Hybrid work: 5 tips to build a vibrant culture

Hybrid work is here to stay. When shaping your organization's strategy and hybrid work culture, consider this advice to keep your teams positive and productive
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how to work from home after covid: 6 tips

For years, organizations and their managers have dictated where work should be done. COVID-19 changed that. We now know that productive work is possible outside an office, and many employees are now able to demand greater choice when it comes to working arrangements.

While some senior managers remain skeptical, those who resist embracing the opportunities that hybrid work offers may lose key people who are looking for greater workplace autonomy.

According to research from Microsoft in February 2021, 41 percent of interviewed employees are likely to consider leaving their employer in the next year – and these people won’t be looking for more rigid, formal structures where their workplace is dictated. They’ll be looking for high-trust, flexible organizations whose leaders are forward-thinking and reimagining how work gets done.

Many people don’t want to work exclusively at home or exclusively in the office, instead favoring a 3/2 or 2/3 split.

Many people don’t want to work exclusively at home or exclusively in the office, instead favoring a 3/2 or 2/3 split, depending on the work that needs to be done. One survey found that most employees would settle for a single day at home every week.

[ Want more hybrid work strategies? Read Hybrid work: 4 roles to assign in every meeting and Hybrid work: 7 signs that meeting should be an email. ]

Hybrid workplace culture: 5 tips

What’s clear is that hybrid working is here to stay, so here are five tips to help you build a vibrant workplace culture.

1. Upskill managers

If we’re honest, many managers weren’t great at motivating and inspiring employees when everyone was in the same place, and hybrid work isn’t likely to change this – especially as leading a team whose members are not in a common space requires much greater communication, empathy, vulnerability, discipline, and courage. According to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast, only 20 percent of managers are prepared for this challenge. To ensure productivity and engagement, organizations need to construct tailored training programs that help managers develop the skills required to lead effectively in a hybrid environment.

2. Be clear about who's eligible

Hybrid work is not necessarily open to every employee. (Consider surgeons, electricians, chefs, ballet dancers, pilots, and refuse collectors, to name just a few examples.) Organizations must provide absolute clarity on which roles are eligible for hybrid work and update position descriptions and contracts to reflect that.

3. Ensure technology supports collaboration

Gartner forecasts that worldwide spend on technology will increase by 6.2 percent in 2021 to cope with the demand for new tools to support hybrid work. With this level of investment comes a responsibility to not only ensure that people know how to get the best out of technology, but also that teams agree on how it will be used. Just because you have Microsoft Teams installed doesn’t mean that it supports effective teamwork. Technology should support collaboration, not get in the way.

4. Don't replicate bad habits

When lockdown orders were first imposed, two things happened: Organizations fast-tracked their rollout of video/collaboration tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack; and back-to-back in-person meetings became back-to-back video meetings. Instead of running between conference rooms, people started switching between various collaboration tools. When redefining your culture for the hybrid world, identify some of the bad habits that got in the way of productive work in the office and ensure that they play no part in your hybrid plan. 

People should feel a sense of belonging and that they have a voice regardless of where they are located.

5. Be inclusive – regardless of location

In hybrid work cultures, people need to make sure that their words and actions don’t undermine how safe people feel to do their best work. Phrases such as “We wish you were here” and “If only you were in the office” will undermine this safety, as will judging people’s productive time by how long their green light is set to “available.”

People should feel a sense of belonging and that they have a voice regardless of where they are located. As a leader, work to ensure that all team members use language and actions that are inclusive and accepting.

Implementing hybrid work requires time and investment. Because it almost completely overhauls how most organizations operate, it should be done in conjunction with staff, not to them. This may be a new approach for some leaders, but it’s indicative of the post-COVID shift in attitude towards the workplace.

What are you doing to build and maintain a vibrant culture in a hybrid world?

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

Colin D. Ellis is a culture change expert, an award-winning international speaker and a best-selling author. His latest book, "Culture Fix: How to Create a Great Place to Work" (Wiley), has seen him travel all over the world to help IT departments transform the way they work.