Attention to these areas will help employers overcome challenges of physically distanced workforce
Workplaces have been experiencing a lot of change. Regardless of how many employees return to the office, hybrid workplaces are likely here to stay – and employers should approach them as a long-term arrangement.
In fact, more than three-quarters of Canadians support the hybrid workplace model – but four in five are concerned that the leadership in their organization isn’t prepared or equipped for it, according to a survey by KPMG.
This suggests that an important key to business success in a post-pandemic world is figuring out ways to improve company culture in a hybrid workplace where regular, day-to-day contact is limited.
Below, we look at ways to improve company culture in a hybrid workplace to help your organization overcome challenges from a physically distanced workforce.
Read more: Hybrid model set to transform offices
1. Be open to new changes
Innovation and adaptation are necessary for a successful transition to the hybrid model.
For example, flex time to allow employees to balance the demands of working from home, new digital platforms to facilitate collaboration, hardware upgrades for home offices, establishing core hours when everyone is working, or even adapting the office to serve primarily as a collaboration space are all potential innovations for the hybrid workplace.
Anything that accommodates employees can boost engagement and help retention — both factors that feed into workplace culture.
2. Adapt to digital transformation
The rise of remote work has accelerated the adoption of digital tools. When employees are spread out geographically, digital tools are essential to keep a business running. Now is the time to develop digital strategies and push along the transformation.
It’s also important to have the right technology that fits the organization’s needs. Remote workers who are frustrated with digital tools that are difficult to understand and actually make it harder to connect are going to get more isolated. Organizations should carefully evaluate what digital tools are best suited for what their employees are doing and how they want to be connected.
Employers must be careful to avoid the ‘us vs. them’ mentality between two sets of employees.
3. Give feedback more often
There may be a tendency to let remote workers do their own thing and leave them alone, as long as they’re meeting their goals.
However, keeping them accountable for their work, checking in, and recognizing good performance can promote ownership of their role and a connection to the organization’s goals.
The notions that everyone’s work matters – and that they all play a part in the organization’s success – are elements that build and sustain a positive workplace culture.
4. Encourage creativity and new ideas
A changed workplace is ripe for new ideas. Employees who actively participate and are involved with the process will feel a part of the organization’s goals, which is even more important when team members are separated.
In addition, empowered employees could come up with new solutions or suggest new digital tools that can facilitate their team’s work.
5. Improve communication
A big part of workplace culture is employees feeling connected to one another. This can be easily achieved in the physical work environment, but not so much for remote workers.
However, organizations can still stay connected with regular communication, whether through email, instant messaging, or virtual meetings. This creates a perception of proximity with other team members, cultivates relationships, and keeps team goals in focus.
The physical work environment where people can just walk over to someone’s desk or chat by the water cooler can’t be recreated exactly – but keeping the lines of communication open and encouraging employees to interact virtually can help mitigate physical separation.
6. Focus on management’s soft skills
Good relationships and teamwork make good organizational culture, but it’s easy for that to slip when people aren’t directly seen every day.
Managers who recognize the realities for employees working from home, such as balancing family demands for some and being alone for others, help make employees feel valued. Empathy for everyone’s circumstances is a key skill for management to help employees feel like a part of the team.
Special attention should be given to new employees who haven’t had the chance to meet team members in person. They don’t have established relationships or have experienced the company culture directly, so it’s important that they get involved. Introducing them to the team or assigning them a ‘buddy’ can help integrate them when opportunities to be with the whole team are limited.
The new challenge for managers in the hybrid workplace is to create a level playing field to strengthen culture and engagement, says an expert.
7. Ensure accessibility
Good people managers have an “open-door” policy, but what about when someone isn’t there to walk through that door?
It can be a challenge for busy managers to keep their team members in mind when they’re not physically present, but regular check-ins help make them feel part of the team, and more confident to bring any issues forward that could potentially cause problems. It also helps to encourage team members to interact with each other, whether through collaborative projects or team-building exercises.
8. Increase transparency
Digital tools allow for leadership to be more visible than ever and provide greater opportunities for employees to be involved. In a hybrid workplace, people who are physically present are more proximate to what’s happening in the office, so it’s important that employees who aren’t physically there are kept informed so they aren’t isolated.
The processes of how certain decisions are made should be clear to everyone, and remote workers should be treated as fairly and equitably as their in-person colleagues. Keeping everyone informed builds trust in the organization, which in turn fosters a positive workplace culture.
9. Hold leadership accountable
Workplace culture comes from the top down, so the example set by leadership will set the tone.
With many employees geographically scattered, it’s important for leadership to be visible and consistently represent the organization’s procedures and values. Leaders can set the example of how they want the hybrid workplace to function by following the preferred practices and standards for communication, collaboration, and division of time between the workplace and the home office.
10. Address conflict quickly and effectively
Conflict can seriously damage workplace culture. Organizations should ensure that their employees are aware that bullying through virtual means, such as messaging and emails, is not tolerated any more than if it happened in the physical workplace. Remote employees should be informed of processes and procedures for reporting virtual bullying and how it will be handled.
Normal conflict that falls short of bullying or harassment isn’t uncommon in workplaces, but if it involves remote workers it might fall under the radar and be allowed to fester. People who are physically separated could be tempted to sweep conflict under the rug without resolving it, or make assumptions based on limited information that could lead to misunderstandings that would otherwise be resolved in person. This could lead to bigger problems down the line and decreased productivity — as well as a rise in the employee turnover rate. Management should be aware of the risk of conflict involving remote workers and be ready to address it quickly and fairly.