Hybrid workplaces are a combination of allowing both remote and in-office work. A hybrid model allows companies to take advantage of the pros that working together and remotely both offer while mitigating their cons. The popularity of hybrid workplaces has surged as the world starts to transition out of the pandemic, and employees are pressing their employers to adopt more flexible workplaces.
Knowledge workers have been slowly pushing for this shift to a hybrid model even before the pandemic. A Global Workplace Analytics survey showed that before the pandemic, “80% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time.”
The prevailing feeling for employees is that the shift to a hybrid model is a good thing. It’s the best of both worlds – but it will change how managers and leaders build their company cultures. Many companies don’t have a blueprint for how hybrid workplaces should operate. Remote work has been proven worldwide, so leaders are left with few arguments to go back to business as usual.
For businesses, they face two challenges as they try to adopt a hybrid model:
- The first is how to manage hybrid teams. For answers, consult our guide to hybrid working & flexible work arrangements.
- The second challenge companies face with hybrid models is company culture, more specifically, building strong hybrid cultures unified rather than divided between those in the office and those that are not.
Building strong cultures in a hybrid workplace is particularly challenging and an issue that needs to be addressed if companies want to succeed in their transition to a hybrid model. This article will first explore how company cultures are built in both remote and in-person workplaces. After outlining how cultures are built in both work environments, we will then identify how to strengthen company cultures in hybrid workplaces.
How Workplace Cultures Differ When They’re Remote Or In-person
Company culture is an abstract thing that develops and is enforced from the top-down and bottom-up. As employees interact, they either reinforce the culture or change it. Likewise, leadership sets the tone for what they want the culture to be. Although it can be a vague concept – not as concrete as hard numbers and KPIs accomplished – but it’s equally as important.
Both in-person and remote workplaces have their benefits and ways of building culture. Leaders need to understand the nuances of each if they want to build a strong hybrid culture.
In-Person Workplace Cultures Focus On Social Interactions
In-person workplace cultures are what we’re all probably familiar with. The cultures are built through the values and the vision that the company holds. The meetings between employees and teams and their goals together further affirm the company culture.
Ultimately, the company culture of in-person workplaces is built through the social interactions between employees and leadership. It happens when people are face-to-face.
The benefits of being in-person
The benefit of going to an in-person workplace is that it’s easy to get a sense of the culture. You can see how people behave, their conversations, what they care about, what drives them, and where you fit into that.
In an article on designing the hybrid office, Harvard Business Review predicts that in-person offices “will become a culture space primarily, providing workers with a social anchor, facilitating connections, enabling learning and fostering unscripted, innovative collaboration.”
The office will be where we go to interact and collaborate with those we work with. How do fully remote cultures differ?
Remote Workplace Cultures Rely On Autonomy
It’s clear that in-person cultures are built primarily on the social interactions that happen, but remote cultures change how we collaborate. After almost a year of working remotely, Microsoft shared a study on how their teams changed the way they worked. They found that “shorter meetings increased while longer meetings decreased.”
People replaced informal meetings over lunch or casual conversations between desks with quick 1:1’s over video calls. Ultimately, remote work cultures are built on autonomy and productivity. Not that in-person workplaces aren’t productive, but remote employees will spend more time doing individual work and then bringing that to a team to present as an update, solicit feedback. There are fewer informal, spontaneous meetings. Instead, each interaction has a purpose and “many remote encounters are purely task-focused.”
The benefits of being remote
Many of us are aware of the benefits of being remote. We save time because we don’t have to commute, there are (hopefully) fewer distractions which helps us do more deep work, and we’re more productive because of it. Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report found that “the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60% to less than 80% of their workweek — or three to four days — working off-site.”
Moreover, working remotely doesn’t necessarily mean from home, but it can be an off-site workspace like a coffee shop or a flexible co-workspace. For that reason, the benefits of remote work for employees include:
- Better work-life balance
- More freedom
- Higher productivity
And for businesses, they stand to be more competitive and have access to greater pools of talent. It’s also cost-effective as office space isn’t as necessary.
How Different Employees Thrive Depending On The Workplace Structure
One of the central benefits of adopting a hybrid working model is that it provides flexibility to employees and gives them the independence to choose how they work best. It’s not remote vs in-person workplaces, but a question of how each employee works best.
Lynda Gratton, a professor of management practise at London Business School and the founder of HSM, the future-of-work research consultancy, created an axis that charts how workplaces are transitioning between flexibility in either place or time. The chart below shows that the traditional office is constrained in place and time; people have to be in the same place at the same time to do their work.
Now, however, employers are grappling with how much flexibility to provide. Can employees work anywhere or at any time? Do we all need to work at the same time, or can it be asynchronous? Whichever quadrant employers decide they want to be in, they’ll have to consider each employee is affected.
Lynda Gratton outlines examples of how different ways of working will affect different types of employees.
- A strategic planner, for example, needs long periods to think about strategic decisions. Their role would lend well to being asynchronous as they don’t have to work on other schedules.
- A manager, however, needs to coordinate their teams so they’d be more inclined to want their subordinates to all be available between 9-5.
