How to Build Office Culture in the Era of Hybrid Work

We typically think of the office as a place where chance meetings, face-to-face collaboration, and other interactions drive culture and innovation. 

But when researchers studied communication patterns in open-plan offices, they discovered that “face-to-face communication dropped by 70%, replaced by electronic communication.” 

Mid-pandemic, the need for physical office space continues to shrink. And the way we make use of offices is evolving. Instead of water cooler chats, we have Slack channels. Instead of break rooms, we break out into groups on Zoom calls. 

Since hybrid work is here to stay, it’s important for execs and HR reps to meet employees where they are right now and build experiences that support their needs. 

Office culture might look different now that we’re working remotely, but you can still create a positive work environment—and boost employee engagement at the same time.

What is Office Culture?

According to Gartner, organizational culture “is the set of behavioral norms and unwritten rules that shape how employees interact and get work done.” What’s more, a clearly defined culture is “critical to creating the best experience for employees.”

In order to build an equitable office culture, it’s crucial that leaders transform any “unwritten rules” guiding employee behavior into clearly documented expectations and values. Ensure that everyone on your team is working and interacting in a way that supports those values—even if all the interactions take place online. 

After all, when you work in a physical office space, managers and executives model the behaviors they wish to see. They offer feedback on employee behavior during performance reviews and reward employees who exhibit the values of the company with promotions, raises, or significant projects. 

In hybrid work, however, these interactions are now digital. A written record of employee interactions exists across multiple communication platforms, making it easier to track who contributes positively to your office culture.

Ultimately, a clearly defined organizational culture gives your employees a purpose. And when employers successfully link purpose-driven work to company values, they are more likely to boost productivity and increase employee retention.

How to Build Your Hybrid Office Culture

Building office culture for your remote workplace takes time and intention. But carving out the time to define your organizational culture is worth it. 

Here are five best practices for building your office culture—even if your office is a hybrid or digital one.

1. Revisit your company values

Part of the ongoing resistance to remote and hybrid work comes from a spooked C-Suite. These leaders fear that decentralizing the physical office space will lead to a sense of disconnection, a lack of innovation, and even less productivity. 

Instead, the opposite turns out to be true! According to a survey conducted by Gartner, 64% of hybrid employees and 66% of remote employees say their organization’s culture has a positive impact on their job. That’s about a 12% increase over employees who work primarily in the office.

So something about remote work culture seems to be translating—even if company leadership isn’t exactly sold on remote or hybrid work in the long term. But why are remote and hybrid employees feeling more connected to digital workplace cultures than their in-person peers? 

One possibility may be that the sudden shift to remote work forced employers to clarify what their organizational culture actually is. In order to have a strong hybrid office culture, you first need to document what your company values look like in the new hybrid environment. 

But you can’t just stop at documentation. Leaders at every level need to buy into those values and what enacting them looks like, so they can model behavior and continue to shape it in the digital workplace. 

At Welcome, for example, we value mutual support and team trust. Our go-to motto is, “I Got You.” You can see the value enacted across the organization, whether in our Slack channels, at all-hands meetings, or in cross-team demos and office hours. We even made our values a hashtag and created emoji icons for Slack to embody these values as a group!

But the concept doesn’t just guide interactions between our team members. Because it’s a company-wide value, it applies to every element of our customer experience, too. Whether customers need extra production support or a guide to using the software for internal events, we have plans in place to support them every step of the way.

2. Facilitate Personal Connections Across Your Company

According to McKinsey, employees rank feeling valued by their managers and the company, as well as having trusting and caring team members more highly than employers do. This mis-match is actually contributing to the record-high turnover we’re seeing during “The Great Resignation.”

When your employees aren’t connected by a physical space, it takes more time and intention to facilitate connection. That means it’s up to leaders to foster connections between team members across departments by breaking down silos. The more you’re able to encourage collaboration and connection, the more engaged your employees will be. 

