• Steve Williams

9 steps to grow company culture in a hybrid work model.

Considering the length of time we've all had to work from home, it’s no surprise to find most people have become attached to the versatility and work-life balance it gives. The good news recently, even while individuals are growing to anticipate these more flexible methods of working, organisations now seem open to it too. But how in the world do leadership teams cultivate a constructive culture when people are not at the workplace together?

Employee experience and culture in a hybrid work model

Arguably, culture is the most important factor in organisational success - with numerous studies and research showing the direct relationship between culture and growth, not to mention, positive return on investment. But with the impacts of the pandemic, culture has been badly affected and leadership teams the world over have increased their focus in this area. The over-arching concern, that culture is deteriorating with the absence of people.

But it’s not only organisations that have felt the pain. Individuals have also shown a desire to reconnect to their workplace - they want a link to an overall purpose, a feeling of community, and support for their own productivity. This implies leaders need to create, develop and nurture culture when people are working in various locations, especially if they plan on implementing a hybrid working model.

It’s worth remembering, one of the most crucial parts of culture is personal connections, mainly from proximity. Traditionally, the people we see day in day out, are the ones we interact with most and are therefore the ones we are closest to. We share our lives and stories and build compassion with that connectedness. The challenge in a hybrid work model will be how these links are fostered - either perceived and/or real. Because the truth is, organisations will only succeed when their people are productive, connected, and engaged.

Here are our nine key steps you will need to consider to effectively support culture in a hybrid work model:

1. Vision

An overall vision has always been crucial to any organisational performance - to ensure everyone is aligned to the task in hand, however with a hybrid work model it'll be more important than ever. With people working remotely for so long, it’s not hard to see a drop in morale, a loss in purpose. Without the buzz of an office or a feeling of momentum within the organisation, many people will lose the connection between their efforts and how that feeds into the bigger picture. Therefore, organisation leaders are going to have to work really hard to make sure everyone is getting ongoing recognition and feedback on how their work, and the work of their team, is feeding into the overall objectives.

What to do:

Have a clear Vision and Mission statement. Leaders need to use clear and concise Vision and Mission statements to communicate their aspirations to their people. Well-written statements ensure that each strategic element is aligned to the long-term goals.

Set Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). OKRs are a goal-setting tool used by many successful teams and individuals. Short and long-term OKRs help with transparency to track progress, create alignment, and encourage engagement. Crucially, it helps everyone understand how their efforts feed into the bigger picture.

Ensure people are recognised for their work. Using engagement platforms like Campfire, leaders are able to recognise and feedback on team and individual achievements.

2. Equity

If people don’t feel fairly treated or have a sense of injustice, they will become disengaged very quickly. These sorts of concerns will be even more serious in a hybrid work model because without seeing what’s going on (as is common within the workplace), it’s nearly impossible for people to understand why someone would be rewarded or reprimanded, regardless of level. In the first instance, supporting and growing a culture in a hybrid work model will require additional communication to ensure any issues or results are dealt with quickly, effectively, and fairly.

How and where the leadership team works will also be paramount, as well as the type of hybrid work model they adopt. An unbalanced culture in which leadership is primarily in the workplace or working remotely could lead to inequalities around recognition. For example, people who choose to work alongside leaders on a regular basis in an office will be more visible and therefore attract more attention to their work. Ultimately to the detriment of remote workers, however literally or figuratively.

What to do:

Equity Policy. Having a clear approach and methodology for handling rewards, benefits, and/or punitive measures that reflect the organisation's changes to a hybrid work model.

Leadership development. Culture changes need to be led from the top. Therefore, Organisations can mitigate favouritism by considering how the leadership team could be split between the workplace and working remotely so that they aren’t unintentionally privileging one set of workers. You can also train teams and leaders to identify biases against workplace/remote workers while they’re doing performance reviews.

