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05.19.2021

How to Champion Your Company’s Culture in a Hybrid Workplace

Your company’s culture was born the day you opened for business. It’s your organization’s DNA—a unique signature that sets your business apart from any other. Initially, your company culture was simply built on hopes, dreams, and foundational goals. Over time, it slowly evolved as your business grew until it reflected the needs of your customers, your market, and your employees.

Until 2020.

It’s safe to say that many business cultures were dramatically impacted by the worldwide tsunami of change triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. If your business transitioned to a fully (or partially) remote workforce, or if you made significant changes to accommodate the safety of essential employees in your physical workplace—you may have experienced culture shock as you quickly adapted to keep the wheels turning and your doors open.

If you plan to permanently transition to a hybrid or remote-first workplace model, your company culture will likely continue to experience significant change. By intentionally investing time and effort into championing an adaptive and positive company culture, you place your employees and company in a winning position.

“This isn’t about increme­­­ntal change—it requires recognizing that culture is evolving despite being remote and that organizations need to invest a substantial amount of time and energy into keeping their cultures on track or steering them in new directions. Organizations that fail to do the deep work required to rethink the transmission of company culture may well have unpredictable results,” writes Pamela Hinds and Brian Elliott in their Harvard Business Review article, “WFH Doesn’t Have to Dilute Your Corporate Culture.”

Your leadership and those responsible for human resources can start by recognizing warning signs that culture change is needed and then take proactive steps to tailor modifications to your employees’ needs.

Five Signs Your Company May Need a Hybrid Culture Reset

A Future Forum study conducted during the pandemic found that many workers value flexibility in the workplace. Only 12% want to return to working in an office five days a week, and 72% prefer a hybrid work schedule. If your business plans to adopt a hybrid workplace model, it is vital to pay close attention to your employees' needs during the process.

Watch for the following signs that indicate your company needs a cultural reset—or a tweak or two:

1. Your employees show signs of stress and burnout.

Employers and employees alike were surprised and encouraged at the overall high productivity experienced during the pandemic. And although employees do enjoy the work-life balance that comes with working from home, it can have its share of stressors. Remote employees have reported feeling increased strain as the pandemic continues into its second year.

G&A Partners’ HR team recommends watching for behavioral changes, such as increased frustration and cynicism, and physical symptoms, such as frequent headaches and sore back and neck muscles, as indicators that your employees may be experiencing high-stress levels or burnout.

2. Employees seem distracted or disengaged during meetings.

If you notice decreased participation levels in virtual meetings or occasional in-office meetings, it could indicate that your company culture is waning. Signs of distraction include:

  • Turning off video during virtual meetings
  • Working on other assignments
  • Frequently checking mobile devices
  • Lack of participation in the meeting discussion
  • Nodding off

3. Your company’s teamwork spirit is flagging.

Working remotely for an extended period can take a toll on even the most independent employees. If you notice an uptick in employee conflicts and a decrease in collegial civility, your team's spirit is being tested. It could be a result of team members foregoing face-to-face contact for an extended period, personal issues, or both. Whatever the cause, or causes, it indicates that your culture needs a boost.

4. Office productivity is falling.

A marked, or extended decrease in employee productivity is warning you that something is amiss in your company culture. Without proactive measures in place in a hybrid or fully remote work environment, people tend to lose stamina because they frequently work longer hours and the lines blur between work and home life.

5. Employee turnover increases.

An increase in employee turnover could be a clear sign that your business is experiencing a cultural problem. Why? Because unemployment remains high during the pandemic and more people are looking for jobs than there are positions to fill. In other words, if your business is losing employees at a rapid pace in an employer's market, there are underlying problems you need to address.

Fine-Tune Your Company Culture to Sustain Your Hybrid Workplace

Any changes made to your company culture during the pandemic were necessary, but most likely a reaction to the difficult situation at hand. According to Hinds and Elliott, one of the most significant risks with hybrid work is the potential for employees to have different and incompatible understandings of the company culture. As the pandemic eases and recovery continues, take the opportunity to look long and hard at your company culture and make changes that support your hybrid or remote-first model.

Do a deep dive into the state of your company's culture.

Now is the time to assess how your company culture responded to the crisis. Revisit your "Day One" mission, vision, and goals to determine if they served your business well during the heat of the pandemic. If you wandered away from your organization's ideals and goals, now is the time make a plan and find your way back, and/or revisit them to reflect a new day and age.

"Culture change is difficult but rewarding," according to James Thomas, partner with Strategy & Middle East, and author of PWC's article, “How the pandemic can change workplace culture for the better.”

