How to embrace a hybrid culture and why you should
This article explores the concept of hybrid culture and the steps that leaders can take to ensure that their company culture lives on, regardless of the external shifts in ways of working.
It should come as no surprise that hybrid working is here to stay. This decade began with tectonic shifts in how we collaborate, communicate, and connect - in unprecedented ways and at scale.
For many, in pre-COVID times business took place largely on site at company offices. While it's true that some organisations were early adopters of remote and hybrid working, many were reliant on more traditional working models, and as a result this transition was incredibly challenging.
Maintaining company culture was perhaps one of the biggest challenges. Ensuring that organisations provide a great place to work comes at a considerable investment, and the shift to remote and hybrid working risked squandering this. After all, culture is the beating heart of an organisation, and is key to not only productivity and alignment, but also to employee well-being and staff retention.
Culture is complex, and it is formed of the different colours and textures of life. It is inherently human. So, how do you transpose this when people are (at least in many cases) no longer co-located? And, perhaps more difficult still, is how do you preserve this culture when people have only partially returned to the office?
The answer can be found in embracing a hybrid culture. For leaders, ensuring that they provide an equal experience to all employees - whether physically present or not - will be key to the future of work.
In this article, we will explore the concept of a hybrid working culture and the steps that leaders can take to ensure that their company culture lives on, regardless of the external shifts in ways of working.
Hybrid work culture: Bridging the gap
What is a hybrid work culture?
So, before we explore how to create a hybrid culture, it is first important to understand what it is and where the need for it comes from.
A hybrid culture is the set of values, practices, and norms that support working remotely and on-site at the same time. This mixture of people being co-located and distributed simultaneously has become increasingly common following the COVID-19 pandemic, and is quickly becoming the dominant way of working.
Working remotely drives physical distance between employees, but that doesn't necessarily have to mean that they are distant from one another. In fact, in many cases, remote and hybrid teams are just as connected to one another as the equivalent co-located teams - it just relies heavily on being given the environment in which to thrive together. That environment is a hybrid working culture, where having a combination of people working remotely and co-located, and a combination of the two, is the norm in an organisation.
Subscribe to Sherpany newsletter and access the articles, interviews and product updates.
Why is it important to embrace a hybrid culture?
So, while a physical 'gap' is created by remote and hybrid working, culture has the potential to bridge this gap, and give people a sense of being 'close' to one another, while remaining physically apart.
Therefore, adopting a hybrid culture not only has the opportunity to connect people, but also to help organisations future proof their company culture. There is huge value here, as nobody knows what the future holds. Therefore, ensuring that your people remain connected, no matter where they are, is an insurance policy worth investing in. What’s more, according to a ten year study conducted by John Kotter, companies who had a well-functioning culture saw revenue growth of 682%, employment growth of 282%, and a jump in stock price of more than 900% than those without it.1
Perhaps more salient, too, is the fact that hybrid ways of working aren't going anywhere. Individuals have fully embraced the flexibility of remote and hybrid working. Therefore, it is incumbent upon organisations, and their leaders, to provide an environment that delivers on this. A hybrid culture will become an expectation from top talent, as opposed to a 'nice to have.'
A hybrid culture is the set of values, practices, and norms that support working remotely and on-site at the same time.
The benefits of hybrid culture
The benefits of a hybrid working culture are wide-reaching, for organisations and individuals alike. There are the benefits we have already alluded to, including enhanced productivity, and job growth. Some of the other key benefits include:
Connection in the workplace is essential. According to Forbes, work relationships “ can either positively or negatively affect an employee’s stress levels, productivity and general feelings of happiness.”2 Therefore, a workforce that is more connected to one another is likely to be happier, healthier, and more productive. Employees who feel genuine connection to their employer and their team are not only less likely to leave, and more likely to produce their best work, but they are also less likely to experience mental ill-health relating to stress and other factors that are detrimental to their health. This greater resilience pays dividends to organisations, too.
2. Employee empowerment and trust
Creating a culture in which your employees have greater choice over how, when, and where they fulfil their responsibilities is hugely empowering, giving them a greater sense of control over their work and their lives. Therefore, one of the key benefits of committing to a hybrid working culture is the two-way trust that is generated with your employees, and the feelings of goodwill that are created in them. According to Harvard University, “people at high-trust companies report:
- 74% less stress,
- 106% more energy at work,
- 50% higher productivity,
- 13% fewer sick days,
- 76% more engagement,
- 29% more satisfaction with their lives,
- 40% less burnout.”3
They will be more likely to work hard and deliver in order to maintain the level of trust that they have been afforded by their employer.
3. Work-life balance
One of the better-known benefits of a hybrid culture is the increased work-life balance that employees have as a result. Allowing the flexibility for your people to manage the schoolrun, or juggle childcare responsibilities, means that they feel like there is more space in their lives for living, rather than working. In fact, 60% of workers report that their work-life balance is better in hybrid working arrangements.4 This makes sense, as removing lengthy commutes from at least part of the week means that employees have more time to dedicate to their work, interests, and families. A hybrid culture is also a great way to attract great candidates for open positions, many of whom will appreciate the improvements in work-life balance that it affords.
