How to belong - when we are apart? Article icon


Isabel Collins, founder of Belonging Space, offers eight tips on the best ways for organisations to stay together

Belonging, so deeply programmed in us, is a finely-tuned mix of mechanisms we take for granted - until they are taken away.

Now our survival rests on isolation: the antithesis of belonging. I shudder to think how often I’ve contrasted belonging with being stranded on a desert island, or that worst human punishment: solitary confinement.


Individual identity comes from many groups – whether team, discipline, location, company, social, or faith. But now we’ve mostly retreated to our fundamental tribe: family.

So how can businesses make colleagues feel they belong when we are unavoidably made to work apart?


The obvious symbols, rituals and habits of business have stopped abruptly. Keep up what you can. Most vital is a regular team check-in. Vary the focus in a daily and weekly rhythm.


For regular close interactions, the pulse of belonging, tech is the Godsend - proximity (key to group trust) even without touch. Keep conversations respectful, polite, straight and measured. Watch out for anyone quiet or tetchy: reach out and support.


Sustain community both within and crucially, BETWEEN teams. Reducing to a ‘cellular’ operation, though tempting, is high risk for failure-points. Prioritise scope and speed, setting new protocols to stay joined-up. Use natural networkers, not only hierarchy.


Uphold camaraderie, a vital part of belonging, like the new normal of Zoom tea-breaks and Friday drinks.


Beware the dark side of belonging: We band together for collaboration – but also for conflict. Watch out for fault lines. Even more than ‘before’, we will only succeed through inclusion.


Spread the leadership roleavoiding dependence. Make sure leaders also belong, actively. Encourage interdependence, such as a company team-brief cascade. If belonging rests on the weekly ‘Zoom Talk with Barbara’, what happens if Barbara gets ill?


Uphold what you value, make accountabilities clear. Help people understand what’s ‘the right thing’ to do, rather than leaving them to react individually.


Show appreciation throughout. Gratitude is a great means of bonding and keeping a collective level head. Show people’s efforts are valued.


Keep well. Keep connected. We may have to stay apart for now, but it’s the best way of keeping together for future.


See more detailed guidance on upholding belonging during isolation at