Jane has worked at a public relations agency for five years. She kicked off her workday by responding to emails and hitting that coveted “inbox zero” status. Mid-morning, she has a meeting with her boss in which they discuss an upcoming project. After taking a quick lunch break, she gets started on research and outreach for the project, then checks in with colleagues to see if they need help with any of their projects.
When the clock strikes five, she shuts down her laptop and feels a sense of pride about all she got done over the last eight hours. Another day in the books. And she did all of this from the comfort of her apartment.
The way that many of us think about work has evolved over the last few years. Employees and managers conduct meetings, carry out tasks and keep companies running from their homes. Hybrid work schedules that offer opportunities for remote work give employees greater flexibility and work-life balance.
But Jane misses her lunch breaks with colleagues, where they would catch up over salads and green juices. She wishes she had the opportunity to meet with her boss in person, where they could communicate more clearly and she could ask more questions. She misses how the team would all come together to decorate colleagues’ desks for their birthdays or work milestones. More flexibility and the opportunity to work in the comfort of her own home is great, but it comes at a cost: a lack of office culture.
With every challenge comes an opportunity. With all the change that has been thrust into our working world the past few years, companies have the chance to rethink office culture and develop a new approach like never before. Creating a positive hybrid work culture might take some extra experimentation, but doing so is worth it to improve both the employee and the customer experience.
What is a hybrid workplace?
First, let’s go over what a hybrid workplace entails. “Hybrid work” refers to any combination of remote and in-person work. Some employees may do their jobs entirely from home while others are in the office every day. Or, all employees could work remotely some days and in person other days.
A hybrid work schedule can be set up in numerous different ways, and there are many benefits to the hybrid work model. With a more flexible schedule or working environment, employees may be more productive and experience less stress. A company could experience reduced costs by needing less office space and supplies. And with employees able to work from anywhere, companies are able to hire a more diverse range of talent unrestrained by geography.
But there are challenges too, including the loss of camaraderie, communication and other elements that have always been ingrained into traditional in-person work. Fortunately, there are many ways that managers can foster a positive culture in a hybrid workplace.
Why culture is important
Culture refers to the attitudes, behaviors and values of a company and the team members that belong to it and can play a significant role in how people feel about their careers.
Building a positive work culture, whether in a hybrid workplace or a more traditional setting, is nothing new. Companies that care have always strived to foster an environment where employees feel a sense of community, inclusion and fun related to their working lives. But hybrid work models have added an extra challenge with the lack of proximity and in-person communication.
Many of us devote a huge chunk of our daily lives to work. Feeling a sense of meaning behind our work, and the community that it gives us, takes a job to the next level and becomes about more than just clocking in and out each day. It’s about finding fulfillment, passion and purpose in what we create each day. And a large part of this culture.
Not feeling connected to the company or fellow team members can leave an employee feeling isolated, which could have a higher impact on younger workers. Someone who started their first job anytime after 2020 may only have experience with remote work, having never set foot in an office or never having met colleagues in person. It is important to foster a sense of belonging, no matter what the workplace setup is like, to give employees a better shot at long-term satisfaction with the job. Developing a positive culture and sense of community is one way to do that.
Now let's go over some tips for developing a hybrid work culture that can help each and every team member feel prepared to thrive.
Emphasize a shared purpose
With hybrid work, it can be easy to focus solely on one’s own tasks and to lose sight of the big picture. Remote employees might miss out on the energy of being in an environment where everyone is working toward a common goal, and they won’t have as many of the conversations with colleagues that build connections and lead to new ideas.
To foster a sense of community and culture in a hybrid workplace, it’s crucial for managers to emphasize the shared purpose and vision that the team is working toward. Employees will understand how important their work is and take a sense of pride in what they’re doing each day when they feel like they’re parts of a whole rather than working in a vacuum.
Offer social opportunities
With so much remote work being done over the last few years, many people might be itching for some face time with colleagues. (After so many months or even years of being cooped up, who wouldn’t?) Inject some fun into the company culture with activities, such as an exercise class, an outing to a museum, or a trivia night. This allows team members to relax and build connections without the pressure to be productive or focus solely on work.
