We know the world of work has changed. The age of the office is officially over. But how do companies embrace and foster culture in the new hybrid working environment they will soon find themselves in?
Nurturing culture and creating teams that are aligned around shared goals, priorities and purpose, will be more challenging in a post-pandemic world. Hybrid work will soon require all of us to rethink our approach to culture and connection.
And, this rethink is urgent. According to our new research of over 1,000 UK knowledge workers, examining current working habits and how employees feel about the future of work, 3 in 5 (56%) have experienced burnout since March 2020, highlighting the need for change. Likewise, employees identify culture as a priority area, with one-third (32%) seeking a more mindful culture, and 42% concerned they won’t have the same level of flexible working they have when offices reopen. With this in mind, attempts to either continue current approaches or return to the office-based status-quo risk damaging company culture, and alienating employees.
To build the best working environment—in which teams can flourish whether in person, at the office, or a mixture of both—things have to change. However, while evolution always brings challenges, it also creates new opportunities.
Organisations that put culture first and focus on putting alignment and transparency at the heart of their hybrid work strategy, with the belief that it will help create a caring environment for employees, will be set-up for success for years to come.
Encouraging a default of openness
Just as employees will no longer be wedded to the physical office, in the post-pandemic era, neither will they be tied to rigid 9-5 working schedules. Teams have experienced the freedom of flexible working, and they like it.
Breaking free of the 9-5 mentality means enabling work to fit around life; whether that’s picking up essentials, dropping the kids at school, or simply getting some exercise in daylight hours. Meanwhile, increasing asynchronous working can mean more focus-time for deep work and fewer unnecessary meetings simply to check on statuses. Likewise, for international teams, embracing asynchronous working rather than attempting to collaborate in real-time can mean fewer late night calls or long-waits for progress on work, and it allows teams to participate in meetings they were never previously able to attend due to time differences.
However, for a flexible and asynchronous culture to thrive, there has to be a baseline of transparency and alignment. Defaulting to openness means everyone knows what they are working on, and how work is progressing. Transparent communication also means that when working asynchronously, employees can proactively find information they need. Rather than having to wait 8 hours for someone in another country to log on and forward them an email, everything should be accessible to every team member.
Beyond asynchronous working, a default to transparency will also help when it comes to real-time problem solving and collaboration, particularly under time constraints—nobody likes realising they’re missing a key document just as a deadline approaches.
Work, however, is about more than completing a to-do list. An aligned culture also benefits team connections and wellbeing.
Nurturing team connections
While teams have enjoyed the benefits of flexible working, the increase in remote-working has also left many feeling disconnected from their coworkers. As more people are on-boarded remotely, and may have never met teammates in-person, it’s increasingly important that businesses proactively foster connections and boost wellbeing.
As the physical office becomes less important, the need for digital headquarters for both work and social interactions grows. Slack, a messaging app for business which lets you organise conversations into channels so everyone stays in sync, is the ideal platform for your virtual HQ. It not only helps keep teams aligned on different projects by bringing all the people, information, docs, and more, into one transparent space, it creates environments to cultivate non-work interests. Teams must feel supported, empowered to be authentic, admit it can be hard, and to ask hard questions. Don’t feel afraid to engage on personal topics too. At Slack, we’ve recently set-up informal channels such as #freshkicks, #dogs and #dadjokes, to share interests.
Setting up open channels for a virtual-watercooler, or specific channels for shared interests and hobbies, helps teams connect beyond the day-day when restrictions on in-person contact are still in space.
While a channel-based messaging app can create a transparent space for teams to organically align on work and connect socially, creating a great hybrid culture also requires proactivity from leadership and management teams.
Leading by example
Traditional, command-and-control management doesn’t gel with distributed work. Hoarding information at the top, or taking decisions behind closed doors can reduce agility and damage morale. Where possible, management should look to democratise decision making, and keep employees in the loop. As the past year has shown, things can change fast. An open culture, with everyone up to date, avoids uncertainty or people feeling left behind and it also reduces the risk of work being duplicated amidst that confusion.
On the other hand, information overload is a real risk. Slack keeps people in the loop on what matters to them—open leadership doesn’t mean everyone receives thousands of messages from across the company. It means everyone has the latest on issues that impact them.
When it comes to transparency, those at the top of a business should lead by example. The days of the once a month CEO email are over. We’re in the era of the virtual all-hands, combining both video and live feedback. Greg Jackson, Founder and CEO at Octopus Energy has been doing just that to foster an open and inclusive culture. Greg holds a weekly Zoom call with the whole company, and encourages people to drop him a direct message on Slack if they want to follow-up. Likewise, the wider leadership team encourages such communication through Slack, and employees have responded with enthusiasm—sharing over 11 million messages in the past year alone.
An empowered future of work
As organisations begin to formalise their post-pandemic plans, with many shifting to a hybrid approach, transparency and alignment must become key pillars of company culture, starting from the top.
These attributes will help us all create environments that take what workers have loved about remote work—like its flexibility—as well as overcome ongoing challenges—like fostering meaningful connections.
From Slack to Zoom, and Envoy to Asana, technology will play a fundamental role in successful hybrid cultures. Closed-door email threads or bias towards in-person meetings will only lead to fragmented, unequal and unhappy workplaces. It’s important leaders both open-up decision making and lead from the front when it comes to building transparency and alignment.
Let’s move forward with hybrid workplaces that promote honest, human connections from the top-down and empower everyone from the bottom-up with the tools they need to do their best work, and connect with colleagues, from any location.