Transitioning to a Hybrid Workforce? Don’t Forget to Prioritize Culture

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

Hybrid and remote work, at first strategies for companies to operate during the pandemic, are now a lock to be permanent parts of the business environment. The reasons behind this workforce evolution are diverse. But they stem from the same premise: people discovered that remote work models were more favorable than working nine to five, Monday through Friday, under one roof.

The business world is still in flux as the Delta variant of COVID has many companies readjusting return-to-work schedules and configuring safer office spaces. Even organizations that plan to resume on-site work for their entire staff are currently rotating in-house employees as a health protocol to limit physical contact.

But when the pandemic subsides, the way many people work will be forever changed. The shift is partly due to business leaders’ acknowledgment that a remote or hybrid workforce has many advantages. And they’re also now keenly aware that they must be ready for future disruptions. One of the biggest lessons learned over the past year and a half is that it pays to be nimble and prepared to adapt.

Is Hybrid Work the Best of Both Worlds?

Proponents of an all-remote model cite the many advantages of staff working from home or another location of their choosing.

Employers gain:

  • Access to a non-centralized talent pool
  • The ability to scale their company without incurring added property expenses

Remote workers benefit from:

  • Eliminating commuting costs and time
  • Gaining flexibility in when they put in hours

But naysayers cite downsides of a workforce that never convenes in a central location, including:

  • Limited personal interaction, diluting team relationships
  • Less oversight of work being done
  • Isolation silos that hinder communication and coordination

Enter the hybrid work model, which many believe is the ideal solution, blending the pros of on-site and remote work into one design. Set up correctly, hybrid workers can take advantage of building their work schedule around personal obligations, such as childcare or eldercare. But they can still be a part of the “hub” by working at the office at certain hours or days of the week.

Hybrid workers can achieve the flexibility that most of today’s workers require in their jobs—a fact borne out by statistics. For instance, a recent GoodHire study found that 68 percent of Americans would choose remote options over in-office work. And 45 percent of American workers would either quit their job or immediately start a remote work job search if forced to return to the office full-time.

On the flip side, hybrid workers who live close enough to their employers can connect face-to-face through a schedule that includes working in the office part-time. This proximity is meaningful for many people—a Work Trend Index survey conducted this year by Edelman Data concluded that 67 percent of employees want more in-person work or collaboration after the pandemic.

The hybrid model frequently includes a mixture of people who exclusively work remotely and some who split their time between operating on-site and at home. This design allows employers to continue to reel in talented non-local staff while having in-person contact with nearby staff to override some of the negatives of a fully remote team.  And employers can still operate in scaled-down premises since everyone won’t be working together all the time.

Hybrid isn’t the Same as Flexibility

The hybrid work model sounds like an excellent solution for workers craving the flexibility afforded by remote work and the facetime of on-site jobs. But there’s a caveat in paradise. Hybrid jobs only work for employees if they have some authorship of how they’re structured.

As noted in a recent CNBC article: “The concept of a hybrid schedule suggests an employee will be in the office on certain days and working remotely on others. More often than not, however, the decision on which days each of those things happens is dictated by the company, not the employee.”

That kind of hybrid structure may work for employers, but it hardly provides workers with the flexibility they’re seeking. For example, if a staff member has child-related obligations on Thursdays, but Thursdays are one of the weekdays they’re arbitrarily assigned to work in-house, that’s a non-flexible hybrid job. 

Today’s workers are considering job options following over eighteen months of balancing work and personal responsibilities at home. After getting a taste of the flexibility necessary to do both, they won’t appreciate their boss setting up a hybrid schedule without their input. 

Companies need to partner with their staff to create win/win hybrid solutions to keep valuable team members from job shopping.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sums it up this way:

“Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work. Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly. All this needs to be done with flexibility in when, where, and how people work.”

The Role of Company Culture in a Hybrid Workforce

Hybrid work covers a spectrum of structures, including some people working full-time from home and others who are in the office all day. Other models have all employees performing their jobs in varying schedules in both places. Some may even offer staff a chance to change their preferences day-by-day.

The point is that there will be lots of variability in where and when different members of each hybrid team perform their work. While that kind of flexibility is what employees crave, companies can’t provide it and continue to operate successfully without a strong structure binding the workforce together.

A carefully designed and systematically reinforced corporate culture is the framework leaders need to orchestrate a cohesive workforce.

A company’s culture is exemplified by the behavioral norms of its people—regardless of their location or schedule. It is incumbent upon an organization’s leader to establish the standards of that culture if they want it to be a unifying force. And it is essential to weave the culture so indelibly into operations that every employee feels like they are a vital part of it.

Once this is accomplished, a healthy culture is what drives success in every area of a business. People work better independently, with their teammates, and with customers when supported by a strong culture.

How to Develop an Exceptional Culture

With any workforce configuration, leaders who wish to establish a high-performing culture must first decide what kind of behaviors lead to individual and organizational success. They then need to define those behaviors so that everyone understands what’s expected of them as they work.

Most importantly, to ensure that the culture they develop becomes ingrained, they need to follow a deliberate process. And they must be even more intentional in their approach to solidify culture with staff working in different places at different times.

Once they clarify the behaviors, leaders should set up a system in which they are continuously coached and emphasized. To effectively reinforce behavioral patterns with a hybrid team, culture messaging should be systematically layered into every virtual and in-person interaction, virtual and in person.

But leadership needs to do more than that to make the culture stick. They need to give managers the tools to teach and help their staff practice these behaviors every day. People can’t be expected to adopt and embody the prescribed behaviors without support. As CultureWise CEO David Friedman advises in his book, Culture by Design:

“Every situation is an opportunity to teach. Rarely do I ever simply give an instruction. Instead, I take the opportunity to teach how I want us to think about the situation. This is what coaching is all about.”

Tools of the Trade

Beyond the significant expansion of remote work models, another COVID-related business development was the rapid scaling of technology to connect people virtually. As a result, an array of platforms and software designed to bolster remote communication and workflow flooded the market.

Many of these IT programs can be effectively utilized to coach and communicate culture. Used creatively, technology can facilitate a reimagined culture training program designed to accommodate a hybrid workforce. The key is for management to make the most of these tools and to also set specific times to virtually connect with remote workers in one-on-one and group discussions.

One of the most important ways to encourage workers to engage in specified behaviors is to add the element of accountability. The behaviors should be part of how employees measure their work and integral to performance reviews. By keeping the aspects of culture constantly in play to encourage, support, connect, and inspire, leaders can successfully transform a group of hybrid workers into a united force.

David Friedman created the CultureWise system to develop and sustain company culture based on decades of experience as a successful CEO. His groundbreaking program includes an innovative mobile app to deliver a vast library of teaching content. Visit the CultureWise website to access a free demo of the app and learn more about building a vibrant culture within any workforce.

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