming challenges form the foundation for building resilient, inclusive, and impactful ERGs and regional connectivity initiatives.

Some companies with successful ERG initiatives:

Several companies have emerged as references when it comes to employee resource groups, using them as one of their primary tools to promote diversity inclusion - and strengthen company culture:

  • Cisco Systems has a variety of ERGs, including the Connected Black Professionals, Pride@Cisco for LGBTQ+ employees, and the Cisco Abilities ERG for employees with disabilities.
  • Johnson & Johnson has several communities, such as the Women's Leadership Initiative, the Veterans Leadership Council, and the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Achievement.
  • IBM has a long history of supporting diversity and inclusion, with groups like the Women in Technology group, the Alliance for Disability ERG, and the Black Network at IBM.
  • Microsoft has ERGs such as Blacks at Microsoft (BAM), GLEAM (Global LGBTQ+ Employees at Microsoft), and the Disability ERG.
  • Salesforce: has various Equality Groups, including Outforce (LGBTQ+), BOLDforce (Black employees), and the Abilityforce (employees with disabilities).
  • Walmart has Equality Groups such as the Women's Resource Council, the African American Business Resource Group, and the Military Veterans Network. 

These companies have showcased that hubs and communities are powerful tools, propelling workplace experience toward a future of connectivity. As organizations embrace the transformative journey of integrating them and regional connectivity, these strategies serve as a roadmap for enhanced employee engagement and organizational success.

Distributed communities play a crucial role as facilitators of employee connections, establishing supportive communities that enhance engagement and nurture a feeling of belonging among the workforce. For those contemplating initiating or improving them, delve into the recommended best practices to guarantee a smooth and successful journey. As employee groups evolve, their integration into organizational culture remains essential for fostering inclusive and connected workplaces. 

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Timothée Bourcier

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