Company culture is being redefined as a result of the disruption brought about by the global pandemic. With close to two years of back and forth between offices and remote locations, executives, managers, and HR professionals are faced with the question of how to maintain a healthy company culture in a hybrid work model.
Research has repeatedly shown that company culture is а significant factor in driving returns on investment and on sales. A healthy culture drives performance and keeps employees focused. So, naturally, with the changes brought about in how, when, and where we work, companies are faced with questions about how to transform their culture successfully and adapt it to these new circumstances.
So how can companies maintain a strong company culture in a hybrid workplace and what are the most common challenges and pitfalls? Keep reading to find out!
A McKinsey study from earlier this year found that “in the post-pandemic future of work, nine out of ten organizations will be combining remote and on-site working.”
The study shows that despite fears about the impact of the more flexible hybrid models on work, most organizations have seen plenty of benefits of flexible work culture such as improvements in productivity, employee engagement, and customer satisfaction. Moreover, companies that emphasized the connection between employees (an important aspect of culture) have also seen productivity increases.
But even though a hybrid office is the future of the office, and the hybrid model has offered a number of productivity increases, it has also shaken the foundations of how companies have traditionally been organized.
Some of the main challenges that have presented themselves have been associated with maintaining good communications and information sharing between teams. Pitfalls in communication tend to reduce transparency within teams which has an impact on team cohesion. This, in turn, influences the degree to which employees tend to socialize and the level of engagement that they feel with their job and working relationships.
Another big challenge has been the impact on employees’ mental health and an increase in burnout and anxiety surrounding the work process and its future.
For some people, the move to remote or hybrid models has been associated with a lot of stress, whereas for others the idea to go back to an office-first model sounds stressful. And, to make things even more complicated, there are already people who have never had the experience of in-person work, and they, too, experience some insecurity around the future of their work.
Amidst all of this lies the question of company culture and its importance in the changing landscape of work. Here’s why company culture is central to making a hybrid workplace model work.
One way to think about company culture is in the form of an established set of behaviors within a collective with the aim of ensuring the growth and success of the company.
Company culture provides a framework for how to act in the workplace and how to create relationships with others that are aligned with such behaviors and that reinforce them. Fostering proximity between team members in a way that creates trust and connectedness and solidifies a sense of shared purpose is therefore central to the functioning of every organization.
What’s unique about a flexible hybrid model is the way in which relationships are formed and team cohesion is maintained. Where, traditionally, relationships relied on physical proximity and in-person connection, within a hybrid model this emphasis is shifted toward greater personal autonomy, within the context of the collective and its goals. The significance of connection, be it virtual or physical, is redefined, with the aim of providing greater freedom to individuals, while maintaining work efficiency and performance.
In other words, such a model aims at offering the best of both worlds and this is why creating a strong culture is central to its success.
To create a strong culture means to create those conditions that affirm a sense of belonging to the company, encourage engagement, and support personal development and freedom but without sacrificing personal responsibility and accountability.
Here are five things you can do to foster a strong company culture in a hybrid work model!
The purpose is a vital ingredient of culture. With the blurring of the lines between the personal and professional, as a result of the new workplace conditions, individuals are more attuned to questions about the purpose and impact of their work, and why they should keep doing what they’re doing.
Emphasizing the importance of individual team members’ work, and its effect on overall outcomes helps people see how they fit into the totality of the organization’s work. It helps bridge distance and disconnection and highlights how different people’s work intersects and is mutually dependent. This can help strengthen their sense of purpose and, as a result, the feeling of belongingness to the team and ownership of any project they are engaged with.
One possible source of friction within a hybrid team is the question of whether everyone’s work preferences, needs, and limits are equally accepted.
A common fear among remote workers is that their input may not be equally valued as that of office workers. This fear is not unfounded as remote workers have on some occasions been found to do more overtime while getting fewer promotions or bonuses. Being inclusive about employees’ input, and focusing on its impact and results, rather than on where an employee is located is therefore highly important for a healthy culture.
And to ensure that remote employees are on par with those in the office, companies should also consider viewing home office space as an extension of the company’s office, and providing the necessary technology to support optimal working conditions.
Finally, maintaining communications online and hosting staff meetings virtually are also important as ways of promoting inclusivity. This communicates that everyone’s voice has the same importance in the context of group decision-making which in turn reinforces a sense of purpose.
One of the arguments against the flexible hybrid model is that it may end up creating chaos. This is where managers and teams must learn to play a balancing game between structure and freedom.
To guarantee that the necessary amount of team cohesion is maintained, you should consider instituting a predictable structure of meetings and interactions. They’ll allow people within a team or across teams to have a chance to connect with each other.
Such a structure can then act as the threads that hold the company culture’s fabric together while allowing for autonomy for the rest of the time.
And it becomes clear that flexible working benefits employers.
Autonomy cannot exist without accountability and responsibility. Here, too, managers and leaders must balance between the “space” they provide to employees and the needs of the company.
Lack of accountability erodes trust and connection and for this reason, hybrid teams must maintain high degrees of accountability at all times. This does not mean waving a finger over someone’s head but rather looking at their work and their challenges, and seeking meaningful solutions.
At the same time, healthy company culture should not exclude conflict. On the contrary, leaders need to find ways of supporting healthy disagreement that helps clarify what may otherwise get buried or exaggerated unnecessarily. Establishing procedures for disagreements and a variety of opinions is one way to approach this issue.
Finally, as a leader, it is highly important that you are present and accessible. Leaders’ accessibility correlates with team members’ performance and confidence. It also creates a greater sense of safety, and thereby reduces uncertainty and disconnection.
While this may be more difficult to achieve within a hybrid model, it is all the more important. The lack of immediate contact, as in the office, may lead to people falling off the radar, and feeling abandoned.
Regularly checking up on team members, being responsive to their queries, and communicating that you are steadily present are all important ways in which you can help strengthen your company’s culture.
A hybrid work model’s success is strongly related to the health and strength of the company’s culture. And creating such a culture is not an automatic process but rather a deliberate and continuous effort.
The benefits of such an effort are many though, and this is why it is important that managers, leaders, and HR professionals regularly invest in building their company’s culture.
Want to know more about managing a hybrid workplace? See our Ultimate Guide to Hybrid Workplace Management for an in-depth look at what it takes to succeed!
And if you’re looking for a software solution that will facilitate the process, OfficeRnD Hybrid is here to help you. Learn more about how an easy-to-use desk booking system, that’s part of a workplace experience and scheduling software can streamline your hybrid work challenges. Or book your demo to see the platform in action.
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