As organizations become increasingly digital and include remote teams or people working a few hours — or even time zones — away from the office, it can be challenging to create a collaborative environment in which people can actively participate.
However, workplace engagement and participation are necessary traits to develop in employees within any organization, including face-to-face work and remote work environments. This is where developing a participatory culture within your organization can help, opening doors for increased productivity and engagement.
What is Participatory Culture?
When people typically think of the term “participatory culture,” they imagine people actively participating in everything — commonly in the context of consumers becoming active participants in the creation of media and digital content.
According to communications and media scholar Henry Jenkins, a participatory culture is one:
- “With relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
- With strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
- With some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
- Where members believe that their contributions matter
- Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created).”
However, the basic concept of participatory culture — people being involved and engaged — goes beyond the classroom and media and also applies to the workplace. It takes the conventional rules of school, workplace, and interpersonal interactions between groups of people and turns them on their heads.
According to an article from Fresh Business Thinking in the United Kingdom:
“…The participation-effect is here today as many firms are already considering or adopting new methods to collaborate and make employees more productive. The Participatory Culture is said to embrace communication, coordination, community, and social interaction as workers need tools to help them talk to one another, plan and coordinate projects and activities and work with like-minded individuals, or even interact socially.”
Create a Participatory Culture That Benefits Your Organization
Creating a participatory culture that promotes collaborative learning and workplace engagement is a must for successful organizations. Creative ways to engage employees in face-to-face environments (and remote workforces in some but not all examples) and make them feel like they are a part of the process include:
- Allowing employees to contribute to and collaborate in the decision-making process for the layout and design of the workspace. A genuinely participatory culture in a work environment is one that enables employees to have a say in the design of their workspace. Research from the School of Psychology at Exeter University shows that “employees who have control over the design and layout of their workspace are not only happier and healthier — they’re also up to 32% more productive.”
- Enabling employees to have a say in the art in the workplace decisions within your organization. As simple as this may seem, office art can play a significant role in the workplace environment and employees’ health. Art has also been shown to have an added benefit of helping people tap into their inner “power of patience.”
Craig Knight, who heads a research group at the University of Exeter called Identity Realisation (IDR), and his team conducted the aforementioned workplace studies to determine the most advantageous work environments:
- Lean: Only containing what is minimally required to complete work-related tasks.
- Enriched: A workspace containing plants and office art that were arranged by the researchers.
- Empowered: The same plants and art in the workplace, but the participants could choose how they are arranged.
- Disempowered: The participants could arrange the plant and art as they saw fit, but then the researchers undid their changes and reverted the space to an enriched layout.
Participants in the enriched environment worked “15% quicker than those in the lean office and had fewer health complaints — this figure doubled for people who worked in the empowered space.”
- Creating peer to peer learning opportunities that increase engagement and help employees learn from one another. Learning and helping others learn within an organization does not have to be a responsibility left to the Human Resources department or its professional development team. Learning can happen within each department when employees share their knowledge and experiences via mentorship and collaborative learning opportunities. Employers and leaders can tap into this wealth of pooled employee knowledge and use it as an organizational resource.
- Helping employees “connect the dots” between what they do each day and the purpose of the company. According to Big Think expert and Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst in his Big Think+ course “Make Culture Contagious,” feelings of purpose and being part of a community are critical for employees because it helps them to embrace a shared purpose across the organization. Furthermore, employees tend to feel more valued when they feel like their voices and actions matter.
Why Your Organization Should Have a Participatory Culture
Ultimately, shifting workplaces toward these environments of enhanced collaboration benefits everyone — your clients through enhanced products or services, your employees through greater meaning and feelings of worth, and your organization through increased workplace engagement, productivity, innovation, and employee well-being. And, all of these benefits can translate into positive benefits for your organization’s bottom line.