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Remote Work Culture: The 2021 Hybrid Work Environment (Part 2)

The 2nd Part of our 4 Part series aimed at supporting you to step fully into the Hybrid workplace with confidence in 2021.‍


It's not easy keeping your team connected, but what about when they're distributed across the globe? One of the biggest struggles we hear from managers when it comes to remote work culture is how they can continue to express their culture within the hybrid workplace. As culture is connected to the employee experience efforts, ensuring resources are put towards strengthening your company culture, is key to offering the best employee experience possible within a hybrid workforce experience.

Remote Work Culture

The areas we'll cover around remote work culture & experience in the hybrid workplace include:

  • Shaping company culture around remote work
  • Key experience areas affected by the remote environment
  • Why some companies fail trying to strengthen their company culture remotely
  • Prioritizing resources in remote environments when it comes to culture
  • Managing & monitoring the hybrid workplace experience

Before diving in and unwrapping remote culture and employee experience in the hybrid workplace, we need to first reflect on a crucial piece of learning from Part 1 of our series on the challenges of Adopting the Hybrid Workplace Model.

"Sometimes the feeling of urgency causes us to move forward in a direction that is neither optimal nor sustainable."

In the case of experience and company culture, what many companies did during the pandemic, and still continue to do, is attempt to replicate the practices they had in an office environment and adapt them to the remote working world. The reason we're coming back to this is that the answer to improving and maintaining employee experience and culture in a hybrid environment lies in the realization that we simply can't just adapt ourselves. Adaptation is only a part of the equation, whereas rebuilding and transforming culture, make up the majority. We must keep this in mind, as we delve into how employers can ensure employee experience and company culture are maintained across their organization, even though they may be distributed across the world.

Shaping Company Culture around Remote Work

"Make remote working a part of your company culture"

One of the number one concerns when related to a hybrid environment, is how to grow and nurture a company culture that aligns with the values and beliefs of your company. In a remote working setting, we tend on losing touch with company culture, when in fact, it's the one thing we need to safeguard as it is closely linked to employee experience.

Let's briefly look at the hybrid workforce model so we can gain a better understanding of how company culture can be shaped around it. In the hybrid workplace, employees are given the opportunity to flow more freely between various worksites and choose their hours. This flexibility in work allows for the employee to take more ownership in their role and often empowers them more than if they were in the traditional working model.

Culture in the Traditional Work Environment

Some would say the traditional workplace model has been put to rest with the Covid pandemic, and although that may be true, what can't be ignored is that it wasn't necessarily the pandemic that convinced workers that remote working may be the way forward. In a staff report on traditional work arrangements published in 1999 by workforce.com, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that when workers were polled, over 83% preferred alternative work arrangements to traditional ones. Then again, although this number is considerably high, the review of the numbers was based on contractors, freelancers, and on-call workers, who most would argue are already a part of the group of workers who are accustomed to working in a hybrid environment and would thus learn towards continuing in this way.

Changing how Companies look at Remote Work Culture

The pandemic provoked many drastic changes and brought about plenty of positive aspects to the way we work. For one, it gave employees permission to fully step into the remote world; something many people only dreamed of, but were never fully given the chance to test out. From an employer standpoint, they were given an opportunity to re-evaluate the way they were running their businesses, including how they were building remote work culture. Employers were also invited, or some would rather say, forced to reflect on how they were addressing employee experience in the past.

Organizations are waking up to the fact that the allocation of resources should be in alignment with business goals and strategies. Another realization for many has been that in order to strengthen the employee experience, it needs to be defined more broadly. We'll get into that a bit later, but first, let's cover the key areas of employee experience that play a role in that broader view we just spoke about.

Key Areas of the Employee Experience

"What are we doing to look at employee experience differently?"

It's only once we ask ourselves this question, that we acknowledge, that the way we need to think and design around employee experience must undergo a major transformation. There's no way around it, and it's about time we looked to the key areas of employee experience that deserve more time and attention.

In the virtual environment, many of the crucial elements which strengthen employee experience, are often lost. It's the duty of managers and those in a leadership position, to find ways to bring that human touch back into the equation. And, besides that, building a sense of belonging and connection in the virtual working environment, will only benefit us more in the long run, if/when we move more towards a mixed office environment.

The areas which require even more resources in building our remote work culture, include:

  • Recruiting & Virtual onboarding
  • Health & Well being
  • Goal setting & Performance
  • Rewards Systems
  • Communication & Collaboration

Each of the above areas is a mine of its own and will require dedicated time and attention. Building new processes in each area so that employees can have the best experience possible within the company is vital.

