With hybrid work becoming the new normal, many companies are wondering how to cultivate and foster a hybrid work culture.
A survey found that 76% of HR leaders believe that hybrid work challenges their employees’ connection to organisational culture. Culture is certainly easier to foster in person; however, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to cultivate in a hybrid work model.
The big difference is that hybrid culture requires much more intention and hard-work. In person, culture is felt all around the office and presented in multiple stimuli (visual, auditory, and atmosphere), making it easier to absorb and observe. However, in a remote setting, there needs to be repetitive and intentional communication that reinforces culture.
Culture is built around how you manage hybrid work, and at the heart of it are people. Whether they’re standing right in front of you or behind a screen, at the end of the day, your employees are people. So no matter what ways and steps you implement to cultivate a hybrid work culture, without being people-centric, it won’t work effectively.
With that being said, here are some ways to cultivate a hybrid work culture in your organisation.
1. Publicise your Company’s Values
You can’t create a culture without values. If you’re shifting into a hybrid work setup, this is an opportunity to review your company’s values. Constantly moving forward and adopting new work modes, innovations, and technologies can change our values. You should check your values and change them, if required. Following this, you now need to embody and act on these values and make them accessible to your employees, both online and in person.
Making digital guides or videos—or really any content that can be shared and disseminated across the company—will help significantly. You can even have it as part of your employees’ onboarding checklist. Any way you can reinforce and advertise your values is a significant help in guiding the culture you want.
2. Equal Rules & Opportunities Across The Board
Equity is essential to every company. If things are unequal or are perceived as being so, you will have a ticking resentment bomb on your hands. With some employees working remotely and in the office, it’s essential to have rules and protocols in place to keep the treatment equal. It’s especially important for your in-office employees, as they may feel that they have less flexibility than their remote peers.
Flexible hours are key to this. Letting both types of employees have wriggle room to adjust their working hours and feel free to attend doctor and dentist appointments can make both parties (and especially your in-office team members) feel equal. Additionally, if you plan events that are at the office, you should organise events that are virtual to include your remote workers.
One of the other big components is trust. If you feel like managers are checking in more on productivity with staff that are outside the office, you need to rein that in. Employee monitoring can significantly backfire if it’s not dealt with appropriately. Of course, sending a message to say hi and see how your employee is doing is fine. However, if it’s occurring constantly (and definitely more than what would happen if they were sitting across from you in the office), you may find yourself in some strife.
3. Recognition. Recognition. Recognition.
In the office, giving praise is quite easy. Just “good job” and “nice work” can be uttered, and there’s recognition. However, in a hybrid setting, it’s not so easy. You have to be intentional, type a message, send it, and maybe even publish it on a public channel in Teams. This can be quite daunting for the poster. It’s also a lot of effort compared to an in-office interaction.
To solve this, you may create a dedicated online channel to share recognition. This makes it easy for everyone and ensures that everyone is recognised on the same channel in front of the same people. Some companies have also sent out holiday baskets to their employees during the pandemic, although it doesn’t have to be that expensive. Some genuine praise on Teams or Slack can be more than enough.
4. Make The Office a Collaborative and Social Space
An office should be a collaborative and social space for employees. In a hybrid setting, transforming the office to facilitate collaboration and increase flexibility within the space can make a world of difference. It doesn’t have to be expensive, either.
Having movable tables, power outlets around the office, hot-desking, and meeting rooms that have big screens and a good audio system are all ways to increase hybrid collaboration. Additionally, this flexibility positively affects employee experience and gives your workers a sense of freedom, which with the findings of 21 different in-office working styles, would be greatly appreciated by your employees!
5. Arrange In-Person Gatherings / Virtual Hang-Outs
The best way to cultivate a culture is to have employees meet together, whether virtually or in person. Besides having meetings, informal gatherings can be an excellent form of bonding between colleagues.
As it can be difficult in hybrid settings to read each other’s body language, miscommunications and misunderstandings are bound to happen. Being able to have team members interact in a fun manner, like trivia or bingo, particularly anything that’s more team-focused to foster collaboration.
It also doesn’t have to be so time-consuming. It could be a weekly virtual coffee catch-up. You can make it a relaxed reprieve for your team to just chat about anything but work. This can help strengthen bonds and also help reduce remote work conflict.
6. Establish Employee Resource Group
An employee resource group (ERG) can play an intrinsic role in strengthening a hybrid work culture by promoting inclusivity and fostering a sense of belonging among employees. ERGs are employee-led groups that are designed to support underrepresented employees.
In a hybrid work environment, where some employees are working remotely while others are working in the office, it can be easy for certain groups of employees to feel isolated or disconnected. Having ERGs can help cultivate a sense of community and can support employees through offering virtual meetings and events to help connect with their colleagues and the company.
ERGs can also assist the company in guiding their culture (and making it more inclusive) and identifying issues that might not be immediately apparent in the absence of diverse perspectives. Additionally, having an ERG can assist in promoting open communication and collaboration within the company, which can be crucial in building a strong hybrid work culture.
7. Utilise Leadership Members To Reinforce Culture
Culture is top-down. Managers and leaders all play a significant role in reinforcing and guiding office culture. Being transparent and frequently updating all employees on a centrally managed program like Teams or Slack is crucial to fostering trust and ensuring everyone knows what is happening in the company.
You can and should have other team channels too. These channels act as forums for various topics and can be serious or more light-hearted. For example, at our company, we have teams for foodies, an online marketplace, and a Lunch and Learn, which is a great place for like-minded employees to connect.
Linking back to the previous suggestion of making the office a social and collaborative space, managers need to let conversation happen and encourage their team to socialise not just amongst themselves but with other teams.
Small chats while having a coffee or a chance meeting in the lobby are, in most cases, a chance for knowledge sharing. However, if employees are too scared to chat with others for fear of reprimand, they lose out on that information that may significantly help them in their current task or project.
8. Implement A Buddy Program
A buddy program is a fantastic way to connect new and veteran employees. Cultural integration is one of the biggest benefits. This is especially crucial if onboarding is being conducted remotely or in a hybrid fashion. With understanding the culture for many new employees being given by social cues and physical responses, it’s necessary to have a buddy program to act in its place.
If you were to implement it, you could make it so that the pairings must be made up of different departments. This helps build ties with other teams and also lets them know what each other is doing in their role – maybe even what their role is! It’s also interesting and fun to chat with people from different departments.
While a hybrid work culture is not as easy to build as if it were exclusively in-person, it’s still very possible; it just requires more intention. Utilising any or all of these tips above should help significantly in cultivating and strengthening your culture, no matter whether it is exclusively remote, in-person, or a mixture of both. Just remember to be true to your company’s values and to adopt a human-centric approach to any policies you put forward.