Preserving Company Culture in a Hybrid Work Environment
Many companies might continue remote work long after the pandemic. Consider these seven steps to keep your company culture strong.
Remote work has become one of the unexpected success stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, generally winning high marks for sustaining productivity while offering employees more flexibility. It’s proven so popular that many companies are considering whether to make hybrid work-at-home arrangements—some employees remote, some on-site—permanent as offices reopen.
Yet for many leaders, there’s a real concern about what work-from-home arrangements may mean in the long term for team chemistry, creativity and productivity.
At the start of 2021, midsize company leaders were already thinking about their return-to-office profile. The 2021 Business Leaders Outlook Survey reported that 41% of executives expected a full return to the office by July—indicating that more than half were likely considering a range of options.
Meanwhile, a January PwC survey1 showed that nearly 90% of business leaders eventually want their employees onsite at least one day a week; only 5% said their teams didn’t need “to be in the office to maintain company culture.”
As vaccination efforts expand, your organization may be focused on the tangibles of reopening your physical office—reallocating space, introducing new cleaning protocols and distancing requirements to keep employees and customers safe. But the intangibles of corporate culture may require greater attention to assure your full return to the workplace is a success, wherever your employees are based.
Here are seven steps to help get you started:
1. Think About What Technology Can Do Versus What It Can’t.
After a year of kids, cats and family members making surprise appearances on work calls, “work life” and “home life” have clearly blended. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Think about the best moments your virtual office has delivered and find a way to maximize those benefits. For example, virtual parties, volunteer events or blood drives may have given employees a moment of pride by bringing their families into the fold—such activities could be worth continuing in a hybrid environment. The insights gathered from “the year of remote work” could create a springboard for better team interaction across locations, new ways to train managers and custom benefits to fit your future workplace.
2. Value the Whole Person, Not Just the Employee.
MetLife’s 2021 Employee Benefits Trends study found that more than half of workers worry about their well-being in terms of “mental, financial, social and physical health” with financial stress topping the list. It may be time to revisit what employee wellness really means in your organization and how you can cultivate an environment where employees feel comfortable bringing their entire selves to work.
Consider revamping business or employee resource groups to encourage nontraditional inclusivity on topics ranging from home-based schooling success to family caregiving. Alleviating the pressure felt by some employees to constantly separate their home and work personas may boost morale and foster loyalty.
3. Design an On-Site/Off-Site Model With Clear Boundaries.
In that same MetLife survey, nearly half of employees said that knowledge-sharing among team members has become more difficult in the past year. A similar number responded that they’re working outside of normal hours more often. A hybrid workplace has the potential to leave some employees feeling overstretched and out of the loop. Use what’s worked best in a full-time remote situation to inform the structure for those revolving in and out of remote work daily, weekly or monthly. This can help prevent team members from feeling disconnected or undervalued.
4. Don’t Just Communicate—Overcommunicate.
In some companies, remote work made it easier for executives to connect with managers and employees on a regular basis. Hybrid workplaces might want to extend or upgrade their virtual meeting technology for immediate sharing of company news, benefits updates and other essential information wherever employees are in the future. If you’ve already been doing virtual one-on-ones, workshops or idea sessions, consider carrying those concepts forward with incentives for teams to update and customize how they get and share information. With communication comes confidence. Employees who feel informed may be more resolute in their dealings with co-workers and clients.
5. Train and Develop Managers As Your Model Evolves.
Leaders may need a new level of holistic support and training to manage people in multiple staffing models with different backgrounds and work environments. Building relationships with direct reports in other locations may not come easily to some managers. Training and professional development programs should be deliberate about soft skills such as relationship building, empathy and inclusivity particularly when onboarding new employees.
6. Reevaluate the Way You Evaluate Your Teams.
Many companies have well-defined structures for performance evaluation, but they may not take into consideration the skills needed to thrive in a hybrid workplace. It may be time to reevaluate which performance targets are important based on when and where your teams could be working in the future—and how they get work done under these new circumstances. Also consider whether an extended “entry interview” process may be valuable for employees and their managers to capture early concerns and fix problems as teams settle into physical or virtual workspaces. In short, don’t wait for an employee’s exit interview to identify cultural or operational problems that could have been addressed much earlier.
7. Find and Mobilize Your 'Ambassadors.'
Leaders don’t always have to be the ones to lead. In a traditional office environment, it’s generally easier to find and build relationships with “go-to” team members who can explain tasks and cultural issues through a quick conversation in the hall or at someone’s desk. The inherent isolation in remote work environments can make discovering these key team members tough for new employees. Consider organizing or assigning early meet-and-greets with staff experts—you probably already know who they are—who can step in as ambassadors to your company’s culture and get new team members up to speed quickly.
Even if there are still months to go until you reset your workforce on-site or online, it’s not too early to reinforce—or reinvent—your company’s culture. Employees need to feel secure and valued in order to put their best foot forward both internally and externally. The company cultures of tomorrow will enable business leaders and staff to enjoy the benefits of a flexible work model linked to strong organizational core values.
1. U.S. Remote Work Survey, PwC, January 12, 2021.