With a distributed workforce - working in a hybrid work model - you can work from home, the office, a coffee shop, or anywhere. While it does offer benefits, and people love the idea, it can also do a number on the company's internal culture.
But before we dive into the hybrid model's effect on culture, we have to explore what work-from-anywhere means for the future of the workplace.
Transforming the Way We Work
Understandably, we all want a little flexibility in how, when, and where we get our work done, and that's also the case in traditional work environments. However, with that flexibility comes a much greater workplace challenge — entire departments, teams, and people end up spread out.
What's more, working remotely or from home presents different challenges and requirements than working on-site. There is a distinct difference between the work needs of environmental and operational cultures.
Despite the differences, we need to be able to cater to both scenarios — or all that might appear, really. It's the only way to garner the levels of employee engagement needed to keep the workforce productive and collaborative.
Addressing Employee Concerns
Right now there is a monumental strain on employees, and they are bearing a lot of weight on their shoulders.
They're worried about returning to the office and visiting densely populated events or public areas. There are concerns if they don't return, timely or not, they'll see retaliation, poor treatment, or retracted perks. They're also worried that they won't be able to see the full picture, and they'll be left out of team or workplace announcements, meetings, and info dumps.
Most importantly, they're frightened they might get sick if they return, and worried that employers aren't taking the necessary precautions to keep them safe.
Why Culture Still Matters - Wherever You Work From
People are naturally inclined and eager to communicate and collaborate. Most of us do not enjoy working in silos, isolated from team members and other skilled colleagues. We long for a human connection even in the workplace.
Beyond that, many complex emotions and experiences are coming to fruition right now as we prepare to return to the old way of doing things, or at least try to.
Take the at-home versus in-office debate. Many people can no longer stand working from a cramped, uncomfortable, and distracting home office. At the same time, others love working from home and do not miss the commute or the in-office establishment.
A Slack survey shows that most prefer to work at home, with 72% desiring a hybrid remote-office model, and only 12% preferring to always work in a traditional office setting.
No matter which way you look at it, there are always two sides to every coin and it's the same here. The mission then should not be to force all workers to use one channel, but rather to support different workplace scenarios, and communication opportunities, on an ongoing basis. We must provide a flexible work environment that allows people the freedom to choose how, when, and where they are investing their time.
About 70% of the workforce will be working remotely at least five days a month. Another recent Gartner CFO survey revealed over two-thirds (74%) of employers plan to permanently shift workers to remote operations after the Covid-19 crisis comes to an end.
To make these initiatives successful, culture must be preserved across physical, digital, and next-generation touchpoints.
5 Tips for Maintaining Culture In a Hybrid Work Model
Develop Repeatable Processes - That way, no matter where your employees are located, they know what to expect and what's required.
Enable Accessible and Always-On Access to Content - Intranets of days-old are stagnant, and people need to be informed, in real-time, about company news and updates these days, anyway. Creating an easy-access feed or channel gives them a known location for finding relevant stories about the company.
Foster Strong Communication and Relationships - Water cooler talk is only a fraction of it. There must be multiple touchpoints where employees can connect, socialize and build rapport with one another.
Host Live and Virtual Events - On-site events, like an ice cream social or volleyball tournament, may create some goodwill, but often they omit remote and off-site workers. You should look for ways to unite the entire workforce by bringing in virtual elements to the said events. For example, a work-sponsored yoga session can be attended in person or viewed online from anywhere.
Take an Interest In Employee Wellness - Share health tips, provide suggestions for positive work etiquette — across any work setting — and talk about safety protocols. Reassure your employees that you care about their physical and mental health and that they are valuable to you.
Bridging the Workplace Experience Gap
It all boils down to one of the newest yet more engaging tools of the next-generation digital workplace, the smart campus app. Apps will connect the hybrid workplace and distributed workforce of the future, allowing smarter, always-on communications.
The main goal of any employee app should be to make the end-users comfortable — the employees. It should also provide convenient solutions to make their lives, their jobs, and their time at work — whether on-site or off — much simpler.
The app should serve as their primary mode of communication and should also facilitate all interactions between the employees and the workplace, including campus services and amenities. Above all, it should uphold work culture at all times.
Using desk-booking technology as an example, it should allow employees to feel comfortable and safe coming back into shared or solo spaces. They should have full control over the spaces they choose, and they should be fully informed about sterility, cleanliness, and safety protocols.
They should be able to monitor available rooms and spaces, to see when they're blocked off for cleaning, when they're out of commission, and when they become available again — along with updates about what's been fixed or changed. In that respect, the workplace experience solution becomes a comprehensive and informative hub, playing a central role in the reservation and use of office space.