If your organization adopted a hybrid work model following the COVID-19 pandemic, chances are you did so based on employee sentiment and evidence that productivity was not diminished when areas of your workforce were working remotely. In many ways, this shows that you already have a workplace culture where employees are engaged and motivated.
Now that the reality of a hybrid work model is established, how do you keep that same level of connection, engagement, and motivation? In today’s candidate-driven talent market, this is a question many organizations are asking—and they must start working on the answer. Employers are at risk of losing their top talent in an increasingly challenging talent market, where only those organizations with an attractive value proposition will thrive.
In this article, we outline several approaches that employers can take to build and maintain their company culture while transitioning to a hybrid work model.
Start Meeting Basic Employee Needs
In our first market report of 2022, we discuss how employers can use Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs to frame their approach to employee needs and build a motivated and engaged workforce. Organizations must meet several strata—from psychological to esteem needs.
By leveraging this framework, employers can benefit from examining if and how they are meeting hybrid/remote workforce needs. Here are a few things to think about: How have workforce needs changed based on remote work? Do employees have the right tools to get the job done? Are your managers establishing trust and a sense of psychological safety to allow their team members to ask questions and take risks? Consider where you now have gaps in this hierarchy and work to meet those employee needs.
Be Clear on Work-from-Home Expectations
Since 2020, employers and employees have, in many ways, been making the rules up as we go. This agility has provided many benefits and taught our workforce to be resilient, but that level of uncertainty has also led to stress and burnout; the work-from-home model has led to many workers feeling like they are always "on".
Make sure your hybrid workforce understands expectations—whether it has to do with hours spent online, achieving specific metrics, and so on. Communicate things that may seem understood. For example, is it acceptable for employees to step away or block time on their calendar for “focus” time? Also, be transparent about travel requirements for meetings and requirements for being physically present in the office.
While it is easy to make these expectations known for new employees through job descriptions and interviews, don’t overlook your current employees. Be sure to clearly communicate company or team-wide expectations now that you are firmly a remote or hybrid workforce.
Support Hybrid, Remote, and In-Office Employees Equally
Having a hybrid workforce has its benefits, but it does not come without its challenges. As many companies found out when returning to the office, there is friction as some workers are in-office and others work remotely: remote employees face difficulties hearing people in conference rooms as in-person attendees talk over each other, that annoying echo when multiple in-office employees are on a virtual meeting using their own devices, and of course a sense that people are missing out.
A recent New York Times article artfully describes why a hybrid work model presents more challenges than fully-remote or office-centric models; however, there are strategies to help ease the tensions. Leaders need to be aware of these difficulties, be honest about the challenges faced, and be agile in making adjustments. Most importantly, leaders need to make sure these challenges do not result in inequities for growth within the organization.
Establish Workplace Rituals
A workplace ritual is an activity of importance that is performed according to a set sequence. Think about celebrating big wins or debriefing after a project is complete. These activities typically reinforce an organization's mission and values. Many established workplace rituals changed or disappeared entirely when we made the shift to hybrid work. Whether it is your daily team meeting, monthly town hall, or annual awards, clearly define what your hybrid rituals will now be. These activities will provide employees assurance of order, purpose, and community.
Make Time for Fun and Connection
Prior to the pandemic, companies boasted perks like ping pong tables in break rooms and regular team gatherings. These were outward displays that a company balanced work with fun and provided space for employees to connect. In today’s hybrid work world, activities must be established that your workforce can enjoy. Even in a remote environment, there are virtual activities employers can take advantage of—consider a virtual game, trivia night, or coffee breaks. Using Slack and other channels for informal communication is a highly effective way to maintain a connected culture.