5 Steps to Fixing Company Culture in a Hybrid World
— January 18th, 2024
Many high-profile companies have recently been in the news mandating a return to the office.
Of course, your viewpoint on any of these cases will depend on your work style preference and lifestyle needs. However, the case for hybrid working remains strong, as the latest research demonstrates that, with the right balance of days in the office, hybrid working continues to offer many benefits for both employees and organizations.
Hybrid working is defined by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) as a "form of flexible working where workers spend some of their time working remotely (usually, but not necessarily, from home) and some in the employer's workspace."
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Any employee’s work experience will be influenced by the overall organizational culture, its values, and core behaviors. A critical challenge with hybrid working, therefore, is to maintain a strong, positive, and inclusive culture, no matter where employees do their work.
Organizational culture sets the tone for how people show up, interact with others, and function together. Hybrid working, therefore, presents an opportunity to intentionally focus on redefining and strengthening company culture in ways that actively support and enhance employee performance and career progression, social connections and wellbeing, innovation, and decision-making.
So, how do you ensure your company culture enables hybrid working to work and creates an exceptional experience for your employees?
1) Review the current culture
Post-Covid work cultures and employee attitudes towards work have evolved significantly and continue to do so. It is therefore imperative to review the organizational culture and values, through today’s lens, ensuring they support and enable the intended trajectory of the business as well as the hybrid working model.
Hybrid working requires new norms. Simple tweaks and changes can make all the difference, enabling employees to understand what is expected of them and how to behave so that hybrid working successfully works for the collective and the individual.
2) Effective communication is key
As guardians of channels and content, as well as trusted advisors to leadership, there’s an even greater need for Internal Communication to enable and ensure information flow, knowledge exchange, effective teamwork, and a culture where everyone feels purpose-led, valued, included, and connected in the hybrid world.
Understanding the new business dynamics and the current state needs and concerns of employees will provide valuable insight to ensure your communication strategy and tactics continue to hit the mark.
3) Empower and enable your Managers
Line Managers hold the key to as much as 70% of an employee's level of engagement at work. When hybrid policies are implemented, managers are the critical bridge between balancing organizational priorities and employee expectations, while maintaining a culture that enables everyone to thrive and the work to get done effectively.
With every team’s needs unique, they should be encouraged and supported to establish their own principles for team communication. Guiding yet empowering managers to create working patterns and team agreements—and implementing appropriate online and in-person connections for their team members—will be vital.
IC, HR, and IT can provide the tools, technology, guidance, and ideas, but teams must be given the autonomy to define how to work and communicate effectively. This develops greater buy-in to working in a hybrid way and strengthens team cohesiveness and productivity.
4) Provide purposeful office-based connection opportunities
There’s a real risk with hybrid working that regular in-person connections and a sense of community are significantly reduced, leading to feelings of loneliness and exclusion, affecting employee wellbeing, performance, and career development.
Research by Gartner shows that employees who feel better connected with their colleagues perform better. And according to Microsoft, the biggest opportunity for business leaders is to reimagine the role of the office and create clarity around why, when, and how often employees should gather in person.
Nothing can beat meeting in person for the social experience and sense of human connection. Still, with costs and time spent commuting, and the impact on personal duties, employees have to see and feel the value in coming into the office. It has to feel worth it. Making sure every connection is purposeful is, therefore, key.
Include employees in helping define the new role of the office. Gather their input to clarify why and when the office should be used for work, collaboration, networking or socializing. And solicit their ideas for purpose-led events and opportunities to build and sustain the company culture and community.
This will help build strong, trusting relationships between employees and leaders, boosting productivity, wellbeing, and overall employee experience.
5) Ensure leaders walk the talk
One of the most important elements of effective leadership is when leaders are perceived as present and accessible. This is harder to accomplish virtually, but is even more important in a hybrid model.
Leaders must walk the talk and visibly role-model their active support of hybrid, being in the office, visibly and actively connecting with employees in person, and attending in-person and online connection opportunities.
When they do, research by Ipsos shows this boosts trust in leadership and builds a positive work culture. It also acts as an incentive to and increases the perceived value of being in the office.
Furthermore, it ensures leaders keep employees front of mind and don’t lose sight of the vital role employees contribute to the organization's success.
The most important thing to realize about hybrid working is the intentionality and effort necessary to maintain culture. Positive cultures do not happen by accident. By their very nature, they’re a challenge to strengthen and embed, and hybrid working doesn’t make it easier.
But if the full benefits of hybrid are to be realized, it’s an intentional effort worth making.