The pandemic supercharged hybrid work. Now we must strengthen company culture to keep pace with the evolved work environment. Companies accepted unimaginable changes to their working structure in a matter of weeks. A January 2021 PwC survey revealed 83% of companies were pleased with their transition to remote work — 83%! Furthermore, only one in five executives wanted to return to pre-pandemic working models.
Today, business leaders can predict how their return to work plans will affect corporate culture in the long term; however, only time will tell if the result matches their expectations. Companies haven’t tested hybrid work on today’s scale; fewer have experience reinforcing a permanently distributed workforce, no matter how “normal” it feels.
In our new reality, company leaders must define their hybrid model with their workforce — not for them. Employees should be at the center of the decision-making. Forty leaders from prominent San Diego-based technology companies shared learnings after implementing their hybrid work structure during the pandemic.
This article shares insights from IT leaders in the San Diego region. The topics discussed include hybrid work and solutions for optimizing return-to-work plans for today’s modern employees. You will walk away knowing which hybrid practices your company can use — or not use — to improve culture.
Strengthen Company Culture With People-First Policies
Can you strengthen company culture when employees work remotely or in a hybrid model? The short answer is yes, but here’s the caveat: everyone — senior executives to entry-level employees — must adapt their expectations and behaviors.
One thing managers and employees can do today to improve their internal culture is to discuss technology and COVID fatigue together. This Includes rewarding employees for their cooperation and performance, especially since most companies shifted to remote work overnight — and couldn’t have done so without employee cooperation.
Forcing employees to regress to a “butt in seat” mentality doesn’t build trust. There’s never been a better time for people leaders to experiment with new working patterns and processes, such as increased autonomy, location independence, or re-designed offices to accommodate hotdesks.
According to the IT leaders who discussed their pandemic-era workforce changes, return-to-work challenges include:
- People miss the camaraderie of coworkers, including watercooler talk.
- Group achievements felt more authentic in person.
- Too many employees haven’t met in person.
- Workloads are increasing with the always-on mentality.
- Companies lack productivity measurement tools for remote and hybrid work.
To solve these challenges, companies must recognize the opportunities presented by the pandemic, using them to speed up cultural transformation: an increase in trust, a flattening of hierarchies, and more rapid and agile decision-making.
40% of employee training was virtual pre-pandemic, as noted by a Cornell University report on workplace culture, meaning the tools and processes are already here for organizational leaders to adopt — they now need to experiment with them before talent finds opportunities elsewhere.
People-first policies companies use today
While leading through the pandemic, technology companies relied on IT leaders to adapt quickly and empower employees in new working environments. In many cases, companies documented their opportunities for strengthening company culture and improving the employee experience.
- Establish upskilling opportunities and processes for digital skills
- Build and re-build relationships with scheduled in-person meetings
- Review all positions where remote work is applicable — empower employees to choose
- Host town halls, regular company updates, and executive Q&A sessions for a hybrid workforce
- Encourage employees to use vacation with modern policies
Use Process to Help People Feel Safe at Work
In the post-pandemic workplace, strengthening company culture means taking care of job number one — caring for people. Suddenly, leaders must protect and care for employees in a remote and hybrid environment, not just today but indefinitely.
One challenge is redesigning the workplace based upon different personas such as office dwellers, safety seekers, etc. Some companies developed dashboards to track how many people are on-site, vaccinated, and considered essential for all company locations. No detail is too small for consideration.
Processes for post-pandemic work
New processes for the post-pandemic workplace should help handle employees in open work areas, especially when they have to wear masks all day long. Rotating work schedules also help teams reduce stress and fatigue while improving safety.
Think of your processes as the solution to helping people feel safe at work. Company leaders mean well, but some expectations don’t make people feel heard or valued; instead, they degrade organizational culture.
Leaders are rethinking meeting structures to improve the post-pandemic workplace, including investing in virtual facilitators. However, proposed changes must ensure the equality of all employees, whether remote or physical, to avoid creating disadvantages for remote workers.
To strengthen company culture in the post-pandemic workplace, empower employees to choose between working on-site, remotely, or a mix. Using prescriptive processes provides clarity and eases anxiety in environments where some people can’t work from home.
In some cases, in the hybrid model, you can assign each employee to an office closest to their remote location. Flexibility is crucial for all businesses moving forward. A FlexJobs and Mental Health America Survey recorded 56% of employees view flexible solutions as their top benefit.
Technology Tools for Building Company Culture
There has never been a better time to strengthen company culture using technology. Companies must explore new tools in the hybrid workplace if they want to retain talent. Leveling the playing field for hybrid and remote workers requires culture reinforcement with team building, collaboration, and strategy solutions.
Popular tools include everything from Slack, Teams, and WebEx to Miro, Lucidchart, and ServiceNow. With each new tool, organizations become better trained and educated to collaborate. And the added technology can facilitate remote-enabled users from a security management perspective, a win-win for IT and the business.
Improving culture in the hybrid workplace hinges on supporting crucial operations with new technology, including onboarding, networking, and business continuity, among others. The misconception of hybrid work requiring an abundance of clunky tools isn’t reality anymore. Using the latest synchronous and asynchronous workforce management tools for enhanced collaboration, productivity, safety, team dynamics, and culture can be combined and integrated to make the “return to the office” (however it looks for your company) more efficient, less demanding, and more seamless.
Before you Go
Companies are struggling to understand how to strengthen their corporate culture for post-pandemic success. Managers must use this opportunity to create people-first policies, implement processes, and explore technology tools as a distributed workforce becomes the norm. The path forward won’t be easy, but successful hybrid teams will be front and center in every workplace with a people-first approach and trust.
*Main image by Drew Beamer