In a working environment where some employees work remotely and others do not, or some team members are in the office much more than others, it’s important to make sure that everyone is treated equally. Visibility and proximity are huge factors when it comes to advancing in the workplace. Employees may even be more likely to get promotions or pay raises simply because they are observed more (called passive face time) by people in positions of power. With this knowledge, it’s important to make sure that the odds aren’t stacked against those working remotely. You can achieve this in a number of ways.
Keeping an even playing ground
- Make a list of employees working remotely and be sure to check in with them regularly.
- Pair up team members to complete tasks so they can collaborate and have experience working with all their colleagues.
- Be transparent with all employees about the happenings of the team and company so everyone is informed and feels included.
- Assess if some employees are receiving more perks than others (i.e. better technology for those working remotely, or more opportunities for those in the office)
- Be accessible to all employees regardless of remote status and emphasize availability for questions, conversations and meetings.
Have strong communication
In any workplace, things can go haywire when communication is lacking, and maintaining good communication can be extra challenging when employees aren’t seeing each other face to face. It can be much more difficult or time-consuming to explain something or ask a question over email than it is to pop over to a colleague’s desk. It is important to have tools to help foster a work environment where onsite team members and remote workers can communicate freely and effectively so everyone feels united toward a common goal and able to exchange ideas.
Hybrid work involves a lot of asynchronous communication, a style of interaction that does not have the expectation of responding immediately. (The opposite, synchronous communication, would include a phone call or face-to-face conversation, where the participants volley back and forth in real time.) This can be helpful for productivity because it prevents employees from being interrupted when they’re in a state of workflow. (It can be difficult to focus on a task if you have to stop for company-wide meetings at frequent intervals.)
However, it’s important for everyone to stay in contact, and a positive culture can weaken when team members aren’t having frequent face-to-face communication.
Strengthening communication in a hybrid workplace
- Have employees give daily or weekly status updates so everyone can stay informed without being “on” at all times.
- Make videos to create resources for team members to refer back to.
- Have a universal messaging system for the team, such as Slack or Teams.
Look into Employee Resource Groups
Employees don’t leave behind who they are as people when they walk into the office or log in for their work day. It is crucial for employees to feel like companies care about them and for them to know there is true commitment to diversity and inclusion in the hybrid workplace. Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs, give team members a space to connect with colleagues from a particular background or with shared characteristics, such as gender identity, ethnicity, religion or similar interests.
Huge companies like AT&T and Hilton have ERGs. The goal of these spaces is not to exclude, but to offer support. They contribute to positive culture in a hybrid workplace by fostering a sense of inclusion, belonging and an appreciation of diversity and the different perspectives that everyone brings to the table. They enhance the employee experience and help team members learn about each other.
Take Jane, for example. An ERG for women might be a great way for her to connect with other female employees, cultivate friendships, and have a place for extra support at work. Such a group might give her the extra camaraderie she’s looking for as a hybrid worker.
Starting ERGs at your company
- Provide resources, whether it’s financial support or physical resources like office space or supplies.
- Give employees time to meet or do ERG-related tasks during work hours.
- Be open and transparent about what ERGs are available so all team members can have the opportunity to join or contribute their time and skills to one that resonates with them.
Rethink the role of the office
Think strategically about the purpose of the office. While team members can be productive and complete tasks at home, the office can be a place for collaboration, brainstorming and gathering. With a hybrid workplace, going into the office can be more intentional than it has in the past, almost like a special occasion or event. It’s about more than just showing up and sitting at a desk; it’s about gathering with your team with a specific purpose or goal in mind.
Bring people together by making the office a place that people want to be. You want it to be a space where people feel inspired, encouraged, motivated and comfortable. When team members feel like they have control over their surroundings, they might feel just as comfortable in the office as they do at home, and possibly even more productive and stimulated.
A hybrid work culture is not set in stone. It is fluid and might evolve over time. Think of all the changes that have occurred in our working world over the last few years and the ways companies have had to innovate and adapt. Assess what is working and isn’t working. Listen to employees and consider their feedback before making any changes. Be open and flexible. A positive hybrid workplace culture should serve to help the company and all of its team members thrive.
Hybrid workplaces are here to stay, and they come with a set of considerable benefits, as well as unique challenges. It is important for any organization to have a strong and positive workplace culture that makes all team members feel set up to thrive - both in the office and at home.