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Company culture & remote work: finding the perfect balance

11 Nov 2021 13 MIN READ

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Company culture & remote work: finding the perfect balance

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, we were used to working out of a central office with standardized working hours. But after employees were sent home, companies started to see the benefits in hybrid work. This led to a number of reflections within businesses that is now leading to a substantial shift in the way we work.

As restrictions thankfully lift and we move into our new normal, many are keen to combine an element of flexibility with the ability to meet face-to-face when working. In fact, in a recent survey, 72% of respondents said they would like to return to the office 1 or 2 days a week.

So how can companies adjust to the long-term realities of hybrid working while maintaining a strong company culture? These are the questions that have been keeping us up at night, so in October, we brought together a panel of thought leaders to share their thoughts on navigating the future of work. 

Thank you to John Goulding, CEO of Workvivo; Patrick Cournoyer, Chief Evangelist at Peakon, a Workday company; Ross Seychell, Chief People Officer at Personio and Avi Meir, Co-Founder and CEO at TravelPerk, for joining in on this inspiring discussion. You can watch the webinar in full here or read on for our top takeaways! 

To start, what do employees miss about working in the office? 

While working from home has its benefits, it cannot replace the energy of being in the office. We miss being able to bump into colleagues at the water cooler and wrap up niggly issues without the need for a thousand slack messages! 

Plus as humans, we crave social interaction. It’s hard-wired into our DNA. Even the tiniest interactions around the office help build trust, spark creativity and strengthen professional relationships. 

What do I miss about the office? The energy, I think. It’s the small stuff. We had a great tradition when a new customer signed a contract. We played ‘Spice Up Your Life’ by the Spice Girls. I’m not a Spice Girls fan, but I love hearing that song!

John Goulding, CEO of Workvivo

Many of us love toasting to the end of the week with our colleagues. But with the outbreak of COVID-19, Friday night drinks and a host of other bonding activities went out the window. Employees are missing the social aspect of being with their teammates, alongside the fun initiatives and in-jokes that boost motivation in the office.

How has COVID-19 changed the nature of the workplace? 

hybrid work video conference

Companies are facing many questions about their plans for the future. As we have seen, many employees are keen to keep an element of flexible working going forward, while others are reluctant to return to the office. 

Hybrid working has been a significant part of the zeitgeist of late. However, many organizations are still figuring out which working model will suit their business better, whether that’s office-first, fully remote, or hybrid. 

Whichever path they choose, companies will need to adapt to their new working model. But with change come massive opportunities. For starters, companies are now less restricted by location and can hire talent from further afield. 

On the whole, the perception is that changing to a hybrid work model will give employees the best of both worlds. It allows them to combine the flexibility of working from home with the socialization and career development that comes from maintaining regular contact with the office. But how do businesses strike a balance between incorporating remote working for the long haul while maintaining a strong company culture?

I truly believe that the future of organizations is going to be written by employees.

Patrick Cournoyer, Chief Evangelist at Peakon, a Workday Company

Organizations need to take stock and discover new ways to connect with their teams. The pandemic has offered companies a once-in-a-lifetime chance to design a whole new future for the way they work that’s more adjusted to the times we live in. It’s important to remember, though, that no one has all the answers when it comes to this colossal question. There is no one size fits all solution, and companies will need to take their time and do their due diligence in figuring out what path is right for them.

How is the new normal redefining the way businesses conduct meetings? 

As humans, we crave camaraderie. As colleagues, it’s vital to spend time together in person to bond professionally and have a successful team. Meeting in person helps us feel safe and included, so when we have great ideas, we are more willing to share them with the group. 

The trust and connection we generate by being together in real life also helps get the creativity flowing. We have all been there, sitting on Zoom trying to create fresh approaches. It can get real quiet, real quick! 

The barrier of our computer screens hinders us, making even the most confident of us feel somewhat shy and disconnected. Virtual brainstorming sessions just don’t compare to the energy in the room when you can all grab a coffee and get sparking ideas off each other! 

What’s interesting is a lot of these meetings, they don’t look like the meetings or the type of trips that business travelers took before the pandemic.

Avi Meir, Co-Founder, and CEO at TravelPerk
meeting with post its

After being apart for almost two years, companies are keen to bring their teams back together. But there is a need to be strategic about how and where we host these meetings. With the increased flexibility about where employees work, more organizations are opening up to the notion of offsite team meetings in fun yet functional destinations. 

While these offsites could center around one of the company’s main offices, some businesses are opting for an entirely new destination as a chance to mix business updates with entertaining team-building activities. Many see these not just as a chance to talk shop but as a much-needed opportunity to get colleagues bonding again and to celebrate surviving the challenges of COVID-19. 

Digital nomads working full time for an organization might be used to the concept of an annual company get-together in an exotic location. But as more companies switch to a hybrid or remote first model, entire teams being brought together for annual, bi-annual, or even quarterly offsites might become more mainstream.

What are the challenges of a hybrid model?

Adapting to a new working model comes with a myriad of considerations. There are several elements to consider when making this shift, from health and safety to shaping a digital alternative for your company culture.

Not everyone is ready to return 

While many of us are excited to get back to the office, some employees are apprehensive about returning. Whatever their reasons may be, it’s important to respect those who would prefer to continue being careful until we fully emerge from this pandemic. 

Burnout is on the rise

Employee engagement experts WorkVivo surveyed over 30 million professionals, and a staggering 30% of respondents claimed they were on the brink of burnout throughout lockdown. These figures represent a 50% increase from the previous year, directly correlating to the isolation that this period mandated. 

