Can a culture survive in a hybrid working model?
Changing a company’s culture is the hardest task of any business. It is one of the few issues that management consultants agree on. Ensuring that your company culture remains intact or continues to remain upbeat and positive is difficult when you have employees spread out across the country working from home and not personally interacting with each other.
Even with a return to hybrid working, it is only a few days a week that some employees are returning to the office and even then it is hard to gain traction. How can companies build – or rebuild – a successful culture within a hybrid workforce?
“I believe there are five key pillars that will foster a successful hybrid work environment,” Scott Stein, author of Leadership Hacks, said. “Trust is the first pillar.
It is easy to trust a colleague when you can see them working right next to you in the office, but when working remotely this is a bit more challenging. Without trust things break down and people stop working collaboratively.
“In a high trust culture, staff are not afraid to speak the truth and are open to feedback from others, regardless, if they are in person or remote. They are also proactive at sharing information in a consistent way that builds trusting relationships.”
The next stage of the process is expectations. Everyone has them but whether they are realistic or not remains to be seen. Knowing what to expect these days is even more difficult, as communication via tele conference doesn’t always pick up the nuances of an individual.
“Without clarifying expectations and targets it can be challenging for staff to know what is expected of them,” Stein said. “For many leaders, having staff regularly working remotely means they will need to find new ways to improve their communication of what they expect or they risk falling into the pattern of constantly asking for updates and being seen as micromanaging their people.”
The third pillar is accountability. Having designated roles within an office always ensure tasks can be allocated and accounted for. It is when there is crossover or unclear lines of briefs that confusion reigns supreme.
“Accountability is simply who is responsible for what and by when,” Stein added. “Regardless of the traditional organisation chart, people need to find a way to hold themselves and know who to go to for other accountable tasks. A hybrid and remote workplace can make this more challenging as it can be more difficult to see who is completing which tasks.
“When you have a culture of accountability, people work together to find solutions for problems, regardless of their title or position. They deliver results because they don’t want to let others down and also hold others responsible for their actions in a supportive way.”
Next comes accessibility. Working remotely takes away the ability to have casual conversations with individuals on an ad hoc basis if they are in the same office as you. Hanging up a Zoom or Teams call and five minutes later thinking of something you want to ask often doesn’t get acted upon as you don’t want to schedule another meeting.
On the other hand, some employers now think that they can call on you at any time of the day and/or night. This is not palatable either.
“Traditionally, when working in the office, you are expected to be accessible to others and this is easy to see if you are working at your desk or not,” Stein said. “The challenge with a hybrid workspace is that we are accessible 24/7. When working in a hybrid workplace with remote staff, accessibility needs to be clarified. Without clarification, unrealistic expectations could occur, which may lead to trouble retaining top talent who do not want to have to respond to emails coming at all hours of the evening.”
Finally, there is community. Most people know their neighbours well enough to be familiar with their comings and goings and to trust them in small matters. The same goes with an office environment though the familiarity is usually deeper.
When you take out that daily interaction over five days a week and replace it with nothing you don’t have a community at all. You basically have strangers interacting.
“When we work side by side with someone else we get to know them at a deeper level because we are observing their behaviour and can see, and experience, when they are happy, excited, frustrated or fatigued,” Stein added. “The benefit of being around them physically in an office is that we often have the chance to interact with them whilst they are going through these emotions, which binds us together even more as a community.”
Stein believes any company can build these five pillars – trust, expectations, accountability, accessibility and community - into their organisation.
“Companies build these pillars into their culture by increasing people’s awareness and understanding of them and ensuring that the leaders are communicating and clarifying how important they are,” he said. “This is dependent on the leaders’ abilities to lead their staff regardless of whether they are in the office or working remotely.”