Building a Remote Team Culture: Where Companies get it Wrong

"Transforming culture by only leveraging communication isn’t sufficient"

The main reason companies often fail when it comes to building a remote team culture is due to the fact that they focus too much on leveraging communication, and less on other aspects, which we'll highlight in a moment. With the increased level of communication from leadership, employees have been forced to adapt to a greater amount of communication. The problem that arises with this is in regards to an employee's ability to absorb that added communication. If the volume is too high, whatever is being communicated just becomes noise, and key messages don’t get the attention they need. As a result, employee experience is impacted heavily as employees start to feel stressed and burnout.

The key to avoiding communication overwhelm is to be purposeful about your communication strategy & plan. This means, deciding on which channels of communication you will use, and determining how you will use them. Creating a plan for your communication processes is only one element of rebuilding and transforming your culture; more is needed, but what's important is recognizing that transforming culture by just leveraging communication, isn't enough.

Remote Team Culture - There's more to it than improved communication

Apart from communication, there are a few more factors linked to why companies are getting the culture piece wrong, they include:

  • A lack of formal framework
  • Poor decision making around investments and prioritization (more on this in the next section!)
  • Failure to use design thinking when making decisions around remote culture and experience.

Employee Experience Elements

When it comes to the prioritization of specific elements of experience within the hybrid workplace, it's important to first identify the main areas of experience that you'll need to focus on. Those who are crystal clear with their focus, make more informed decisions around where to invest their resources. A simple way to break down the employee experience is as follows:

  • Digital experience
  • Physical experience
  • Culture

Companies who think about their employee's experience in the context of the above model can approach employee experience more holistically. This full-circle approach allows for accelerated conversation which then leads to a team's ability to more easily adapt to their changing environment. Additionally, when making decisions on where to allocate resources, those who place importance on listening to the needs of their team and gathering feedback, make better decisions around resource allocation.

Secondly, when deciding where to place your resources on staff experience you'll need to do a deep dive into your business requirements & design of the future state of work. The resources you invest now will need to support you in long term improvement towards your employee's experience. Lastly, when it comes to determining where you need to prioritize resources, you must ask yourself the following three questions; what are the decisions we need to make now? Are the processes we are implementing to improve employee experience feasible? Where does this fall in line in terms of importance?  Of course, when determining which elements of employee experience to focus on, you'll want to ask more questions than those above; however, with these three, you'll be able to start narrowing down what to focus on.

Managing the Hybrid Workplace Experience

To manage the hybrid workforce experience there are some basic principles employers should keep in mind.

  • Transparency - building trust by including a diversity of inputs is critical to strengthening culture and experience. Those in leadership roles also need to be asking themselves, how and why they are doing what they're doing and how it is linked to the culture. This should all be transparently shared in the workplace.
  • Agility - Ask yourself, 'where do we apply agility to the processes we have in place?', and ', Can these processes adapt to the changing environment?'.
  • Seamlessness - the employee experience needs to fundamentally be seamless in nature as the environment continues to change.

We've touched on some key principles to help manage the employee experience in a hybrid environment, but what can be done in terms of monitoring it? 👇

Monitoring the Remote Employee Experience

When it comes to monitoring the employee experience to know whether we're providing the best possible experience there are a few things to focus on.

  1. Re-think your analytics strategy by placing a slightly new lens on the metrics (ie. engagement at work, turnover, productivity), that you normally track.
  2. Use multi-teared analytics to diversify your analytics and bring more into the discussions. It's good practice to ask yourself, 'are we too focused on activities or rather driving towards outcomes for the business?'
  3. Focus on your alignment to business strategy. Ask better questions around the business, ie. Are my workforce costs reduced in a hybrid environment? Asking more specific questions will then help you more easily identify the metrics you'll need to consider; in this case, cost/hire, and real estate cost per employee as an example.

When it comes to company culture, getting it right in a hybrid workplace may not be simple at first, but by maintaining and transforming the cultural attributes that are most important to your organization you'll be well on your way to driving the company forward. Along with this, we mustn't forget that by incorporating a diversified strategy of a variety of metrics to track our remote work culture progress, an employee's experience will be improved as a result. Lastly, no matter which transformation takes place in your organization, be sure you are moving forward with the focus on maintaining and improving your processes in a sustainable way.

Curious to learn more about managing in the hybrid workplace? Check out the full remote work playbook.