There are some values in organizational culture that don’t depend on where people do their job. Richard Branson, the famous British entrepreneur, was curious to test the services of his airline, Southwest Airlines: “Passengers boarding a Southwest flight found that there was no crew to meet them when they stepped aboard the aircraft. At a signal, the doors of the hand luggage compartments jumped to one side and, in unison, the three flight attendants hidden there shouted: Surprise! The landing was a bit harsh and the chief flight attendant told the passengers, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, as you probably felt, we made contact with the Dallas airport runway – twice,” says Branson.
“This culture of good mood has made the Southwest one of the most desired workplaces, while also creating strong connections among employees and customers” adds the entrepreneur. Just as in any successful business, creating a culture in which employees feel truly free to manifest requires a leader who is prepared to set standards and lead by personal example. But there is also the reverse of the medal, the environment in which leaders and employees are located on the “different shores of the sea.” Such situations are often caused by the repeated failures of senior management to ensure strong leadership, says Richard Branson.
And it is even more important to create a strong culture, based on leadership in hybrid work. Don’t sit comfortably on the laurels of victory thinking that business has a declared culture. Things have changed with remote work, and the tendency of people with different work styles is to stay away from each other.
According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, two-thirds of employers are struggling to maintain employee morale, and more than one-third are facing challenges maintaining company culture. It’s not just business leaders feeling the pain. According to research by Steelcase, people want to get back to the office because they want to stay connected to company purpose, a sense of community, and support for their productivity.
The study also finds that 23% expect the office to be the primary venue for work, 72% expect a hybrid model of working. Employees too want to continue some work from home (54% expect to work from home one day a week or less; 26% expect to work from home two to three days per week). The University of Chicago’s recent study demonstrated fully 22% of workdays would be supplied from home as people get back to the workplace.
This means that leaders will need to create and sustain culture when people work from anywhere. How do you bring them together so that customers don’t feel like you’re working differently, but rather that you’re a well-functioning family?
WHAT IS THE COMPANY’S CULTURE?
It is the employees’ professionalism and attitude towards work. It also includes the type of relationship they have with each other, but also with the management team. The company’s culture plays a vital role in an organization, it has a great impact in achieving those long-term and short-term goals. And the hybrid work culture is different and more complex than the usual work culture, the challenge of bringing people working in the office and /or remote together is great, but not impossible.
CREATE AND SUPPORT CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS EVEN FROM A DISTANCE
One of the most important determinants of a relationship is proximity. We get closer to the people we see often and communicate with them frequently. But proximity is just a perception. The strongest proximity is obviously the real one, but we can feel close and through virtual connections with the team. Make sure people have regular meetings, which also include colleagues working hybrid or remote. Keep meetings online and increase the frequency of one-on-one meetings, which shouldn’t be established only for evaluation, but also for feedback, appreciation, and recognition. You can also organize games for team members to get to know each other or games dedicated to people with the same passions, encouraging them to leave the departments in which they work and exchange experience. Create time for coffee, virtual or physical, or to talk about topics outside of work.
Support A VISIONARY AND APPROACHABLE LEADERSHIP
Each leader has his own style of management and uniquely approaches people. However, in a hybrid workplace, it is more vital than ever for leaders to be accessible and visible to all employees. Visibility means both being visible and in terms of how they keep team members central.
And if you have many colleagues on the team and it’s hard for you to see them all, make a list of their names and make sure you show them that you value them, setting up meetings with them, even if they don’t get to the office. Listen to them, find out what they want instead of trying to impose a new set of rules. Visualize what their work environment would look like in their opinion and turn it into the company work environment.
SHOW PEOPLE WHAT THEIR COMMON PURPOSE IS
Knowing the purpose always influences the company’s performance and is even more important in hybrid work. When people are at the office, they feel the energy of being together, they feel they have a common goal. They meet colleagues at any time and talk about strategies, customers, or company news. When they work remotely, they have the same opportunities, but many of them tend to lock themselves in their space and not use them.
The leaders’ role is to be intentional and personally accessible. Present the general objectives and ensure that people feel that their work is important to the success of the organization. Encourage them to collaborate effectively in a team, on different projects and even to diversify the projects in which they are involved. A leader should highlight the role and collaborative relationships that should be established within a team because they will be less obvious if people don’t work together in the office.
Ask for RESPONSIBILITY
People want a flexible work style, they want to come to the office to have a sense of community, but they also want remote days to have the opportunity to solve certain problems, family situations. As a leader, you may become sensitive to the needs and challenges of your peers. But your approach should be a balance between empathy and responsibility. Offer understanding, but also ask for interest in results. Responsibility is essential for an effective culture. If the goal is the big picture, the responsibility is the mechanism that makes the work matter and brings the desired results in business.
PROVIDE Fairness AND TRANSPARENCY IN COMMUNICATION
The subject of fairness is closely linked to responsibility. If people do not feel that there is fairness and justice in the team, they will quickly lose their motivation. This will happen all the faster when working hybrid and especially if colleagues find out that a certain colleague has been rewarded without this being made public. That is why transparent communication is needed.
Whether you’re announcing important updates, accomplishments, or presenting success stories, make sure people can hear you and attend meetings no matter where you work. In this way, you establish a relationship based on trust, which is essential for building a constructive culture.
Also, the right attitude means treating colleagues equally. For example, if some team members come to the office more frequently than others, make sure they are not seen as “favorites.” Pay attention to language as well. Although “remote work” may be an accurate description of where someone works, try to avoid “remote” wording as much as possible. Use words that show people that they are part of the team, no matter where they are working at the moment.
APPROACH CONFLICTS AS A NORMALITY
Successful cultures are not without conflict. After all, people will always see things differently and it’s critical to provide the opportunity to discuss and debate various points of view. But when everyone works either from the office or from home or mixed, conflicts tend to be less constructive. People tend to avoid an open approach to problems, thus amplifying them, creating greater problems in the long run. Or make assumptions without adequate information. As a leader, you should support the need for a healthy disagreement – which is civil and respectful and which can help people but also the company to evolve. Creating a physical or virtual space for debate and establishing some rules in expressing opinions are good starting points for shaping a healthy culture.
MOTIVATE THEM TO COME TO THE OFFICE
Face-to-face connections help create a healthy culture in the company, with positive effects on productivity, innovation, and a sense of community. The leaders’ mission is to create those places where people want to be, designed according to their needs: spaces for collaboration, concentration, learning, socialization. To motivate them to come to the office, make sure they have a safe workplace that stimulates and inspires them. A space that offers them a different experience than the one lived at home. When people want to come to the office and be together, the culture exists and will be positively influenced.
The company’s culture, whether we are talking about the traditional one or the one adapted to the hybrid work, should be thought for people and with people in the center of concerns. “If employees are satisfied and involved, they will also satisfy customers, who, in turn, will reward us with loyalty”, says Richard Branson, quoting James Parker, CEO of Southwest. And Branson’s philosophy deserves to be followed in organizational culture:
Life should be an adventure and, as we spend it at work, it turns out that work should be fun too. We spend a huge amount of time trying to make sure that the people who work at Virgin Group want to come on Monday mornings or, whenever they work remotely, enjoy what they do. By changing the business culture to be more open, more collaborative, and more creative, you will inspire and empower employees to create a good mood and strong connections.