How Can Culture Exist in a Hybrid World?
People don’t plan to fail.
They fail to plan.
During the transition period in times of great change, the liminal space, our brains are neurologically wired to seek comfort - often times coming from the familiar. It’s why you tune into old reruns of shows, and why every time your senior year anthem comes on you feel nostalgic - flooded with memories and transported back in time.
As we evaluate this moment in time - as employers have to make decisions about hybrid work in life post-pandemic, and employees have to consider the ranking of their personal, and professional, priorities - life is asking us to break past the innate human psyche and choose what’s right for what’s next, not necessarily what’s “easiest” - or the most familiar. 68% of American workers say the ability to work remotely and on-site is the perfect work model, so how can remain solution-oriented and strategically driven in making this possible?
Carrie Boyd, M+A Managing Principal, said it best in her article “How to Reenter The Workplace Successfully in Life Post-Pandemic”: “Returning to the office is like a diet - if there was one solution that worked, everyone would be doing it. It’s time to focus inward, not outward...to create your customized strategy.”
It all starts with a plan, and feeling prepared, which using methods from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, develops strategies to target concerns and create solutions.
Together, let’s evaluate the top 3 reasons why leadership teams are hesitant to adopt, and adapt to, hybrid work in life post-pandemic, why they need to, and the strategic solutions for success.
How can culture exist in a hybrid world?
A 2021 Prudential study found “one in three American workers would not want to work for an employer that required them to be onsite full time.”
So without being together, physically, every day at the office, how can culture exist?
To get started, let's slow down - do you even know what company culture even means?
Beyond being one of 2021’s top buzzwords, company culture is defined as the attitudes and behaviors of a company and its employees. It is evident in the way an organization's people interact with each other, the values they hold, and the decisions they make.
Notice, nowhere does it say team building activities, free snacks, or ping pong tables.
A hybrid world challenges a company’s “culture” authenticity, testing the organization's values and connection.
Connection - and therefore culture - is built on closeness - but contrary to popular belief that doesn’t mean proximity. Real and perceived proximity carry great power in building and maintaining relationships, and with hybrid work models, companies can capitalize on elements of both to continue to create culture.
What is the status of your company’s core values? Beyond being hung on the office wall, if I asked you for an example of how you’ve lived each one out within the last two weeks - could you answer honestly?
How do your colleagues treat each other? How do your leaders show up? Does the President prioritize their kid’s soccer games? When it’s time for holidays, do people respect disconnecting to spend time with family? When the guy in accounting got engaged to his boyfriend did you schedule a group lunch, or pass a card of well wishes around to sign?
Culture exists in a hybrid world when a company is brave enough, and wise enough, to recognize - and value - employees as their whole selves - not segmented versions of professional and personal people. Similar to hybrid work, humans are showing up as a blend of these two areas - professional and personal - that were once kept so separate. Now, culture is the connection built from communication, and closeness, experiencing highs and lows together, both personally and professionally, and being more than a company - and more of a community - through it.
Stop. Evaluate yourself. Consider what you’ve been prioritizing, and what you’ve been asking your employees about - is it a deadline or project update, or a question of genuine interest regarding their greatest personal priority?
How can our company compete in the talent war?
The 2021 Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) study shows that “more than half of employees surveyed in North America plan to look for a new job in 2021.”
Current research is proving each employee lost costs the company between $100-$216,000, which with some simple math, can produce some startling cost realities, serving as clear financially driven reasoning to explore hybrid remote that will support retention.
This should come as no surprise as research is proving that 93% of companies globally are reporting plans to permanently change remote work and meeting policies post-pandemic.
Remote work is not hard. You’ve just never done it before. Recognize the fear factor that is holding you back, and know the difference of why you’re hesitant to move forward. It’s time to engage your curiosity, and shift your perspective.
Don’t use fear as an excuse, or claim your company can’t “support” remote work. We need to extend our willingness to adopt new programming beyond software, considering upgrades of our mindset and mentality that will improve the way we work. Remember “remote work” isn’t 100%, but could look like asking employees to spend a certain amount of time, or days, in the office in a flexible way, or asking for all client and team meetings to be in person, and heads down work to be completed remotely.
For even the less than tech progressive companies out there, I’m willing to bet money no company is still using dial-up connection. There are ways to use the technology you have, or exists at low cost, to find ways to make remote work easier - and possible.
Recognize the difference between preference, and requirement, and commitment to shifting from a fixed to firm mindset. What is absolutely necessary of your employees from an in-person perspective?
Do they need to be in person for client meetings, but could easily accomplish heads-down work at home? Do scheduled hours matter more, or does accomplishing tasks on time take priority - no matter where, or when, they’re completed as long as it’s done well, and on time?
How can I make sure employees are productive if we’re not together?
Rely on KPI’s - they exist for a reason. KPI’s are the metrics and analytics that serve as guide signs to make sure you’re on the right path. If productivity in a hybrid world is your biggest hesitation, these will serve as your bumpers to make sure you don’t go too far off track.
What’s more, research shows Boomers find KPI’s to be a motivator, and younger generations like Millenials and GenZ find the communication of KPI’s to be a demonstration of transparent communication. Something as simple as a monthly communication on a scheduled cadence that shares company KPI’s and performance information will serve as a cultural tool, demonstrating a commitment to communication, transparency, and feelings of job security. GenZers are likely to stay twice as long as a company where they have a mentor.
To engage employees further, consider tying in incentives along the way, like a bonus plan payout with multiple touchpoints throughout the year, or additional PTO days for reaching certain goals, to gametize the KPI’s and engage all employees on a common mission that supports, and serves, the company’s success.
It’s easier to opt for a company happy hour or handing out free donuts - it’s a literal “check box” you can check off. It’s much harder to measure a metricless concept like making an employee feel valued, appreciated, and respected - but nothing that comes easy is worth a damn, right?
Culture can exist in a hybrid world, and in fact, has the opportunity to take on more meaning and substance than ever before. Employees will celebrate the time spent together in collaboration, and value the time remote to accomplish individual work, continuing to drive measurable productivity and support healthy KPIs.
Start with honesty, and altruism, when communicating plans for progress with your team, and notice how much more grace is given as together you work towards great change in this historical inflection point. No one is looking for perfection, just progress, and leadership showing willingness to adapt and adjust proves just that.
Culture can exist in a hybrid world, and is the way to stay relevant for recruitment, and retention, keeping employees engaged, fulfilled, and contributing collaboratively to the bottom line. Embrace the challenge, and recognize it is what will change you - in the best way.
Director - Strategic Communications
Life-enthusiast, occulture fanatic, and mental health champion, Sam has a passion for natural health modalities and energy healing practices like yoga. She also teaches Lagree at Butcher Shop Fitness in Columbus.