Equitable benefits. Provide equal benefits for different people - for example, remote workers may feel they are missing out on the in-house benefits others enjoy. Try incorporating equal perks, such as a monthly basket of goodies, or home-workout equipment.

3. Virtual community

Nowadays, it's common for teams to use online project management tools (like Trello and Monday.com) and communication platforms (such as Slack and WhatsApp) to stay in touch. This has made checking in and tracking project progress easy and efficient. But instead of only using this approach to manage tangible work tasks, organisations should be using similar engagement tools to help support and develop their culture. Having such virtual communities will help bridge the gap between the workplace and remote workers.

A “social media style” collaboration, through an engagement platform, enables people to make announcements, recognise colleagues for their efforts, and poll/survey team members on important matters that arise. All of this leads to happier people, which we know increases productivity, retention, and overall engagement.

What to do:

Trial Campfire. Campfire is purposely built to help grow your culture in a hybrid working world. Organisations are able to create live polls, quizzes, news, as well as giving recognition to workers for their efforts - ultimately helping to foster community connections.

Increase communication. If you're unable to implement a specific culture/community platform, then consider how best to reimagine or increase usage of your current communication channels - to show recognition and appreciation.

Check-ins. One of the main benefits of a successful engagement platform is to reduce the isolation of those working remotely. Without such tools, leaders and teams should consider much more frequent and consistent check-ins to ensure there is two-way feedback.

4. Consistent experience

One of the most noticeable issues organisations has faced while trying to implement a hybrid model is ensuring workers in all locations are having the same experience. This is where technology can really be used to close the gaps.

What to do:

Online communication. Organisations should prioritise online-first communication. That's to say, all relevant communication should be done online rather than in person. This should ensure all workers are aware of certain conversations or decisions that have been made in person.

Screen first. Meetings and events should be organised and planned in advance as much as possible (with clear agendas and people kept on track), and most importantly, be remote-first. For example, rather than gathering people ad-hoc in a meeting room and having remote workers join on video, everyone should have the same experience by joining the meeting from their screens. This will encourage all participants to contribute equally. And don't forget, not everyone likes being on camera - some people will prefer to introduce themselves at the beginning, but then hop-off video.

Communication lag. Everyone at every level should understand that communication has changed, that there is no longer the expectation for people to respond right away. The key is to leave team members with all the information they need to complete a task - people can then send questions back or provide status updates later on without everyone having to be connected 24/7. This will mean adding notes, resources, and other supporting pieces of information so people can work independently and efficiently no matter where they are. And of course, deadlines and timings will need to be managed accordingly.

5. Conflict

People will always have a difference of opinion, in fact, diversity of opinions in organisations often leads to innovation and success. Therefore progressive cultures will always have to deal with conflict. However, the key is how to best manage any conflict efficiently and effectively. Like many of the other issues listed on this page, having people in various locations with potentially less communication, there's a risk of conflict having a significant impact. At best, problems are ignored with an "out of sight out of mind" mentality - with problems most likely to resurface at a later date. Or more worryingly, issues are completely blown out of proportion as people make assumptions over the limited information they have. Either way, leaders and HR teams are going to have their work cut out.

What to do:

Support healthy disagreement. To start, leaders will have to reinforce the sentiment that 'disagreement if done civilly, impersonally, and respectful, is healthy within the organisation - as it can lead to forward-thinking. Furthermore, adding disagreement protocols to your 'remote policy' will help shape debates and differences of opinions.

Share information. Both organisational wide and in one-to-one's, leaders and managers need to openly share insights and feedback - simply because a lack of information will trigger many of the negative issues with working remotely.

Commitment to Hybrid working. Whichever approach your organistion adopts for hybrid working, the commitment should be 100%. The main driver for most conflict will either be a lack of information or the uncertainty of the individual. Therefore, leaders being clear with their expectations, setting trackable objectives, as well transparent and accessible, then will elevate the majority of anxiety.

