“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

During tragedies such as the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria, the famous advice for children from Mister Rogers to “look for the helpers” usually makes a resurgence on social media. It’s powerful advice for children overwhelmed by the images of disasters beyond their control; adults, too, can find it helpful and reassuring, although some argue that it was never intended as advice for adults, and if we use it that way we have an easy out to avoid taking action ourselves. But Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood also asks a simple question, intended for kids too, that can still be profoundly useful for us in the modern work world: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Following last week’s article on hot desking (and it’s cousin, hoteling), I’ve spoken with directors from a few organizations who are consciously working on ways to build community in an increasingly-isolating work world. Larger organizations using a first-come first-served hot desking approach face daunting challenges when it comes to building meaningful connections between workers, and the initiative to make headway often falls on the manager. But just like Mister Rogers, many organizations – and the managers within – are focusing on the ‘neighborhood.’ Also known as the ‘pod,’ the neighborhood takes the place of departmental offices. While still using hot desking, the neighborhood means that a department works in the same area of the building (either assigned or informally agreed upon), allowing for the informal check-ins and water cooler many are used to from the pre-hot desking era without the significant costs of everyone having their own office 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. While every model has its pros and cons, general reports suggest that those who use this neighborhood model find it to be a nice blend in an environment where no one has a desk to call their own.

What about for those of us who are in a more traditional office environment, though? Or those of us who are working entirely remotely? How can we still create a neighborhood with our colleagues and team members? Intentionality seems to be a key here. In an increasingly siloed work world, creating a neighborhood takes action to buck against (what has become) cultural norms. It might involve setting aside time to deliberately interact with others. And sometimes it might take an invitation to spend time together; to sit and work together, or to eat a meal together. In other words, an invitation like Mister Rogers himself sang during the intro of every episode from 1968 to 2001: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This Week’s Tip:

Work on building your own work ‘neighborhood.’ For you, this might be:

  • Finding a physical space for your team to spend time in together;
  • Finding regular times for your team to be together in person or online to engage in non-work activities (contact us for support with team-building!);
  • Asking a colleague you’d like to know more to be your ‘neighbor’ for a day or a week. This might mean sitting close to each other while you work, and being able to share ideas, get feedback, or just have conversation;
  • Bringing treats to share. Homemade baked goods might be your thing, or donuts, candy, or – if you’re in a ‘remote neighborhood’ – digital Starbucks giftcards to buy someone a drink as you would if you were in person.

Try these out this week, and let us know how it goes! We’d love to hear from you.

You can subscribe to our feed here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get these articles directly in your inbox.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s