As we navigate our way to a post-pandemic world, it’s clear that some “temporary” changes are here to stay. While many of the world’s biggest businesses have moved to a remote-only operation, others believe hybrid work represents the true “future of work”.
Hybrid work represents a complex new breed of work organization, with people working between team and home offices. But while business pundits are quick to extol its benefits, a full exploration of what hybrid work means for workplace culture remains elusive.
It isn’t quite office culture, it isn’t quite remote culture – so what is hybrid work culture? What problems does it present for collaboration, management and employee experience? And how can companies build a strong hybrid culture that enables teams and individuals to adapt to this new way of working?
The importance of a hybrid work culture
Much like its title, the concept of hybrid working is itself quite flexible. It can be applied to companies who allow their employees to commute to the office part of the week, and to work remotely the rest of the time. But it can also apply to a more globally dispersed company set-up – as in the case of Memory, where half the team works from regional offices in Norway and India, and the other half works remotely from around the world.
The benefits of hybrid work are plentiful. Aside from the powerful “best of both” advantage, hybrid working provides people with more flexibility, freedom and autonomy, which goes a long way in boosting engagement, productivity and overall happiness. For employers, hybrid working provides access to a much bigger, more diverse talent pool, and because employees feel empowered, they'll be more likely to retain their best staff too. Plus, because hybrid work negates the need for a full-time office, it also allows companies to save serious money in real estate and office maintenance costs.
But hybrid working presents new problems which, if not addressed, can quickly undermine employee confidence and trust. While physical company offices act as social levelers by ensuring a certain degree of fairness between employees, the remote work from home experience varies greatly based on people’s individual situations, and there’s a danger that employees will face two extremely different work experiences. When people’s work experiences are inconsistent, it can lead to communication breakdown, a sense of exclusivity and imbalance of opportunity. Without the right systems, processes and protocols in place to overcome these, companies risk alienating and antagonizing their staff.
Building a robust hybrid work culture
When improperly executed, a hybrid work model can be extremely divisive, introducing inefficiencies and inequalities. To stop this from happening, companies need to forge a robust hybrid work culture. While the substance of this will depend on your unique company set-up, there are a few universal areas every hybrid company should address. Drawing on seven years of building a strong hybrid work culture, here are our top six places to start:
Ensure equal visibility
It’s hard to gauge team progress as work moves in and out of the office. To ensure everyone feels seen, a hybrid culture must establish an even playing field and keep remote work visible. Aside from scheduling regular check ins and catch ups to give people the chance to talk openly about their work experiences, consider using employee-friendly tracking software to keep critical indicators like overtime, capacity, work hours and workload visible.
Establish a remote communication structure
It might sound counterintuitive, but hybrid cultures still need to have a remote-first communication structure in place to enable fluidity between physical and virtual workplace settings. This ensures that the wisdom, actions and agreements of in-person meetings can be easily disseminated and accessed remotely, and no-one’s kept out of the loop. Async, transparent communication is the way here, and when in doubt, always encourage over-communication.
A strong hybrid culture needs to create equity of experience between remote and in-house employees so no one party gets special treatment. That doesn’t mean your office team can no longer have Friday beers – it means you need to think about a remote alternative to include remote teams in your bonding. From creating new company traditions to ensuring company milestone events are universally felt, make sure you build inclusivity between remote and office teams.
Provide equal opportunity
Remote workers often have fewer career and development openings, and feel passed over for opportunities compared to their more visible in-office counterparts. If the physical office shouldn’t hold more power than a virtual one, it’s vital that WFH employees are provided with the same personal and career developments, even if that means reworking leadership meeting schedules, using new virtual tools or changing reporting processes.
Think about costs
In office-only cultures, companies pay to provide workers with the right equipment and environment for them to thrive. While this will remain consistent for offices within hybrid organizations, companies need to think about how to avoid transferring these costs to their remote employees. Paying remote stipends can offset some of the extra costs that come with WFH – like energy bills, work equipment and co-working space subscriptions.
Establish ways to set boundaries
One of the biggest perks of remote work is that it allows people to become masters of their own time and schedules, avoiding many of the distracting pitfalls of office life – namely, ad hoc interruption from colleagues who drop by for a chat or favor. Whether it’s setting designated times for protected deep work or ensuring meetings and collaboration only happen before lunch, a hybrid work culture must consider ways to help in-office teams stay in control of their day.