Manilka Ediriweera discusses the value of community in the business milieu

Although we rank independence and self-sufficiency as cherished values, it’s no secret that community is the thread that brings and binds people together. After all, we are social creatures who thrive on being connected.

Though it is something we give little thought to, the global pandemic put this sense of community to the test when individuals had to physically separate themselves from society. And isolation due to social distancing and disconnection from society helped us to value the importance of community.

Today, after having become digital hermits, it’s easy to feel as if there’s no sense of community. This is further affirmed through social media feuds, arguments, heated discussions and other acts of violence that clog up our newsfeeds daily, along with the societal polarisation. However, it’s important to realise that strong communities, which build people up instead of knocking them down, do exist in the world.

In its simplest form, a community is a group of people that shares something in common – it could be faith, race, geography, profession, values or an interest. A true community provides space with meaning and enriches life. It’s also a space where individuals feel a sense of trust, understanding and empathy towards one another. So community is about togetherness, positivity, solidarity and homeliness.

A common misconception about community is that one is surrounded only by like-minded people. But in reality, these groups allow people to connect with others possessing diverse perspectives, opinions and backgrounds. And this makes it a game changer.

What’s remarkable is that instead of connecting with only like-minded people, diversity in a community can give you a whole new outlook on things without limiting your options and perspectives.

A key benefit is the sense of belonging that a community provides. Being part of a group can positively influence one’s life, and provide a sense of purpose and direction, as well as offer a support network.

Communities can also facilitate the exchange of knowledge and skills, collaboration, emotional support, access to resources, friendship and relationships, which generate a positive and meaningful impact in a person’s life.

They can also help alleviate stress and improve mental health, empower decision making, provide learning opportunities, improve communication skills and so on. All of this is possible solely because of the power of community!

In a business too, community serves as a powerful tool for success. Organisations have understood that people crave a sense of community and thereby placed emphasis on building such groups. But doing so is not easy because it’s more complex than assembling people together in one place, or gathering a certain number of users on an app or site.

Instead, it’s about making employees and customers feel part of a larger community. When it comes to employees, they must be given opportunities to connect and collaborate, to make them more engaged and motivated in their work.

Similarly, customers should feel as if they belong to a community that provides space to connect, share experiences and give feedback to the company. They must also be given the sense that they are part of something bigger, better and meaningful.

Community in business is a powerful tool for social impact. It’s a major reason why companies are attempting to create products and services that the community cares about.

And successful organisations harness this power of community to build brand loyalty, increase awareness, gain insights, improve products and services, and understand customers. Brands that have built some of the best communities include Apple, Harley-Davidson, Fitbit and Salesforce.

To build such communities and harness their power, it’s important to understand and connect with your audience(s). You need to understand why these groups form in the first place, identify how they are using your brand, show people that you care about what they care about and think long term instead of short term.

So then, how can you build a community? While there are various ways to build one, a fundamental strategy is to have common values and a shared purpose, which are articulated, understood, reinforced and embedded in the culture of the community.

In addition, community members should be given opportunities to connect and collaborate. This will enable optimum interaction, build trust and connectedness among members, and create shared experiences when building strong communities.

Strong social bonds and meaningful relationships are at the root of happiness. So while individuals can do different things, it’s essential to remember that it takes communities to accomplish meaningful change and happiness in society.