Ideas for creating an engaging office culture:

  • Specific Slack channels for inter-departmental collaboration
  • Rotating departmental office hours open to the entire company
  • Strong onboarding processes that help new hires develop relationships with team members in different departments
  • Virtual team-building with social activities, clubs, or networking events

And don’t just stop at departmental collaboration. It’s crucial for leaders to connect with their employees during all-hands meetings, too. By gathering the entire company to discuss goals and milestones during an all-hands event, your C-Suite and management team connect with employees around the values and mission that actually drive company culture. 

Whether you report on a company milestone or pull team members live on stage for a Q&A, your all-hands discussion can directly support your culture and business goals. The right virtual event software can help you make these moments more interactive, too. Boost employee engagement and receive meaningful feedback with polling, or track employee sentiment scores to see how your efforts to build office culture stack up over time.

3. Make a Greater Effort to Recognize Employees 

Building a hybrid office culture takes more than regular employee recognition. When employees understand how their role helps the company—or helps make a difference—they feel their role has a meaningful purpose and impact.

In an episode of the Forrester podcast, principal analyst David Johnson recommended checking in more often with employees to make sure they feel seen and heard. 

“Our guidance to clients [during the pandemic] has been to really ramp up the recognition, ramp up the manager one-on-ones, and make sure people feel like they’re contributing in meaningful ways,” Johnson said.

In remote workplaces, this requires multiple touch points—from your all-hands meeting to one-on-one check-ins. This will help prevent feelings of burnout, frustration, or resentment, which can build up when employees feel their contributions are going unnoticed in the digital realm.

Ultimately, providing employees with a sense of purpose contributes to increased connection and work satisfaction, which will keep your team happy, fulfilled, and motivated.

4. Help Employees Find Their Footing

A recent study from Qualtrics, an experience management software company, found that more than 50% of leaders are seeking new job opportunities at this point in the pandemic. 

With “The Great Resignation” in full swing, retaining top talent means you’ll need to find ways to re-assess individual roles. Whether you conduct employee surveys or fold observations into your annual performance reviews, here are a few questions to consider: 

  • Are your employees happy, productive, and empowered in their current positions? If not, how can you help them transition into a role that’s a better fit for their particular skills?
  • Would splitting one position into multiple roles make everyone in that department more successful?
  • Which employees need additional training to fit better in their current roles? Or success coaching to navigate an upcoming promotion?

When employees feel their company is investing in their training and growth, they’re more likely to stick around. The same Qualtrix study found that 60% of employees were not offered sufficient career training or professional development opportunities in the past year. That’s a dealbreaker for as many as 23% of employees, who cite growth opportunities as a reason for leaving their current positions. 

By supporting your employees where they are, investing in professional development, and providing opportunities for skill building, you’ll build employee engagement—and a culture of growth.

5. Encourage Feedback—And Act On It

Let’s face it: you can’t shift your office culture without employee input. And you can’t determine how that culture is changing without identifying and tracking key metrics.

Whether you conduct employee polls and surveys during an all-hands meeting or track employee sentiment scores over time, be transparent about the data you’re collecting and how it will be used. 

If you know you want to shift your employee sentiment scores, for example, make a plan for how you’ll act on the results and stay accountable to your team. If you’ve hit a wall and can’t take action yet, be transparent about that, too.

When employees see that you’re not only collecting feedback but translating it into actionable steps, they understand that their input matters. Not only does this increase their sense of ownership and agency within the company, it makes them feel seen, heard, and valued—crucial sentiments for increasing engagement.

Final Thoughts

Office culture is no longer contained by the four walls of a physical workplace. Instead, it’s built in the remote and hybrid spaces where work happens. How leaders in the C-Suite and HR executives support your company culture in these spaces will make all the difference to your employee experience.

With the right tools, you can measure how your culture is changing—and how employees feel about it, too. By documenting your values and enacting them across all your communication platforms, you can build a positive culture where employees feel valued, connected, and supported in their work.

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