Hybrid work culture: 5 tips on how to build a positive one

The hybrid work model - including some office and remote work – is here to stay. Consider this advice on how to build a successful hybrid work policy and culture
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As much of the world emerges from COVID lockdown, companies are taking a variety of approaches to reopening their workplaces. There may be a considerable misalignment between the hybrid work model companies are planning and the one employees want.

[ What first steps are smart leaders taking? Read also: 9 hybrid work mistakes leaders should avoid when returning to the office. ]

5 ways to build a successful hybrid work culture

Job candidates also now expect hybrid and remote-work options. With competition for top talent more intense than ever, companies will need to be flexible and accommodate the individual needs of their employees. Here are five things to keep in mind as you develop your hybrid workplace model in the “new normal.”

1. Be flexible but consistent

Companies comprise a complex web of cross-team collaborations, friends, and mentors.

It’s important for everyone in your company to see each other in person from time to time. Companies comprise a complex web of cross-team collaborations, friends, and mentors, and managers can’t be expected to understand the full scope of these networks. Create structure by allocating days of the week to different teams, but outside of these guidelines, give employees autonomy over where they work.

Try to maintain the same allocated days week to week as variations will cause confusion. Encourage team members to work from the office on “non-allocated” days, but don’t make it compulsory.

2. Embrace inclusivity

Think holistically about inclusivity and equity. Employees with large home offices will likely be less inclined to commute to work than employees who share a kitchen-table office with flatmates. HR managers should extend how they think of company office space to include home offices and ensure that both provide appropriate technology and a high-quality working environment.

Also, consider the disadvantages of being out of the office. By keeping company communications online and continuing to host all-staff meetings on video calls, companies can ensure that employees who work remotely feel equally included in company updates and group decision-making. As companies experiment with what works best for them, continuing with the status quo is a sensible way to manage all employee needs in the short term.

Those that adopt a hybrid operating model need to be aware of unconscious bias.

Post-lockdown, most organizations agree that remote work can be just as productive as office-based work. While some companies will stay fully remote, those that adopt a hybrid operating model need to be aware of unconscious bias. For example, some statistics show that employees who spend more time in the office are promoted more frequently, so HR managers should put protocols in place to ensure equality.

Space allocation is another common challenge. As technology improves, remote meetings using VR or immersive hardware can help remove the barriers to communication and discussion unsolved by video calling.

Until then, however, flexible allocation of office space should be seamless and consider individual preferences.

[ There's an employee turnover storm brewing. Read also: Hybrid work: How to prepare for the turnover tsunami. ]

3. Acknowledge the productivity gains of remote work

Blanket policies, prescriptive schedules, and unfair space allocation can quickly kill the productivity benefits of hybrid working. Maximize productivity by ensuring that the best combination of employees is in the office at any one time while encouraging a culture that views remote work as a positive alternative for tasks that can be done efficiently at home.

Reward employees for efficiency and effectiveness rather than interactivity and give them the autonomy to determine how to achieve this. 

4. Prioritize mental health

Most of us have had limited physical human interaction during the pandemic, so it’s important to think proactively about mental health as we return to the office. Employees increasingly expect healthcare benefits that focus on these areas, and HR managers should be prepared to create protocols that optimize human interaction or mental well-being.

5. Don't overlook the needs of the business

Opinions vary about whether to include attendance thresholds for employees. The best approach will depend largely on each company and industry.

Your employees are the lifeblood of your business and building flexibility is key. However, the challenge lies in balancing these needs against the requirements of the business. While technology can provide a framework that makes managing people and spaces easier, leaders must create rules to foster a strong working culture that attracts and retains the best employees.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Sam Tucker
Sam Tucker is Founder & CEO at Common Surface. Previously at fast-growth startup Paddle, Sam founded Common Surface in 2020 to provide a platform that helps employees organize hybrid working schedules and enables companies to optimize their office space for productivity, efficiency and fairness.