"When it is thrust on you, as it has been on all of us in recent months, it can feel sudden and overwhelming,” Thomas writes. “With reflection and deliberation, however, organizational leaders can extract much that is positive from what we have all been through these past months."

Seek input and feedback from your employees.

Your unique company culture mirrors your business' core values. Did those change during the pandemic, or should they change to reflect a shift to a remote work model? Start the discussion with your leadership team and employees.

"Many experts recommend involving your employees in the company culture evaluation process," said Michelle Mikesell, Vice President of Corporate HR for G&A Partners. "Conduct a survey of your employees that asks them to indicate their values and the values they think are important for the company to embody. Never forget that your staff is one of your greatest resources as an employer when it comes to innovation and improvements."

When Dropbox was considering a shift to a hybrid workplace model, the company surveyed employees to gauge their preferences. The results showed a vast majority preferred increased flexibility in the workplace and believed they were more productive while working remotely. Equally important to the company's goal of finding out employee preferences was delving into the reasons the minority was not in favor of remote work to address those challenges in new guiding principles they established for their company culture.

Never forget that your staff is one of your greatest resources as an employer when it comes to innovation and improvements.

— Michelle Mikesell, Vice President of Corporate HR for G&A Partners

Invest in your employees.

Though most of your employees may prefer and welcome the flexibility of a hybrid workplace model, they recognize that less time in a shared physical space will impact the company culture they knew in pre-pandemic days. Find fun, creative ways for employees to connect, such as holding virtual events and the occasional in-person, company-wide rally. Demonstrate that you support them equally whether they work in the office or remotely.

IBM created a "Work from Home Pledge" that specified how employees should support each other in balancing work and life, wherever they worked. Establish core collaboration hours so that most meetings occur during that time, with the remainder dedicated to individual projects or teamwork.

And, because mental health awareness was pushed to the forefront during the pandemic, consider a mental health awareness campaign to make your employees aware of resources for individuals and families who struggle with mental health issues and challenges.

Reevaluate and revise your company's policies, procedures, and practices.

After establishing guidelines for your path forward, it’s time to get down to the details. Your company's policies, procedures, and practices should reflect your company. Revisit your employee handbook and revise where needed, particularly if you are shifting to a hybrid workplace model. It is an essential tool in your HR toolbox and should provide a comprehensive accounting of your organization's policies so that employees can reference them at any time.

Take time also to audit your employee training program. Employees who will work a hybrid schedule need guidance, as do their managers. The pandemic has ushered in an era of empathetic leadership that focuses more on employees as a whole person rather than 9-to-5 workers, so training your company's management team in empathetic leadership sets them up for success.

Rework your office space.

Historically, the traditional office setting—whether it’s in an office building, factory, warehouse, or retail space—is where employees absorbed and reflected company culture. The hybrid workplace model throws a wrench into that scenario. Your first step in moving away from an office-centric mindset is recognizing that your company needs to establish new places and spaces for employees to connect. Adopt a new plan that addresses the needs of employees who are in and out of the office. You may no longer need the same real estate footprint to conduct your business, which frees up money and space for you to be innovative and creative.

Review your budget to make physical workplace changes that encourage collaboration between co-located employees. Purchase or upgrade video conferencing equipment. Invest in a conference room booking system that facilitates the scheduling of in-person and virtual meetings. Adopt "flex desking," which allows employees to share desks—or book desks—according to their hybrid work schedules. There's an abundance of creative ideas that can reinforce your culture and reinvigorate your workforce.

Exercise transparency and communicate everything you do.

A hybrid workplace necessitates transparency and open communication. Otherwise, misinformation can prevail. Your company likely adopted virtual meeting tools and digital channels to continue workflows during the pandemic, so use those to deliver information about company-wide initiatives to remote and onsite employees simultaneously. Schedule "town hall" meetings to make announcements and gather feedback or use the "Ask Me Anything" format to make company leaders accessible to employees.

Perhaps most importantly, communicate to the point of over-communicating with your employees. Grace Jaén, Vice President of Health and Welfare for G&A Partners, provided these examples of communications tactics:

  • Provide regular email updates from the executive team
  • Conduct regular management check-ins that include time to "catch up" to make these calls more personal
  • Hold team meetings via teleconference
  • Provide a place where employees can go to find answers to their questions
  • Use tools like online group chats and arranging virtual "lunch breaks" to encourage productivity and social interaction

How G&A Can Help

If you need help transitioning to a hybrid workplace and working through culture changes, new HR processes and procedures, employee development, and more, the experts at G&A can help. For more information, schedule a consultation with one of our trusted business advisors.