Rather than succumb to a fragmented culture, here are 4 key practices to set the foundation for a positive, cohesive hybrid working environment.
Welcome to a new world: The hybrid working environment is the new norm for many of us. And, its challenges are new to us, as well.
You’re concerned. Now that your team is transitioning to a hybrid working environment – split between some folks coming into the office regularly, and some folks rarely (or never) coming in – you’re concerned about the effect this might have on employee morale and culture.
Your concern is warranted. Culture, after all, often models itself after the environment. With two team environments – one remote, one in-person – two team cultures could easily emerge.
The fragmentation might feel innocuous at first, but it’s disastrous in the long run. Without any malintent, social events could disproportionately happen in person – with no equivalent or attention given to remote workers. More and more meetings that “just spontaneously needed to happen” might materialize in person – with folks who are remote aren’t looped in. A decision could easily be made and announced in the office – but not reach remote folks until a month later.
Over time, the potential for remote employees to start to feel they’re working at a completely different company than their co-located coworkers is real. In the worst-case scenario, remote employees could feel they are second-class citizens in a hybrid working environment.
Don’t despair. The cultural crumbling of a hybrid working environment is not inevitable. It can be counteracted.
Here are 4 foundational practices to keep in mind to enable a positive team culture to flourish in your hybrid working environment.
#1: Commit to being remote-first, even if you’re hybrid.
The biggest pitfall of a hybrid working environment is when your organizational practices are not cohesive. Imagine what happens when a team member is confused about where to find answers to the most fundamental, team-oriented questions. For example: “If I have a new idea, how/where do I share that with my team?” or “If I have a question for someone not on my direct team, exactly how do I go about asking it?”
If you don’t have a unifying framework for how to get work done, the work simply won’t get done well.
Practically speaking, this means committing to a remote-first framework. All communications and collaboration should happen in your team as though 100% of your team is remote. With remote communication and collaboration as the default, everyone then has the ability to opt into meetings, decisions and information can easily be shared, and the most basic questions around how to work are easily and swiftly answered.
If you’re wondering what a remote-first communications framework looks like in detail, you can reference these resources:
- 5 communication practices for remote teams
- How to collaborate effectively in a remote team
- Guide to Managing Remote Teams
Without this cohesion of communication and collaboration, your hybrid work environment is bound to culturally suffer.
#2: Make the office the new offsite.
In a discussion amongst what partners at McKinsey observing in hybrid work environments, one of them remarked:
“Some of my clients say the office is the new off-site—the place you get together to collaborate and think forward.”
This resonates. Off-sites are critical opportunities to brainstorm new ideas, collaborate across functions, and of course, bond and build trust with one another other. (Here at Know Your Team, we are eagerly planning our own annual off-site in 2022, knowing how important off-sites are!)
An equivalence exists for a hybrid working environment. With the office, you have an opportunity to be intentional and purposeful about how you use that space and time together, similar to an off-site. Consider: For your team, in what ways does “going into the office” mean something rather than just “showing face”?
Here are a few examples:
- Assign one day a month in the office to be “cross-collaboration” days, where everyone comes in and pairs up with someone who they don’t typically work with, and gets to work next to them for the whole day.
- Delegate one in-person meeting a week that is solely focused on generating out-of-the-box, innovative ideas.
- Ask your team to come into the office every month specifically for an in-person team building event (e.g., this could be something as simple and straightforward as lunch together, or a coffee chat).
The exact meeting or group activity you choose is not particularly consequential. What matters is the purposefulness behind how you structure that time for people when they do come into the office.
#3: Give opportunities to connect outside people’s direct departments.
Our world has become narrower. In a study shared by Harvard Business Review, “exchanges between close collaborators increased by 40% post-lockdown at the expense of 10% less communication between more distant colleagues.” In a hybrid working environment, this is only heightened. The walls of our silos have increased, causing the risk of a fractured, disjointed culture to emerge.
To help our hybrid working environments retain a sense of unity and cohesiveness, we’ll want to focus on connection points between colleagues in all areas of the organizations, and not just in some.
This means that if you have online coffee chats, make sure that they span across functions, and not always just between remote and co-located folks.
Here at Know Your Team, we actively use our Social Questions across the organization, with 300+ rotating, fun, non-cheesy get-to-know-each-other questions to help everyone get to know each other and establish a cohesive sense of connection.
#4: Open up channels for real, unpolished feedback.
As you transition to a hybrid working environment, you’re naturally want to know: “What do people think of this?”
Perhaps you send a survey, or you ask for feedback during a town hall meeting. But how do you ensure you’re getting honest, authentic feedback, rather than an edited, polished response?
Even if you do ask folks in a pulse survey, “On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate being in a hybrid working environment?”… What does it really mean people tell you, “Oh, 4”?
Ultimately, you need to create space for real, candid conversations to be had between you and your team. What does your team really think about working in a hybrid environment? What would like to see changed and/or improved?
The most effective (and also admittedly time-consuming!) way to do this is to have a good old-fashioned 1:1 conversation with each of your direct reports. This way, you can ask specific questions, follow up to clarify and better understand what the person is thinking, and model positive body language and gratitude for them sharing an honest opinion with you.
Here are a few examples of one-on-one meeting questions you could ask to each of your direct reports to collect feedback about your hybrid working environment:
- What’s been the biggest gap between what we *said* was going to be true for how we work as a team, and the *reality* of actually how we work as a team in a hybrid work environment?
- What have you noticed being annoying or frustrating, now that we’re in a hybrid remote environment?
- Do you feel you have all the tools, context, and support to do your best work, in this new work environment?
A hybrid working environment can enable a healthy culture with concerted effort and focus.
Yes, we’re a new world with hybrid work. But we can confidently face and address the challenges of it here, starting with these 4 practices.
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