The Covid-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things, and forced individuals and organizations to rethink how and where they do work. More and more, workers are realizing the benefits of having a flexible, hybrid schedule for both their personal lives and professional productivity. With this shift comes challenges in how to maintain a hybrid workplace culture that retains the benefits of in-office work, while also enabling this desired flexibility.
This article will dig into that issue in more detail.
Definition of hybrid workplace culture
To understand what hybrid workplace culture is, it’s important to take a step back and re-iterate the definition of company culture as a whole.
As you may know, company culture is a set of shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices amongst co-workers at an organization. The sum of these parts contributes to the way people feel about their work, where they see the company going, and their place within it.
As you likely know, company culture is typically formed organically over time through:
- Top-down communication of company values and goals
- Organic interactions between employees
- Processes, rules, and expectations implemented by management
- Candid feedback about what’s working, and what isn’t
- Providing support for employees when needed
- Providing opportunities for teams to socialize outside of work
Historically, all of the above culture-building activities would take place within an office setting.
In a hybrid workplace, culture must be formed and nurtured in a setting where employees are working in-office, at home, or some combination of the two. Typical organic relationships, therefore, are not always possible, or may be disrupted due to people being in physically different locations.
This means that organizations who are looking to adopt a hybrid workplace culture will need to find ways to mimic this process in a highly decentralized work setting.
While it can be a challenge, there are a number of strong benefits of going down the road to a hybrid workplace culture.
Why hybrid workplaces are becoming more popular
As mentioned at the start of this article, the shift to hybrid workplaces has been dramatically accelerated due to the pandemic. The floodgates are open, so to speak, and many individuals and organizations around the world will not want to go back to full-time in-office work anytime soon.
There are a few key reasons why hybrid workplaces are becoming popular, which you’ll likely be able to relate to in your own organization.
- Necessity caused by pandemic disruptions
- Growing appetites for remote work and flexible schedules
- Desire by companies to expand their talent pools and hire more diverse candidates globally
- Shifting leadership opinions on remote work as employees have shown they they can be productive when working remotely
- The need to remain competitive in recruiting new talent - and retaining existing talent - as other companies shift to hybrid work
Many organizations have clearly identified this trend, and have come to the realization that there are benefits - and a necessity - to offer a hybrid workplace.Consider these statistics, for example:
- 87% of business leaders surveyed by Steelcase expect to offer more flexibility than in pre-pandemic times
- Of those surveyed, just 23% of leaders expect the office to be the primary venue for work
- As such, 72% of those leaders expect to adopt a hybrid model of work going forward
- In fact, according to OwlLabs, 16% of companies globally are already fully remote (and that number will continue to grow).
As you can imagine, employees themselves are also driving a significant portion of this shift, having now realized the benefits of hybrid work.
- According to Steelcase, most employees are expecting to work from home at least one day per week post-pandemic
- And, according to OwlLabs, 62% of employees say they currently work remotely at least occasionally.
Clearly, the momentum has shifted toward hybrid workplaces. With that comes hybrid workplace cultures, and the challenges that disruption always brings.
Common challenges when maintaining culture in a hybrid model
While there is a clear appetite to continue working in a hybrid model beyond the end of the pandemic, there are signs that workplace cultures have taken a hit due to the loss of in-office interactions.
According to Forbes, two-thirds of surveyed employees are struggling to maintain employee morale while working remotely, and one-third are facing challenges in maintaining company culture.
This article, however, was written in February 2021, one of the hardest points of the pandemic for many people in the northern hemisphere. So, it’s little wonder that employee morale was down.
But, what this survey does show is organizations being acutely aware of the challenges of maintaining culture in a hybrid model. So, if you’re planning on continuing this work style, it’s a good idea to be eyes wide open about the challenges you’re likely to face.
The first challenge is that, traditionally, culture building happens organically from day-to-day interactions and observations between in-office staff. In other words, culture is both created and spread between individuals and teams due to close proximity.
Remote and hybrid work, of course, disrupt this organic culture building process. This forces companies to find new ways to communicate, nurture, and spread cultural values either via virtual channels or during the short periods of time when people are actually in-office.
The second challenge is that companies now have to account for many different “types” or employees, whereas before they just had one or two (in-office or remote). Employees may now be in-office, remote, half in-office and half remote, one quarter in-office, three-quarters remote, and so on.
The concern with all of these different types of workers is that they begin to think and act differently from their peers due to their workplace arrangement. This can cause different factions within the company to form their own cultures or vision of what the organization is, and can also cause friction in processes and workflows.
The root challenge here is figuring out how to create a unified “experience” for all employees, regardless of their work arrangement, that creates a single vision for the company and the sum of its parts.
