Three things companies can do to enable a successful hybrid culture
Brand new research into international hybrid working arrangements by global people development company Insights shows that hybrid is now the most common arrangement – and most employees want that to continue. Globally, 92% of respondents said they’re more hybrid since the pandemic, and 72% said that unsurprisingly they want that level of flexibility to remain.
The research also provides an understanding of key focuses that organisations must pay particular attention to, with the aim to ensure teams are properly supported and that businesses can continue to be productive and resilient in this radically new working environment.
In particular, we were surprised to learn that only 20% of companies are exploring team dynamics and culture to improve hybrid team performance. In other words, 80% of companies are not doing so. It seems that there is so much more many companies could be doing to explore their hybrid setup, reassess what their team looks like, the skills people need and how these fit in more widely with company identity and culture.
With that in mind, here are three fundamental areas that companies can build upon to create a healthy, successful hybrid culture:
- Invest intentionally in digital
While two thirds of hybrid teams report using digital communication tools, one third do not, which is surprising considering that we are now three years on from the pandemic. These teams are relying on more traditional communication channels such as email or telephone.
While these channels work at a basic level, the risks are that hybrid teams will become disconnected, siloed working will proliferate, and both productivity and wellbeing could nosedive. This is the antithesis of a healthy, engaged culture. In fact, when asked how hybrid working influences team dynamics, 31% of survey respondents said it made it harder to work on team identity, while 37% said it was hard to work together on team culture.
People need to be as comfortable at home as they are in the office; they need to readily share information whether they’re sitting at home in a far-off country or next to a colleague in the office. This almost always involves investing and training in the latest digital collaboration tools. Indeed, when we asked what support employees wanted to be more effective, 32% said they wanted to get better training in these tools.
There are some truly fantastic digital collaboration tools out there that are simple-to-use and great for sharing information, improving alignment, and managing projects more effectively. My favourite digital whiteboards are Miro and Jamboard; they are simple, intuitive and a great place to start collaborating. For a more project management approach for workflows, sprints, tasks etc, then I’ve found tools like Monday.com and Jira to be effective.
My experience is that, by adopting new technologies and encouraging colleagues to share learning, communication will improve and a healthy company culture is more likely to develop.
- Provide targeted support to both individuals and teams
While 65% of organisations with existing hybrid structures plan to maintain them into the future, only 21% have actually implemented specific development plans, including upskilling for hybrid. It’s hardly surprising then that over a third of respondents said they felt unsupported in the new world of work, with 39 % wanting support to help connect with their team.
When asked what support they’d like to receive from their organisation/manager, 34% of survey respondents asked for more opportunities to connect with their team, while 32% wanted more 1:1 time with a manager to get performance feedback.
It’s vital to understand that individual employees and teams will have different needs and it is not simply a case of implementing a blanket approach to development and support. For example, one team member may be struggling with mastering digital tools, while another may be struggling to adapt to office life.
Make sure that leaders and managers are having authentic one-to-one conversations with team members individually, and also regularly bringing their teams together (both in person and virtually), to understand in which areas training is needed. This will help people feel better supported in a hybrid world – both as individuals and members of teams.
It is essential for hybrid teams to have conversations about creating their ‘ideal environment’. This includes many aspects, like the physical space that is set-up to work from, the background noise, passing traffic/footfall. It also includes how to collaborate; frequency and duration of meetings, number of people in the meeting, the medium used (video, email, digital tools). Remember, not one size fits all, and individual personality types will have different preferences on their ideal environment.
As a manager, understanding these individual preferences is essential and adapting your behaviour to meet the specific needs of each individual team member is a skill to develop.
- Rediscover the human side
Mastering the technical side of digital communication tools and providing targeted support are incredibly important, but without the foundation of human skills such as communication, empathy and adaptability, these may not succeed. This is because building connection is so much harder within hybrid teams – it is so easy for relationships to become transactional. Transactional relationships – while suitable for a one-off interaction – are detrimental to a culture which encourages openness and candour, authenticity, mutual respect and positive regard within teams.
Our research backs these findings up. Some 40% of global respondents identified the lack of social connection and casual conversations as a key challenge of hybrid working, while 30% said that they feel disconnected from remote colleagues, and 22% feel that relationships had become transactional or ‘surface-level’. Worryingly, 16 % of global respondents said they struggled with feelings of loneliness.
Developing your human skills – particularly by taking part in specific training to increase awareness of self and others – will help develop and strengthen relationships at all levels. In fact, organisations which create a working environment that values the ‘individual’ and promotes ‘self-awareness’ among leaders and employees – so that they truly understand their strengths, skills, preferences and challenges – enable business success. This will better equip all team members to navigate and mitigate the physical distance that comes with hybrid working and also to use digital communication tools to the best effect.
It’s clear from our research that employees around the world have responded positively to the increased flexibility and autonomy that comes with hybrid working – and they want that to remain. But the research also shows that companies must take specific actions to make sure this new way of working is successful and that many are still not doing so.
Paramount to this is investing in the right digital communication/collaboration tools, providing targeted support and importantly, developing the essential human skills to ensure hybrid culture is a success.
So, reflect on these takeaways and consider how you can support your people and develop the right solutions to increase connection, collaboration and productivity in the new world of work.
Ian Brett, pictured below, is facilitator at Insights Learning and Development