Hybrid Work: How Internal Communication Can Supercharge Culture
— April 4th, 2023
Work will never be the same.
Our social media feeds are inundated with reports, research, book reviews, and conference invites about hybrid working and it has become a hot topic in recent months.
Tensions between hybrid, remote, and office working will continue to stir controversy for much longer than we think. Gustavo Razzetti’s opening line from the book Remote, Not Distant rightly sets the context: "The pandemic has put the way we do things around here to the test."
He further goes on to say that "the biggest mistake companies make is defining their hybrid model based on the pains, not the gains of hybrid work."
Top Tips for Creating a Hybrid Workplace Communications Plan
Despite leaders fearing that the "pains" of hybrid work would dilute organizational culture, most people see the shift to flexible work as a positive change for the culture of their organization. According to a Gartner report, 76% of newly remote and hybrid employees report a positive perception of the workplace.
The evidence will ultimately prevail in this great debate. And yes, the future of work isn’t fixed yet. It’s waiting to be built.
Decoding Culture in a Hybrid Context
Without strong cultural attributes of trust, collaboration, and flexibility, organizations may struggle to embrace hybrid working and blame the hybrid process rather than their own cultural behaviors.
In the book Culture Code, author Daniel Coyle defines culture as: "Culture is not something you are. It’s something you DO." And great cultures are not made overnight.
We do need to deliberately activate culture; We can’t just tell people to behave in a certain way or have a vision imposed on them. People want to be part of the process. And we need to progress to “how we create a shared future together” with a collective purpose and set of expected behaviors that translate into "our culture."
But when you bring in the complex world of hybrid, the task of creating a shared future together can be a challenge, especially if you’re not intentional with this work.
In this fascinating research by well-known cultural research scientists called The Three Cs for Cultivating Organizational Culture in a Hybrid World the critical cultural patterns in a hybrid context are highlighted. There are lots to consider in the report when we think about how we address local solutions that are grounded in behavioral data and organizational networks. Understanding this context is critical, especially when it comes to shaping culture and overcoming limitations in a hybrid context.
The Three Cs of Cultivating Culture:
1. Culture (C)lusters: Culture is shaped through formal structures but is also shaped by the daily interactions and behaviors of the people. It’s not evenly distributed—it evolves in informal pockets within an organization.
2. Culture is (C)ontagious: People shape each other’s experience and as a result, certain cultural behaviors are modeled and reinforced person-to-person.
3. (C)ontext Matters: The degree to which cultural behaviors are transmitted from one team to another varies based on the context surrounding that group—for example the purpose, values, and predominant beliefs that are keeping the group connected.
The Three Cs report is effectively about how the culture within organizations is made up of informal networks that create a sense of "togetherness"—both real and perceived.
It uncovers how by being proactively intentional in a hybrid setting we can bridge connections, encourage learning, and share best practices that ultimately give way to behaviors that are critical for performance to manifest and spread. Gustavo Razetti calls this an "Anywhere/Anytime Culture" that connects people and helps them do their best, regardless of when and from where they work.
So, what’s the opportunity for Internal Communications?
Here are three ways to play our part in how we can bridge the "connectedness’" and drive the right behaviors:
1. Set the tone from the top but remember that culture is a two-way street: Internal communication has the power to set the tone from the top and provide opportunities to help co-create culture. How? By helping leaders play a critical role in being intentional about articulating the purpose, reinforcing the values, and clearly emphasizing the nuances of the expected behaviors.
And, importantly, providing opportunities for colleagues to have two-way authentic, and transparent conversations with their leaders to tap into the collective wisdom and find solutions that give meaning to "why you do what you do" and cultivate meaningful people-leader relationships.
As influencers and role models of the culture, what the leaders say and do has the power to transcend the physical office space.
2. Keeping a finger on the pulse of people sentiments: Understanding how people feel about their work lives can be a challenging task in a hybrid working model. But proactively understanding employee sentiment helps to keep a finger on the pulse of issues that can go unresolved with teams becoming isolated, leading to low engagement.
These can be periodically polling colleagues about their experiences of the workplace, reactions to certain announcements, change initiatives, or even external factors and their impact.
For example, insights have shown emerging trends about women (being the primary carers in most cases) and people of color withdrawing from the workplace since the pandemic.
Working remotely could exacerbate the challenges they may already face, like being excluded from opportunities. Armed with insights about the audience will help us communicators spot the gaps, refine the channel mix, tailor the content, and know what resources to equip the people managers with so they can support their teams.
3. Untapping the power of people managers: In the Gallagher 2023 report, over a third of respondents still see people managers as purely a “cascade channel” to their teams.
Managers are the connective tissues between the organization and their teams. We have an opportunity to partner with our L&D friends and work with our people managers to equip them with the tools and resources to help them foster intentional connection between their teams, build the blocks of psychological safety, and create an environment of trust, collaboration, and open communication—all attributes of a culture where people thrive.
Without question, communication shapes the way an organization talks to its people and there’s no doubt that we can help leaders shape the culture in a hybrid setting.
However, we must have the ability as internal communicators to influence during a time of constant change and transformation so we can become the trusted experts that people go to when it comes to driving new behaviors.
- Interested in exploring more about culture in a hybrid context? Here are some of the references used in my article:
The three Cs for cultivating organizational culture in a hybrid world—ScienceDirectCreating Organizational Culture in a Hybrid World (gartner.com)
How To Sustain Company Culture In A Hybrid Work Model (forbes.com)
Gallagher 2023 report: State of the Sector 2023
Books: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle and Remote Not Distant by Gustavo Razzetti