Creating an organizational culture in a hybrid world

In short:

  • Many leaders worry that organizational culture is under threat as the way we work continues to evolve.

  • But, in reality, we were challenged even before hybrid working to help employees operate in a way that aligned with the desired culture.

  • Leaders today need to ensure that employees know how to embody the desired culture in their individual work context and behavior, regardless of their geographic location.

As organizations continue to manage large-scale changes to the way they work, culture is a priority for HR leaders and executives. Many worry that their organization’s culture will suffer or change in a virtual or hybrid world, and don’t know how to maintain cultural ideals when employees aren’t consistently working together in one place.

Download now: A 12-month roadmap for evolving culture and leadership in a hybrid workplace

“With employees working more often in distributed environments, leaders worry that their organization’s culture will become fragmented and weakened, leading to lower levels of engagement, performance and innovation,” says Elisabeth Joyce, vice-president. CEO at Gartner.

Culture before the COVID-19 pandemic

Before the pandemic, 70% of HR leaders were confident they knew the culture their organization needed to drive business performance. Yet only 30% were convinced that their desired culture was evident in their actual culture.

In other words, leaders could articulate what they wanted the culture to be (think company values), but weren’t sure they were creating an environment that reflected the desired state. It’s all well and good to say that an organization values ​​innovation, collaboration and trust, for example, but then you have to ask yourself: “Are we demonstrating innovation, collaboration and trust in the way we behave and treat each other?

The reality is that there were issues with organizational culture before the pandemic – in terms of workforce awareness, belief in the culture, and ensuring that employees consistently behaved in a way aligned with the desired culture.

The culture after the shift to remote and hybrid working

Despite fears that remote and hybrid working will dilute organizational culture, most employees view the large-scale shift to flexible working as a net positive for their organization’s culture. In fact, 76% of newly remote and hybrid employees report a positive perception of the “workplace.”

Similarly, 64% of hybrid employees and 66% of remote employees say their organization’s culture has a positive impact on their work, compared to only 52% of on-site employees.

However, it takes work. The organizational culture must be strong enough to attract and retain top talent, drive performance, and achieve business goals. It is also important that we understand how the new environments – virtual and domestic – in which we spend more time influence our behavior.

Only 18% of employees say they work in an environment marked by a high level of fairness or that their experience is characterized by fairness. This type of red flag signals danger to organizations seeking to attract and retain talent and reminds us of the imperative to embed fairness into our behaviors going forward.

Listen now: Organizational culture and connectivity are in crisis

How to create a culture that drives business success

Sixty-eight percent of leadership teams are reassessing their company culture to reflect the new normal of virtual and hybrid working. You need to think about your business strategy and identify the two or three things you need to be successful. There isn’t a single right or wrong culture, but there are things leaders need to demand in terms of how their teams work together that will drive business success.

The trick to operationalizing culture is to make employees feel connected to it, whether they’re distributed or co-located. Some leaders may believe that the physical workplace is the main driver of future cultural connectivity, but the environment is not the driver of culture; the ways we behave and work together are.

We must, however, deliberately activate the culture; we can’t just tell people to behave a certain way. For example, using only tangible artifacts – like displaying your values ​​on a wall – doesn’t work. We need to move towards the “how” of translating culture into what people do every day.

Successful organizations will understand the new drivers of culture and how culture is operationalized in the environments in which we now spend more time. They will embed culture into the new way of working to help employees understand, believe, and live the desired culture in a hybrid or remote environment.

Helen D. Jessen