Hybrid Work Culture — It’s about Rebuilding not Maintaining
Just as “remote work” became the phrase of 2020, “hybrid work” is on its way to becoming the workforce word of 2021. And for good reason. The majority of companies are moving to a hybrid work environment and are already rethinking their processes, tools, offices, and more to adapt to this new mode of work.
Although on the surface, hybrid work may seem like just a variation of remote work, I challenge you to go beyond copy-pasting your remote work practices to your hybrid organization. Annie Lin, VP of People at Lever puts it well: “The hybrid work world isn’t a return to how things were before. It’s actually a completely new model for how we need to think about the way companies run and how we all work with each other. It’s really a moment for us to design from scratch and learn along the way.”
Don’t overlook culture
Treat your hybrid work strategy like any other workplace transformation. An organizational restructure or a merger/acquisition calls for the evaluation and transformation of processes and the transition to hybrid work should be approached with a similar mindset. [Related article: Cultural Alignment — The Key to Successful Mergers & Acquisitions]. Now, that might make you immediately think of re-evaluating your tools/infrastructure and your physical offices, but I’d encourage you not to overlook one key factor — your culture.
Culture is just as important to design a sustainable hybrid work model. In fact, 70% of workplace transformations fail, largely because of people/culture-related challenges. Additionally, according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, one-third of employers are facing challenges around company culture as they transition to hybrid work.
Like many organizations, Sift is now a hybrid company, so culture is top of mind for me. I’ll be giving you some suggestions for how to think about your hybrid work culture. I’ll cover the following:
- Why you should go beyond maintaining culture
- How to evaluate your culture
- The start, stop, continue framework
- Best practices for sustaining a successful hybrid work culture
Going beyond maintaining culture
We recently had a conversation with five HR & IT leaders in our webinar, Hybrid Work Roundtable — How to Plan for an Ambiguous Work World, and during the discussion, we asked attendees what their major concerns were around managing a hybrid workforce.
We found that many webinar attendees were concerned about culture. Specifically, 15% of attendees expressed that “maintaining culture” was one of their main concerns. Outside of our webinar group, culture is also top of mind for leaders. According to a Gartner survey, one in three leaders says that the challenge they’re most concerned about when it comes to managing a hybrid workforce is maintaining their culture.
This is fair because we see the huge role culture plays in successful workforce transformations, however, I want to call your attention to the word “maintaining”. Maintaining culture implies that preserving current norms/behaviors is the priority and will lead to success, however, I’d challenge you to go beyond maintaining culture. Mary Ellen Slayter, Founder, and CEO of Rep Cap, posed this question during our discussion: “How are you so sure that your culture is worth maintaining?” And that’s something I’d ask when thinking about your hybrid work culture.
Go beyond “maintaining culture” and instead think about how to rebuild/reshape your culture, because “the culture you once had, even with the adjustments you made to support remote teams during the pandemic, may not be well suited to a hybrid work environment. So, seeking to maintain the status quo instead of rebuilding could hold you back.” So, how do you get started on rebuilding your culture? The first step is to evaluate your behaviors/norms.
Identify your stops, starts, and continues
When it comes down to it, culture is a shared set of behaviors and mindsets that influence how people work. So, in order to reshape your culture, identify these common practices. How and why do you work the way that you do? Some questions you can ask include:
- What are the core values that drive our organization?
- What needs to be true in order for our teams to work effectively?
- How do our departments collaborate?
- How are decisions made by our leadership team?
- What are our management practices?
Once you’ve answered these questions, consider using the start, stop, continue framework to evaluate your shared norms and decide what’s worth maintaining and what’s not. In short, this framework is a way for team members to give and receive feedback and to evaluate processes based on three categories:
- Start — behaviors that you should start doing to improve processes. Is there a new work process that you should implement? New tools you should start using?
- Stop — behaviors that you should stop doing because they’re inefficient or counterproductive. Is there a work style that’s causing conflict? Or a tool that’s hurting rather than helping your productivity?
- Continue — behaviors that you should continue doing because they have a net positive impact. Are these behaviors part of your core processes yet?
We recently utilized this framework to assess our own processes at Sift to great success. It has helped us identify the key behaviors that have a positive impact on our core processes that we should continue, behaviors that we should eliminate, and new ways to engage as a hybrid workforce. So, take some time to gather your key stakeholders to evaluate your culture through this framework. Allow each stakeholder to identify behaviors in all three categories and document them. You can use a physical whiteboard for this or a virtual one like Miro or FigJam.
First, what are things you should start doing now that you’re working in a hybrid capacity? Perhaps it’s daily status updates on Slack for both in-office and remote workers? Or perhaps you need to start establishing guidelines for in-office work i.e. when team members will be in the office, what kind of work will be done in-person, and how you’ll communicate shared work hours to the whole team?
Next, what are things that you should stop doing because they’re no longer effective in a hybrid work environment? Maybe you need to stop having important in-person conversations without documenting them? Or perhaps you need to stop unintentionally rewarding in-person work over remote work?
Finally, identify what you need to continue doing for an effective hybrid work culture. These might be things that you started doing when you transitioned to remote work and need to shape for hybrid work culture. Maybe you started pairing coworkers for virtual coffee chats and found that they really helped foster employee engagement? Or maybe your leadership started giving more frequent updates on company strategy/values and you found that they had a great impact on employee morale?
As you identify your starts, stops, and continues, keep some of these best practices in mind as you reshape your hybrid work culture
3 essentials to sustaining a hybrid work culture
Utilize a remote-first lens
Even though you may be working in a hybrid capacity, it’s incredibly easy to start treating in-office work as the default and neglecting the remote work side of things. So, lean towards seeing everything through a remote-first lens. Whether it’s making sure that all-important in-person conversations are documented or that managers are trained against remote worker bias, taking a remote-first approach will ensure that all team members are valued and in the loop, no matter where they’re working.
Emphasize (and exhibit) your core values
Once you’ve identified and adapted the core behaviors that make up your culture, you need to share them out so that they’re not just values on a page but daily practices. One advantage of in-person work is that employees can learn shared values by interacting with and learning from their peers. It’s harder to do that in a remote environment. So, find new ways to exhibit core behaviors in a digital context. For example, if one of your values is consistent feedback and recognition, show that by creating a Slack channel specifically for this purpose and implement a weekly round robin for mutual feedback and props. How can you show rather than tell the core behaviors and norms that drive your culture?
Prioritize high-touch communication
In order to implement consistent workflows/shared patterns/processes, communication is key. Transparent communication is a crucial part of an effective hybrid work culture and it needs to be displayed by leadership. “Treat communication as a strategic priority, not as an assumption.”
Continue your learning
As your organization navigates hybrid work, I highly recommend utilizing the stop, start, continue framework to go beyond maintaining your culture. Identify what’s really worth maintaining and what you need to adapt or even eliminate completely.
As you start thinking of this for yourself, I highly recommend watching the full webinar if you haven’t yet! We take a deeper dive into some of these topics, and it’ll help you continue your learning.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Sift’s Blog in July 2021.
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