Cultural Disruption: How to Build Culture in the Hybrid Workplace
Culture can be defined as “the tacit social order of an organisation: It shapes attitudes and behaviours and defines what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group”.
When company culture aligns with its employees’ personal values, drivers, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous energy, discretionary effort, and organisational success1. Companies with healthy culture, including engagement, purpose and vision, have three times greater returns to their shareholders2.
It’s a company’s job to get employees to fall in love with the experience of working there. It is not the job of the employees to fall in love with the company. Misalignment with culture, values, or behaviours, feeling under-valued or seeing others being under-valued, erode the company culture and are key factors in diminishing employee engagement and retention. In the new world of hybrid working with less face-to-face contact, how do we build culture and trust? This article explores this rare opportunity to re-shape culture.
Culture Change is a “Muscle That Requires Building”
Some of the biggest names in the corporate world have declared that they’re radically changing their way of working in response to the changes we are facing because of the pandemic. Microsoft, Twitter, Spotify, Facebook and Atlassian are just a few of the high-profile companies that are moving to a culture of choice in terms of where people base themselves. Many companies have experienced the benefits of remote working whilst others function better in an office setting. There is no one-size fits-all solution and we are seeing organisations explore the optimal mix that suits their business, whether this is remote, office based or a hybrid working arrangement.
Resilient organisations that thrived through the shift to remote working and now with hybrid working, are being described as a “new muscle that must be developed rather than a plan with a fixed timeline”3. At ChapmanCG that analogy is resonating. Developing an approach on where and when work gets done is much like our physical health in that we are all in various stages and a work in progress. There is no playbook for managing this change with many approaching the challenge with a continuous improvement mindset, or one that involves constantly building organisational muscle.
Building the best culture for an organisation requires a people and culture strategy that pays attention to the opportunities and risks arising from hybrid working4.
Top 5 Opportunities for Cultural Transformation
- The current state presents an opportunity to reshape culture collaboratively with employees. The pandemic has brought people and HR to the top of the agenda which has been a welcome change in many companies.
- Re-shaping workflow, how work gets done and reimagining culture is reinvigorating to an organisation.
- Discussing with talent what matters to them and helping them find more purpose in what they do is a positive. There are obvious benefits to engaging employees in this way including retention, satisfaction, and increased productivity.
- New ways of working provide a unique platform for employees to be creative and innovative in getting work done.
- Virtual interactions can be more meaningful than in person. We get to see into someone’s home, maybe see their kids or pets and the discussion can foster a more different, more personal connection.
Top 5 Risks to Culture under Hybrid Working
- For many people, remote working has been a challenge. Employees find it hard to switch off when they can’t leave the office and leave work behind at the end of the day. Many people are feeling burnt out from the stress of the last 18 months, the intensity of working on a screen all day, pay cuts or vacation sacrifices and missing the oxytocin release experienced when we are around other humans face-to-face. This is not to be underestimated.
- Networking and connection within teams has increased during the pandemic thanks to platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Zoom. However, communication and connection across the broader organisation and between teams has gone down significantly.
- There are initial signs of employee dissatisfaction with going back into a hot-desking office environment. Employees want to know they can work together as a team if they go into the office, not to mention potential health & safety risks of sharing keyboards etc. Progressive organisations are reflecting deeply on what “togetherness” means and how important it is to culture.
- Inclusion in the workforce is also potentially impacted by hybrid working. Working women, caregivers and parents have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and organisations need to be mindful of whether the company culture is helping or harming this.
- Leaders must be purpose-driven, highly communicative and have a finger on the pulse. The days of wandering around the office sensing the general vibe and talking to people at the water cooler are gone for now and other tools must come into play. Leaders need to have the capability to conduct meaningful conversations, use Apps for employee engagement and training to successfully build culture.
Reflection and Communication are Crucial to Success
Managing a hybrid work culture is a complex task. With thoughtful planning and embedding an organisational purpose and set of values, building an attractive culture, increasing employee engagement, and setting up a company for an exciting and sustainable future is entirely possible.
- HBR Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018 “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture”
- McKinsey Quarterly, September 2017 “Organizational Health: A fast track to performance improvement
- PwC’s US remote work survey published in January 2021
- McKinsey & Co, Podcast “Culture in the Hybrid Workplace” June 11, 2021