Employees want flexibility, yet many companies want employees to return to the office. Some employers believe culture is compromised or diminished when employees aren’t in proximity to each other. In fact, most companies define their culture by how employees interact in the office. They focus on fun office perks such as happy hours, onsite snacks and flexible Fridays, or they start meetings by emphasizing core values, labeling them as inclusive, results-driven, scrappy and bold. Both measures miss the mark when understanding and identifying what culture is and how it can be extended to hybrid work environments.
Culture is best defined and most clearly demonstrated when observing how team members interact interpersonally. Specifically, notice how your team members resolve conflict, address confusion, encourage innovation through idea sharing and express concerns. These exchanges happen whether employees are in the office or working remotely.
Ultimately, culture guides how employees cooperate and problem solve with their colleagues. It steers employees’ social and interpersonal behaviors. Hybrid work environments are opportunities for companies and employees to think critically about how they want their employees to engage when…
- Asking questions or expressing a desire for clarification in times of confusion.
- Sharing ideas or expressing recommendations that can improve and innovate how individuals and teams achieve goals.
- Sharing concerns or expressing what makes us anxious or disturbs our sense of peace.
- Resolving conflict or finding a peaceful solution to a disagreement.
Hybrid work is an opportunity to become more intentional about culture, not to espouse the end of it. Re-thinking culture is about giving structure to how employees approach these interactions because they’re at the root of teamwork.
Asking questions creates a collaborative and productive culture because it fosters discussion that leads to clarifying information by addressing areas of confusion. To establish norms that foster safety around asking questions in a hybrid work environment, consider why team members feel discouraged asking questions.
- What behaviors make team members feel stupid or awkward when asking questions?
- What core values encourage team members to ask tough questions?
Sharing ideas creates a collaborative and productive culture because it invites new perspectives into the conversation and encourages creative approaches to old problems. To establish norms that foster safety around sharing ideas in a remote environment, consider why team members hesitate to share ideas.
- What behaviors make team members feel as if their ideas are invalid?
- What core values encourage team members to think through how an idea can be practically applied?
Sharing concerns creates a collaborative and productive culture because it invites colleagues to seek support from their team members and helps translate difficult emotions into words that others can relate to. To establish norms that foster safety around sharing concerns in a remote environment, consider why team members don’t express their doubts.
- What behaviors or experiences would make colleagues think they will be retaliated against or receive consequences for expressing concerns?
- What core values encourage team members to simultaneously share concerns and share solutions?
Resolving conflict creates a collaborative and productive culture because it strengthens respect between colleagues and catalyzes necessary change. To establish norms that foster safety around resolving conflict in a remote environment, consider why team members hesitate to engage in conflict.
- What behaviors or experiences make those who engage in conflict or create necessary tension feel as if they are “the bad guy”?
- What values make colleagues feel like conflict is supported and productive to professional growth?
Do company cultures benefit from the spontaneity and proximity offered in-person? Absolutely. Still, the core of a company’s culture isn’t measured by how close we are to our colleagues, but how clear we are on how to approach our colleagues in ways that encourage trust and respect.
Most culture is created by happenstance while people are in the office. But hybrid work is an opportunity to think consciously and critically about how employees collaborate and cooperate, and then to translate those rules of engagement to behaviors that work both in-person and online.