- A product manager, someone who thrives on collaboration and brainstorming to come up with novel ideas, would want everyone in the same place to bump into them in the hallway or talk about ideas over coffee. Product innovators thrive on these serendipitous encounters.
From these examples, Gratton clearly shows that different employees work best under different conditions.
Our workplaces will be more flexible in the future of work. But as our workplaces become more dispersed in place and time, building strong company cultures will become more difficult. Let’s explore how to build strong company cultures in hybrid workplaces.
How To Strengthen Company Cultures In Hybrid Workplaces
Hybrid workplaces may look different from traditional work environments, but how strong company cultures are built looks very similar. It’s about focusing on shared goals and valuing employees.
With that said, let’s break down five ways to strengthen company culture in hybrid workplaces.
Empower Employees To Choose How They Will Work Best
Giving employees the choice of how they want to work is the first step in building a strong hybrid company culture. It will raise morale, and employees will be brought into the culture to decide how they will work.
On the other hand, telling employees what the plan is a sure way to stunt company culture. A study by global staffing firm Robert Half revealed that “1 in 3 professionals currently working from home due to the pandemic would look for a new job if required to be in the office full time.” Employees want to choose. Take that away from them, and company culture will suffer.
Focus On Equitable And Inclusive Work Cultures
Many remote workers fear that they won’t be considered for promotions and new opportunities compared to their in-office colleagues. This fear is not unfounded. A study by the Office for National Statistics found that “remote workers are doing almost double the overtime of their non-remote counterparts, yet are significantly less likely to be promoted or receive bonuses.”
Successful hybrid workplaces will focus on building equitable cultures that don’t value some employees over others.
Recognise The Efforts Of All Employees
Recognition, appreciation, feedback – these are central to supporting employees to feel valued at work. It’s also a key component of company culture. Robert Half, the global staffing firm shares in an infographic that the forms of recognition that employees want most are unsurprisingly money and paid time off. But following closely behind them are seemingly small things like an in-person “thank you,” handwritten cards, gifts, and recognition in front of colleagues. These are small acts that go a long way in showing employees they’re valued.
There’s no excuse why companies can’t encourage their managers to implement these practices with their teams. There is a clear upside as happy employees are more productive and more ingrained in the company culture. But the downside is that a lack of recognition is a deal-breaker. Rober Half also found that “two in three employees would leave their job if they didn’t feel appreciated.”
Companies with hybrid workplaces want strong cultures to take the small things seriously and take the initiative to show authentic forms of recognition.
Redesign The Purpose Of The Office
In HBR’s article on building hybrid workplaces, they outline how the purpose of the office will change as companies adopt hybrid models. Office spaces will become one of three things:
- hubs, which maximise cooperation;
- satellites, which facilitate coordination; and
- shared offices, which enable focus.
Another HBR article on designing hybrid offices explains that as remote employees seek outlets for social interaction, the office will become a “culture space.” Workers will use the office as a commonplace for learning, connection building, and collaboration that isn’t possible in a fully remote workplace.
Hybrid offices are not about some employees being in-house and others not – it’s about using both options where they’re most optimal. We don’t need an office to do deep, solitary work. We do, however, need an office to connect face-to-face with those we work with. Like it’s already been said, hybrid workplace models offer the best of both worlds.
Foster Social Connections And Opportunities For Growth
As it’s been alluded to in previous points, social connections and collaboration are essential to building strong company cultures. However, the way that successful hybrid cultures do this is more than social events and games night.
Employees crave access to leaders and learning opportunities that happen through social interactions. Companies can do this through mentorship. Rather than taking online courses, employees want to engage with one another in a way that leads to mutual growth, and mentorship does that. Additionally, mentors connect us with others and help us grow our professional networks. This leads to even more social connections and opportunities for growth.
There is a myriad of organisational and individual benefits to starting workplace mentorship programs. Organisations can attract top talent through mentorship programs and keep them because the personal and professional development they find in their roles leads to higher retention.
A study by the University of Southern California, “Attracting and Retaining Talent: Improving the Impact of Workplace Mentorship,” identified that mentorship programs create more social ties between employees. They learn more from one another and are more engaged with their work.
Ultimately, mentorship is fundamental to strong cultures and imperative to hybrid workplaces.
The future of work isn’t a question of remote vs in-person; it’s a matter of how organisations will adopt hybrid workplace models with the best of both worlds. Although hybrid workplaces are a relatively new concept, managers quickly learn how to manage teams with in-person and virtual employees.
What’s more challenging, however, is how to build strong company cultures in hybrid workplaces.
Despite a different kind of work environment, the way strong company cultures are built looks very similar. It’s about focusing on the shared goals of the company and valuing employees. This can be done by giving them the choice of how they want to work, striving to make both virtual and in-person workplaces equitable and inclusive, recognising and valuing employees, changing how we think about the office, and introducing mentorship into the organisation.
Hybrid workplaces will be the future of work. Those who learn how to build strong company cultures will be the ones we look to for inspiration well into the future.
Originally published Jul 07, 2021, updated Jan 16, 2023