6. Visible, accessible, and transparent

Some of the most important things organisation leaders can do is be visible, accessible, and transparent (with the relevant information). This will be incredibly difficult in a virtual world, but will definitely be needed. In a hybrid work model, the watercooler moments and unplanned opportunities to pick up on social cues have now gone. Therefore leaders will need to keep everyone in the loop, sharing more often and in more detail than ever before.

What to do:

Catch-up/triage/Q&A Sessions. More than just a check-in, leaders and managers will need to make more effort than ever before to be available. These may be special one-on-one sessions or even regular triage sessions - where people know they can drop in with questions.

Encourage collaborative working. Encourage team members to have close relationships with each other by pairing them on tasks and assigning collaborative projects - potentially allowing more time than normal to get projects done.

Data share. Openness is a primary ingredient of trust which is critical to constructive cultures. Be sure you’re keeping people in the loop, sharing constantly, and making a point to ensure your team members are in the know about as much as possible - be that open polls or monthly reports, good or bad news.

7. Personal Connections

Now to the softer skills of the office. With everyone having to work remotely over the pandemic, one specific casualty will be the loss of social and personal connections. It's bad enough joining a new organisation and trying to fit in, but equally difficult for existing people to maintain connections with colleagues if they don't see them in person. Strong cultures have always had social connections at the heart of them. It helps people feel fulfilled, garner new ideas, as well as philosophies, and advice. These connections are also critical to organisations moving forward, as they often help improve effectiveness, efficiencies, and better decision-making.

What to do:

Encourage relationship-building. Create time for people to hang out on a video chat, or meet up for coffee. Strengthening relationships outside of the workspace can help engage and motivate. Groups and clubs based on interests can nurture relationships and help remote employees find common ground to bond over.

empty office space for hybrid work model return

8. Workplace/environment

The no.1 question every organisations should be asking themselves today, especially in consideration with how to implement hybrid working, what is the future role of the workplace? E.g. Are organisations keeping their office spaces but leveraging them as co-working spaces, rather than as full-time offices.

The value of face-to-face connections in the workplace is undeniable, but by implementing a hybrid work model, leaders can also build strong cultures by creating places where people want to be. This could mean reinventing those spaces into areas for collaboration, learning, and or socialising.

What to do:

Workplace role. Make a decision on what the workplace is for and then adjust as necessary. But more than just going open-plan to encourage hot-desking, consider spaces for collaboration and interaction, as well as solo desks, depending on what the role is.

Safety. It goes without saying, workspaces need to be safe for people to return satisfactorily. This will mean plenty of space and hygiene measures to start.

Flex desking. Consider allowing people to book their desk/spot before coming in. Encouraging people to utilise different workspaces for different tasks or to collaborate with other individuals.

9. Hybrid/Remote Policy

The most important thing to understand about the hybrid work model is the amount of effort required to maintain culture. Nothing will be autonomous and it will be almost impossible to grow and support a positive culture if it is left meander on its own. Culture has always been difficult, either to describe accurately or sustain, and hybrid working will only make these challenges tougher. One of the best ways forward will be to have a clear Hybrid / Remote policy that outlines the organsiations position and viewpoint n various matters.

What to do:

Establish a plan. Establish a working policy sooner than later - outline who, where, and when people work (this may include essential workplace days and/or meetings, or staggered in-house times).

Circulate the policy. Make sure everyone knows what the policy is, where it can be found, and when it is updated.

Manage. Make sure there is a policy owner - someone who is able to review, update the leadership team, and update on a regular basis.

Final Thoughts

With planning and an adaptive approach, it’s totally possible to make a hybrid model work - for your people and for your organisation. Our recommendations in this article will help you foster a community that feels connected and motivated despite the potential of being miles apart.

Save these notes, share them with a colleague, or even send them to your team for their feedback. Let us know how it goes.

And if you want to improve your culture through an engagement platform, please give Campfire a try. There's a free version so you can start using it today without risk.