One of the first initiatives in my role as an HR Generalist for my new employer was to develop a formal hybrid work model that would fit the organizational culture, meet the needs of employees, and maintain compliance.
We have employees in retail settings working on-site, most corporate office employees have varying hybrid schedules, and the IT department is almost all remote workers.
We’ve worked to cultivate a distinct and strong culture, based on the values of sustainability, creativity, and quality, and we want all team members to feel part of it, regardless of where they work.
Before we can dive into how we nurture a hybrid workplace culture, we’ll briefly discuss company culture—what it is and how it’s formed. Then I’ll share some of the strategies I’ve used to cultivate my company’s culture in our hybrid work environment.
- What is workplace culture?
- How is culture formed in an organization?
- How is nurturing a hybrid workplace culture different?
- How to nurture a hybrid workplace culture
What Is Workplace Culture Anyway?
Everyone has their own definition, so I’ll quickly summarize. Culture is the lived representation of a company’s values, mission, vision, and strategy. It’s the norms that dictate behavior in the workplace, from written policy to unspoken rules.
Culture is present in how people communicate with their peers and approach their superiors, how conflict is resolved, and is seen by the customers and felt by all employees.
Company culture significantly impacts productivity, innovation, employee satisfaction, and morale, ultimately impacting the success and sustainability of the organization.
As the famous Peter Drucker quote goes “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
How Is Culture Formed In An Organization?
Culture is formed by instilling the values, mission, strategy, vision, and codes of conduct into every part of a business. It starts from the top down, so it’s important that business leaders model the core values and the desired behaviors and attitudes.
For example, as mentioned, my company’s culture is based on the values of creativity, sustainability, and quality.
These values permeate through the organizational culture: innovation and creative ideas are encouraged by senior leadership demonstrating an appetite for risk for all ideas, from new product design to ways to increase efficiency.
Artistic expression is encouraged through personal appearance and physical workspaces. Our workplace is furnished with the same pieces we sell in our stores, and is configured to encourage collaboration.
Senior leadership dresses casually most days, and everyone’s encouraged to do the same. This creative expression through personal appearance is even written into our dress code in the employee handbook.
How is nurturing a hybrid workplace culture different?
In a traditional onsite work environment, culture can be more easily observed and adopted—for example how people interact with each other, how they dress and conduct themselves generally, the company values displayed around the office, events and socials, and whether office doors are open or closed.
Of course, hybrid and remote teams miss out on a lot of this, so we have to be more intentional about nurturing the culture we want.
Hybrid and remote work required us to adapt our culture. For example, a culture of trust and autonomy is more necessary to support the nature of remote working. Companies may need to proactively build and reinforce these cultural values to ensure they're upheld in a hybrid work environment.
Something we found was that onsite employees weren’t connecting as well with the fully remote workers, and newly hired fully remote workers were having a harder time collaborating on projects that needed big creative ideas.
Many of our employees need to collaborate across departments to develop new products and materialize creative designs, and we found that hybrid teams were struggling with idea creation (creativity). That team made the move to be strategic about coordinating their days in the office, which I will talk more about below.
Now that we know what culture is and how it’s formed, I’ll go into the strategies I have used to nurture our company culture for teams in a hybrid setting.
How to Nurture A Hybrid Workplace Culture
Conduct meetings in person and on video
In this slightly clunky web/in-person setting, it’s much more engaging to be able to see all meeting attendees than only hearing their voices, and it means cultural norms are more easily observed by all employees.
If not already equipped, webcams can be installed in conference rooms to make the process easier.
Leaders can encourage cameras to be on for scheduled meetings, while ad hoc video calls or meetings can be off-camera if desired. This gives remote workers a better employee experience, while also being mindful of “zoom fatigue.”
Also, we ask everyone to add pictures on email and messaging apps. Adding a face to a name on the screen is an easy way to increase the feeling of collaborating with a teammate instead of just emailing a name on your screen.
Recognizing when people uphold the company values
A great way to instill your values is to recognize people for upholding them.
For example, your company may use a public recognition channel in Slack, Teams, or another instant messaging app to celebrate when a team member demonstrates one of the values in a positive way.
We also started a weekly email newsletter with a shout-out section. Anyone can recognize a fellow team member for showcasing our brand in a positive light, collaborating across teams, or demonstrating our values through their work.
Be strategic about days in the office for hybrid employees
As great as async work can be for productivity, we found that having coordinated in-office days helped overcome the challenge of creativity in our idea-generating teams.
This will look different for every company, but we’ve found it’s better to let teams decide. Your company may prefer density days, where more employees come in on certain days, or maybe office space is at a premium, so teams have to space out their in-person days.
A few examples of how my company handles it:
- Talent Acquisition team schedules their in-office days based on in-person interviews, typically Tuesdays and Thursdays.
- The Product team is in the office on Monday to receive samples from vendors.
Sharing the company’s values, mission, vision, and strategy with all employees is key to ensuring that everyone knows how their work contributes to the organization as a whole.
It’s certainly not something that can be shared once in onboarding and then never mentioned again, but it’s a great place to start.
A great onboarding plan can work for onsite, hybrid, and remote employees with a few minor adjustments to format and delivery.
New hires at my company meet with an HR representative on their first day to finalize onboarding (most of which is completed electronically prior).
Onsite employees meet in person, while fully remote employees meet via Zoom. We strive to have hybrid employees onsite for the first week, so they can meet their team in person. This helps to form bonds and assimilate people into our culture.
Providing a platform for employees to share their thoughts and ideas is a great way to get feedback on lots of things, including culture.
My company sends out periodic pulse surveys to different teams and occasionally the whole company. These quick surveys give leadership an understanding of employee sentiment on a particular topic e.g. how to best calibrate a hybrid model.
We used the pulse surveys early in our return-to-office rollout to inform our decisions on timing and to ensure we were meeting the needs of employees as they returned to the office.
Hold regular check-ins
Regardless of whether you’re hybrid or not, managers should be scheduling regular check-ins with their teams and direct reports. These can be quick and informal or more structured depending on the culture of your company and team.
Regular check-ins are important for giving employees an opportunity to express any thoughts and concerns, and for leaders to reinforce values and ways of working.
Hold an all-hands event
Consider the cost of having fully remote folks on-site (or offsite somewhere if you prefer) at least once a year if the company hosts a large onsite function.
Getting everyone together is a great way to help build strong relationships and a sense of community. It also gives fully remote employees the opportunity to experience the company culture in person.
We held an onsite meeting last summer at our corporate office outside on the patio where everyone was invited to participate in an afternoon of food and activities.
We offered buffet-style food service and bartenders made craft cocktails. The most popular games we set up were a volleyball court, cornhole, and giant Jenga. We found it was a great way to build comradery with folks who work together but don't often see each other in person.
It also gives the chance for company leaders to reinforce cultural values, typically through presentations and employee recognition/rewards. You might even want to run sessions where people collaborate on reflecting on past scenarios and identifying instances where cultural values were upheld.
Doing what’s right for you
Hybrid and remote working have had a huge impact on us as a business, and mostly for the better. There have been some challenges along the way but, using the methods above, we’ve come to a place where our values and ways of working are consistently expressed across the business.
Some more resources to help you build the culture you want:
- Company Culture: Why It Matters And How To Improve Your Own
- 5 Subtle Signs Your Workplace Culture Is Turning Toxic (And How To Fix It)
- Types Of Company Culture: Which One Are You?
- 9 Hybrid Workforce Best Practices: Leveraging The Best Of Both Worlds
- How To Build A Culture Of Innovation (with John Carter from TCGen Inc.)
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