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How to Create a Great Hybrid Work Culture

published9 months ago
4 min read

While businesses and their people have largely benefitted from the shift to remote work, many workers have said they’d prefer hybrid work arrangements after the pandemic. There are many reasons why employees are eager to have access to an office again — some want the ability to socialize with their colleagues, while others simply need a quiet place to work, away from the distractions at home. And of course there are plenty of reasons why employees want to continue working remotely, with work-life balance at the top of the list.

But although the hybrid model offers the best of both worlds, some troubling concerns are already emerging. First, there are questions about how companies will create a cohesive culture with some employees in the office, some working remotely, and everyone potentially working different hours. What’s more alarming, however, are concerns that remote workers will feel excluded and won’t be treated fairly compared to those who spend more time in the office.

These worries were borne out in new research conducted by my firm Workplace Intelligence and Kahoot!. For example, we found that 83% of business leaders say face-to-face communication is important to be successful at their company. Around three-quarters report that office workers are more connected to their colleagues (78%) and are included in important discussions more often (73%). But perhaps most notably, around 6 out of 10 leaders say that employees who work in an office are more likely to get promoted and receive regular raises, and they’re seen as harder workers and more valuable.

For the hybrid approach to be successful, businesses must work to reverse these biases and promote a healthy corporate culture where everyone feels equally included and able to succeed, no matter their location. Let’s look at some of the steps companies can take to head off some of the cultural challenges that the hybrid workplace may present.

Offer the right technologies to bring employees together

The mix of remote and in-person work and the increased use of flexible scheduling means that hybrid teams will continue to rely on digital communication tools for many of their interactions. That’s why it important to put the right solutions in place so your workforce can stay connected no matter where people are working. But it’s not just practical tools that are needed — businesses need to consider how to drive deeper emotional connections among their dispersed teams.

Our research revealed that 91% of workers want to feel more connected to their coworkers, and they believe this could be accomplished by having access to more collaboration and employee engagement technologies. Platforms like Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams are a few of the obvious options in this space. However, employers should also consider offering games or games-based learning tools, or you could put an internal social network in place so that team members can get to know one another on a more personal level.

Note that these tools aren’t just critical for boosting connectedness in the hybrid workplace; we found they can also help ensure that remote workers are treated the same as their office counterparts. In fact, our study revealed that 77% of people say remote workers are treated fairly at companies offering best-in-class collaboration and engagement technologies, while just 32% agree at companies where the technologies are subpar.

Make time for both virtual and in-person team-building activities

People’s ability to informally spend time with their colleagues is clearly linked to workplace culture — Google “the importance of water cooler chats” and you’ll see dozens of articles on this topic. But beyond driving a sense of connection, workplace socialization has also been shown to impact creativity, well-being, and even our ability to learn. For example, one study discovered that informal workplace learning incorporating elements of fun and collaboration not only helped employees pick up new skills, it also boosted team cohesion.

According to our survey, workers and their employers are already on-board. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of employees feel it’s important to have fun with their teammates during the workday, and 81% of companies agree. However, in the hybrid workplace, employers need to ensure they take a “remote first” approach when it comes to workplace socialization. That means prioritizing activities like virtual coffee chats or games so that remote employees don’t feel forced to go into the office for team-building activities.

That being said, it’s still a good idea to hold in-person gatherings on a regular basis or encourage team members to meet up from time-to-time. It’s also critical that companies take a hard look at whether their values truly align with creating connections at work. Because while business leaders may say that employees should socialize with their coworkers during the workday, the reality is this won’t happen if the dominant culture doesn’t allow for it or if managers aren’t on-board. In fact, just 57% of the workers we surveyed say they “always” or “often” get to have fun with their colleagues.

Make calls and meetings fair for everyone

Video calls will continue to be an important way for dispersed employees to connect with one another. However, one risk of the hybrid workplace is that teams who meet in-person for these calls will have a more engaging experience than those dialing in remotely. There’s a lot to be gained by seeing people’s body language in-person and being able to have quick side chats and conversations.

That’s why some companies have said that if even one person is dialing in remotely to a meeting, then the entire team should dial-in to the meeting. Others are using better camera set-ups or Zoom Rooms to create a more immersive experience for their remote workers. Meanwhile, Google introduced a new type of meeting room that intersperses seats with life-size screens to put virtual participants on the same footing as in-person attendees.

And it’s not just team meetings that employers need to think about. Recall the stat that I highlighted earlier: 83% of business leaders say face-to-face communication is important to be successful at their company! If managers are spending more time in the office with some staff, they’ll need to take extra steps to ensure they’re getting enough facetime with their virtual team members. This could be as simple as communicating via video calls instead of just text, email, or phone calls.

Culture will be key for the success of the hybrid model

Businesses who are successfully driving a healthy, inclusive culture among their hybrid teams are finding ways for employees to connect more easily, and they’re taking a “remote first” mentality to avoid exacerbating longstanding biases again virtual workers. Only time will tell if the hybrid model will fail or flourish, but I believe companies who focus on creating a great culture will be much more likely to succeed.

I’d love to hear your perspective — what is your company doing to create a strong culture in the hybrid workplace? Join the conversation on LinkedIn!