The rest of this article will dig into how to do that.
How to evolve and support culture in a hybrid workplace
Hybrid work isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither are the challenges we just covered. What can be controlled, however, is the approach you take to culture building in this new era.
Here are seven tips you can follow to support culture in a hybrid workplace.
1. Have a conversation about culture at the top
The first step in ensuring that culture doesn’t fall by the wayside in a hybrid workplace is to not shy away from the issue. Culture will shift, it will look different than before, and it will require attention from leadership.
Establish a culture team, composed of leaders and employees from across the organization. Have a conversation about how culture is or has been impacted by the shift to hybrid, and what can be done to facilitate a smoother transition.
Ask leadership – as in the CEO or other C-suite members – to emphasize the importance of culture, and share their vision for the future.
Solicit formal and informal feedback from across the organization about the current and desired states of company culture. Use this feedback to establish a baseline of general employee sentiment around culture, and to find ways to emphasize, nurture, and improve it.
2. Make employee experience your focus
Company culture is driven by the employee experience you offer to staff. That experience is formed based on a combination of organic factors like interactions with colleagues, and systemic factors like onboarding, professional development, communication, and so on.
Because hybrid workforces experience their company in a variety of different ways, creating a systematic approach to nurturing employees and creating meaningful experiences at work is key when your team is distributed.
This requires a variety of steps and initiatives that may impact every stage of an employee's lifecycle - from application through to exit. The key is to review these stages, solicit feedback, and find ways to make these experiences as positive and unified as possible.
3. Create and communicate a shared purpose and vision
If you haven’t done so already, write down the shared purpose, vision, and mission statement for your organization. Make sure it’s crystal clear, and freely available for any staff member to access and review.
Once it’s available, encourage leaders at all levels to emphasize this vision and map it back to each of their individual contributors. Make it clear what the macro and micro goals are for the organization and individuals. Develop internal communications campaigns to ensure that the vision, strategies, outcomes, wins, and losses are all clearly communicated on a regular basis.
Shared purpose is critical in a hybrid workplace culture. This is the north star amongst a workforce of physically distributed individuals, and will help the team rally around a singular cause, regardless of where or when they work.
4. Enforce accountability and results
As organizations give employees more freedom over when and where they work, accountability to outcomes and results become increasingly important. Being in the office everyday is no longer an indicator that an employee is doing their job well, meaning the focus shifts to what kind of results that person is contributing.
Leaders should clearly communicate the required results from employees, and hold them accountable to those mandates. This will ensure that all employees know what their role is, and how it impacts company progress.
5. Build (or adapt) your employer brand
A key component of company culture is employer branding. This is the material that prospective candidates will read, watch, and listen to when determining if your company would be a strong fit as their next employer.
It also helps to crystalize your company’s vision of who you are, and what you stand for. As such, employer branding is, ideally, a reflection of your company culture.
Adapting this employer branding to your hybrid workplace culture is an important exercise. This will help you modernize your message, and find new ways to tell the story of your dispersed workforce.
By doing so, you’re able to clearly communicate your hybrid workplace culture to current and future employees in a centralized location.
6. Facilitate candid communication with the right tech
Communication is at the center of culture building. As mentioned, traditional communication has been disrupted due to hybrid workplaces, and replaced by a combination of in-person and virtual collaboration.
It’s critical that any organization that adopts a hybrid workplace model is able to maintain the same level and frequency of formal and informal communication. To do so, you need the right communication tech stack in place.
Ensure that you have robust enough video conferencing, chat, email, file sharing, and storage suites in place that allow employees to quickly, and seamlessly communicate and share their work.
7. Provide opportunities to meet in person
Lastly, just because portions of your workforce work remotely or primarily at home doesn’t mean you can’t find time to interact in person. In fact, this should be a priority for any hybrid workforce.
Ensure that remote or off-site employees have the chance to meet their co-workers in person. This could be quarterly or yearly team retreats if your employees are globally dispersed, or more regular in-person meetings if you’re a local company.
The goal with these meet-ups is to create closer connections between co-workers. Leave time for casual chats, and create team building experiences. Doing so regularly will help to create closer bonds between teammates, which will help to make up for the lost in-person connections associated with hybrid work.
As mentioned throughout this article, hybrid workplaces aren’t going away any time soon. And neither is the importance of a strong workplace culture. Organizations - and leaders - will need to review and adapt their existing models to ensure that culture can be maintained, or at least adapted, as workers are given more flexibility.
As always, make sure that you communicate openly with your teams and gather their feedback about how they view the new hybrid workplace culture. This will give you valuable insights into where to focus your attention and resources.