Business · Jun 29, 2021

The Office is the New Offsite: Forming the Foundations for a Hybrid Culture

Hybrid is happening – make sure you and your business are ready

Rarely do leaders get such an opportunity to determine and shape a company’s culture as they do now in moving to Hybrid. At the start of the pandemic, many of the rituals, routines and behaviours usually enacted in the office were made inaccessible when many were forced into virtual ways of working. New data suggests that many still want to continue working from home. Some even suggest that if they were not given the flexibility or forced back into the office they would be likely to switch or even leave their jobs. As such, leaders now face the challenge of reimagining working patterns to make them work for all employees and re-establishing that shared idea of belonging in a hybrid world.

What’s the data telling us – What’s the evidence?

A majority of employees want flexible work arrangements after the pandemic and businesses need to recognise and respond to that. The genie has been let out of the bottle. People have realised they can be as productive at work and not have their lives as dominated by their job (e.g. less commutes, increased family/social time, a better balance, among others). A recent Deloitte survey revealed that 81% of 20,000 of their staff anticipate working from the office up to two days a week in the future. 96% want to have the freedom to choose how flexibly they work in the future.

While all that data looks emphatic, the picture is not entirely clear as almost 86% ranked “collaborating with team colleagues” and “interacting with others” within their top three ways of envisaging how they will use the office in the future. So clearly there is an identified need for time in the office to get the best out of each other. The trick lies in getting the balance right. Combined with the figures in Figure 1 below, this tells us that individuals have a broad range of needs and expectations. Businesses will need to reimagine how the office is used to cater to and meet those needs. A one-size fits all approach will likely not suit everyone and so leaders will need to give careful thought to how they provide this flexibility.

What are the implications? Seeing hybrid as an opportunity will be key

There is a high likelihood that if businesses don’t respond they will lose talent and see drops in engagement in productivity. In a survey carried out by McKinsey, 30% of employees said they’d be likely to switch or leave their jobs if they were required to be fully on-site. Research by Steelcase compounds this suggesting that during the pandemic, engagement declined 14% and productivity dropped 12%. For those that indicated they were unsatisfied by their work from home situation, this decreased further. In general, the longer they worked in said conditions, the more both productivity and engagement declined. As such, businesses need to pay heed to the changing needs of their employees and respond by adapting to them. In a world where human capital is scarcer than financial capital — human companies will have to adjust to what the top talent wants. The above research shows that to ignore this would be to risk an increase in turnover and a decrease in employee engagement and productivity. Instead of seeing this as a cost, we advise leaders to see this as an investment and opportunity which people will return on via engagement and productivity. The get will be far greater than the give.

Instead of seeing this as a cost, we advise leaders to see this as an investment and opportunity which people will return on via engagement and productivity. The get will be far greater than the give.

So what key areas should leader’s focus on?

Against this backdrop, it’s clear that hybrid is happening and is what people want. It is up to leaders to ensure they get the best out of their teams in this new environment. We suggest that by; re-envisioning how the office is used, adapting how you lead as a leader and forming new ways to have an ongoing, open dialogue with employees, businesses will be best placed to reap the rewards of a hybrid culture:

1) The office is the new offsite

The first step is to acknowledge that the old, office-centric ways of reinforcing culture are unlikely to work. A more flexible approach is maybe better suited in your hybrid response. The days of going in for the sake of going in are likely over. As such, leaders could benefit from re-designing meetings and aligning schedules to ensure those coming in have reason to do so when they do.

By planning ahead for this you can drive the flexibility and the choice that many are explicitly saying they want from their employer. Don’t ignore that. It can be helpful to try thinking about location as less about control and more about an event. If you can give clear outcomes for the times you do want people in the office, this helps the individual know that when they’re in the physical space, being there matters. It’s not just going to a cubicle.

It can be helpful to try thinking about location as less about control and more about an event. If you can give clear outcomes for the times you do want people in the office, this helps the individual know that when they’re in the physical space, being there matters. It’s not just going to a cubicle.

2) Leading differently and intentionally with this in mind

Leaders can shape what hybrid looks like for their business by modelling it for their teams. By dividing up and orchestrating workstreams and projects to a granular level, you can provide clarity in terms of what you’d like people to be in the office for. Leaders should be purposeful and communicative of that plan, as well as when they will be in-office themselves. From an employee perspective, this enables them to see the specific reasoning and outcome you’re trying to drive by being in the office. They can in turn plan logistics in advance and still have the freedom to choose for the most part. Equally, knowing when they’re not required to be in allows them to plan deeper and more focused work in days they are not. Leaders and managers may not have built that skill but might need to in a hybrid context as doing so brings clarity and also links into how leaders can maximize the true value of people and their preferences.

Another challenge many leaders are facing is information sharing, specifically across teams. Research on social and email networks over the course of the pandemic demonstrates that communication and connectivity with immediate teams has increased. But linkages across teams has decreased significantly. This heightens the need to think about building sessions that bring together different groups to try to uncover new ideas and new thinking, as well as to develop new relationships.

3) Forming new ways to have an ongoing, open dialogue with employees

Tom Peters coined the old phrase, “management by walking around.” In a hybrid workplace, you can’t wander around gathering information and its harder to get a read on what is going on. So, what can leaders use instead? How do you get that ‘feel’ for a culture’s health? We’d suggest:

  • Using pulse surveys to gauge how different teams are feeling and if they need further support, clarity and motivation
  • Using 1:1s to zero in on the main issues and support individuals in the areas the need it most
  • Beyond this, we’d advise leaders to be intentional about establishing more touch points with remote employees and fostering inclusive and ongoing ways of communicating

Laying the foundations for your hybrid culture to thrive

While looking ahead as to how best to facilitate the ongoing option to work from home, leaders must look to cater to the changing range of needs of their employees. Establishing the new working routines and rituals that form the foundations for an effective hybrid culture should be near the top of 2021 priorities. In doing so this allows leaders to effectively support your people at an individual level, engage their working preferences and give them the flexibility and choice they’ve made clear they want. Of course, all of this must match with what the business needs from their employees, and how the two requirements can be met. Success in this area will almost certainly reduce the risk of increased attrition and reduced engagement and productivity.

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