Another benefit of embracing a hybrid work culture is an increase in the diversity that is available. By embracing a hybrid culture, you remove many of the geographical barriers in the recruitment process, and in-step, widen the potential for diversity in the team members you recruit. This not only includes racial, socio-economic, and geographical diversity, but also diversity of thought, which plays a huge role in how organisations approach problem solving and decision making.
60% of workers report that their work-life balance is better in hybrid working arrangements.
Establishing your own hybrid working culture
The benefits of a hybrid working culture are very clear. So how can leaders, and their organisations, establish their own hybrid working culture? There are a number of concrete steps that leaders in particular can take. These include:
1. Challenging your own attitudes
For leaders, establishing a hybrid culture begins at home. Understanding your own position on hybrid work, challenging any biases that you may hold, and any preconceptions that you may have. It's important to invest time in learning about the subject of hybrid culture, and to select the aspects that will be best suited to your organisation and your people. This process has to begin at the top, and should trickle down to every level of your organisation.
2. Recognising the role of meetings
You can't consider the topic of hybrid culture without considering meetings. Meetings are at the centre of organisational culture in general, as they are the venue in which your company's values live, grow, or die. That said, when it comes to hybrid working arrangements, meetings are quickly becoming even more important, as they are the moments of real-time intersection with your people, whether they join in the room, dial in, or a combination of the two.
In order for your meetings to play the role that they should in this process, you must first consider your meeting culture, and address any areas of improvement there first. After all, a strong hybrid culture can't be built on weak meeting foundations.
As you establish your hybrid working culture, it is imperative that you are clear on the types of meetings that need to take place to support the culture you are trying to build. This will likely include standing meetings which will serve as regular touchpoints for your people, no matter where they are in the world.
3. Creating open channels of communication
In order for your people to feel comfortable working in a hybrid culture, they need to be able to communicate with uniformity - no matter where they are choosing to work from that day. Utilising a tool such as Slack, Basecamp, or Microsoft Teams is a great way of creating open channels of communication as an organisation. After all, informal gatherings are difficult to manage and recreate in hybrid working arrangements. Catherine Mann from the Bank of England confirms this, stating that “virtual platforms are way better than they were even five years ago. But the extemporaneous, spontaneity - those are hard to replicate in a virtual setting.”
Establishing a baseline level of informal communication is a good way of setting this in motion. Instituting a daily check-in each morning is an effective means of making everyone feel part of something, whether they are in the office or working from home. This could be as simple as a 'hello' when they're starting their day.
4. Using the right technology
A cornerstone of your newly created hybrid working culture is technology; As we have all come to realise, it is impossible to collaborate effectively at scale without having the necessary technological infrastructure in place to support your people and your processes. However, amidst the chaos of the 'remote switch' in 2020, many organisations implemented technology hurriedly, and with little consideration in the pursuit of business continuity.
Before adopting a hybrid working culture, it is important to take stock of your technology stack and be very clear about the purpose of each tool, and whether they are fit for this purpose. There will also be aspects of your operations that are overlooked here, without appropriate tools to fully support them. Meetings are a frequent example - with many organisations thinking that between Teams or Slack and Google Docs they've got their meetings covered. This is a mistake. As one of your most important components of a hybrid working culture, meetings need thorough and deliberate consideration with respect to technological support.
5. Leading by example
As with most organisational change, it is vital to set the tone of the change and live it with your own behaviour. Leading by example will demonstrate to your teams how important the change is, and that it is here to stay - both of which are important messages for your hybrid work culture to land for the long term. This could include dialling in for some important meetings to demonstrate the equality between those working remotely and those in the room, or to commit to working at least a couple of days a week away from the office. In addition to this, clearly communicating the change will create opportunities for your people to ask questions and to clarify their understanding of the new way of working.
Hybrid culture: The colours of future success
It is clear that the future of work will rely on hybrid working, and the topic of hybrid culture should therefore be front of mind for leaders around the world.
If ‘hybrid’ is a picture of the future, then ‘hybrid culture’ is the paint palette that it will be painted in. In this picture, meetings are well and truly in the foreground, and leaders need to not only recognise the need for a hybrid work culture, but also the importance of creating it correctly.
Through a series of actionable steps leaders can set up their easel and paint a masterpiece - it just takes the right perspective.
“Corporate Culture and Performance”, J. P. Kotten and J. L. Heskett, Simon & Schuster, 2008.
“5 Reasons Social Connections Can Enhance Your Employee Wellness Program”, A. Kohll, Forbes, 2021.
“Good leadership? It all starts with trust”, A. Lewis, Harvard Business School, 2021.
“Hybrid working, what does this mean for businesses in 2022?”, I. Nicholas, TheHRDirector, 2021.