Cultivating wellbeing became extra challenging

Maintaining our physical and mental well-being grew increasingly difficult throughout the pandemic. WorkVivo found that in certain regions over 50% of comments on wellbeing concerned mental health. Employees are looking to organizations to support them by providing appropriate mental support as we move forward. 

Keeping company culture alive

As teams become more decentralized in the hybrid working model, companies will need to get creative about digitally demonstrating their organization’s core values. Whether you’re remote or hybrid, bringing remote workforces together for much-needed face-to-face interaction will need to be a top priority.

industrial building office

What can companies do to adapt their company culture to this new hybrid working environment?

Gone are the days where companies could rely on a cool office location or free snacks in the kitchen. As we navigate these new hybrid waters, the primary question is how to adapt to the new digital reality and ensure company culture initiatives are distributed evenly amongst in-office staff and remote workers. So, what tips can companies follow to adapt successfully to this new way of work? 

Adopt a policy of radical honesty 

Throughout the pandemic, companies and senior leadership tended to adopt greater transparency with their employees. As cities went into lockdown, no one knew what was going to happen! Leaders had no choice but to hold their hands up and admit they didn’t have the answers. 

This new honesty and openness led to some great collaboration. Teams came together to problem-solve against incredible odds. In the future, if companies continue to consult with their teams with this new level of transparency, they could create a working model that satisfies employees and management alike. 

Discover your digital heart

Without interaction, it can be hard to stay motivated, and it’s easy to fall out of sync with company goals. 

51% of people that have been part of the great resignation of the last six months left because they were losing the sense of belonging.

John Goulding, CEO of Workvivo

Organizations have been getting creative to keep teams inspired and feel connected. Some businesses have created podcasts so employees can listen to management’s innovative ideas and feel more affiliated with their company’s values. Other CEOs have created daily video content to reach out through the digital divide and motivate their teams.  

These projects are large undertakings, so they need to reflect your company culture and provide value to your teams. As a whole, people are searching for authenticity, especially from their leadership. So any content needs to be very deliberate and based on topics that matter.

Consider your key connection points

Take time to analyze what meetings need to happen in-person to raise productivity and creativity and which can remain equally as effective online. On the whole, sales meetings and brainstorming are better face-to-face. But teams can usually do weekly catch-ups and strategic check-ins just as efficiently over video chat. 

Onboarding and interviews are two areas that deserve more consideration. To ensure success with your new starters, you need to rethink the workflow of these two vital operations. You can typically complete the initial stages of these processes virtually, but both desperately need a human element. Hosting the final stages of interviews in-house can help candidates assess whether they are a cultural fit or would like to relocate closer to the office. Meanwhile, moving away from fully remote onboarding allows new starters to build professional bonds with their colleagues.

Establish a weekly all-hands meeting

Gathering your entire team each week can be a crucial tool for strengthening your work culture. It provides an opportunity for different departments to share their work and for employees to see how everyone contributes to your overall business goals. All-hands meetings can be held in person, digitally, or a combination of both. The trick is to start small and build slowly to avoid getting overwhelmed by the organization. To get started, check out our guide on how to host a weekly all-hands meeting.

How can organizations cultivate well-being in a hybrid working world? 

mental health matters

As we have seen, after a difficult couple of years, employee wellbeing will be a top concern for the foreseeable future. But how can companies put their teams’ physical and mental health first in a remote work environment? 

Acknowledge your team’s anxieties

Any attempt to return to the office or meet up as a team must reflect everyone’s wishes. Forcing someone to return if they are uncomfortable is the quickest way to start an exodus. Being compassionate towards employees is a must in our new reality.  

Swap your onsite perks for online alternatives

As we move away from large offices, companies can free up capital to spend on more meaningful benefits for their employees. Whether it’s an annual subscription to wellbeing services like iFeel, Headspace, or Calm, or deliveries of healthy snacks to their homes, there are a host of fantastic apps you can use to treat your teams. 

Prioritize new hires

Missing out on in-person onboarding has had a significant impact on employee morale. Not meeting colleagues in person is challenging, regardless of the position. Imagine trying to get to grips with any role entirely through Zoom meetings and Slack channels! As we finally come back together, your newbies might need some extra attention. 

Don’t ignore the generation gap 

There are currently 5 generations that make up the workforce. Despite their reputation for being the most digitally savvy, the younger age groups are the most frustrated about working from home. In addition to the social aspects of being in the office, these employees are worried they have missed vital opportunities for promotion. 

Switch up your interactions 

Part of what is driving remote workers’ sense of isolation is that our networks have become smaller. To combat burnout and drive deeper connections within their organizations, management can make an effort to meet team members they don’t usually get to interact with. 

Take time to acknowledge how far you have come 

As we have seen, when the time is right, an offsite can be the perfect way to catch up on important business. But now more than ever, it’s also a vital opportunity to honor your team’s hard work and dedication. Pick out an inspiring destination, and avoid packing the schedule with tons of meetings and organized fun. Acknowledge how far you have come by giving your teams time to relax and enjoy each other’s company again. 

For those unable to attend in person, think of ways you can include them digitally. Ask them for their insights to share on the day or send them a small gift to make up for missing out on the fun. Something like a voucher for a massage or a bottle of wine will let them know you appreciate their hard work. 

After all, as Ross summarized so beautifully; 

You have to think about your people. Because at the end of the day, your teams, your people, your culture is going to be the thing that actually helps you deliver your product and support your customers.

Ross Seychell, Chief People Officer at Personio

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