Creating a successful and engaging hybrid working culture

4th November 2022

Richard Roberts explains how to create an effective hybrid working culture for your organisation.

This article follows my recent presentation to Bristol Creative Industries, looking at the impact of the new ways of working and how to create an engaging hybrid working culture. It’s a very hot topic because organisations are finding hybrid working challenging as it’s still early days. There’s no ready-made guidebook, no magic formula to get hybrid right – or make your people love working for you. But there are many approaches you can take to make things work better.

And why does this matter so much? As I covered in my presentation, research has shown that 54% of employees say they are more productive working from home, and 66% are not comfortable going back to the office or the old 9 to 5 routine. Perhaps the most striking stat comes from Glassdoor who found that employees without flexibility are twice as likely to move jobs. As hybrid is here to stay, you have to get this right.

Tips for successful hybrid working

In this article I’ve chosen some of the main challenges around managing hybrid working, followed by some approaches you could try that may work in your organisation to create better employee engagement and help retain talent. Of course, no two organisations will be the same so solutions covered here are broad and will need to be bespoke for each company

1) Train your managers to be great people managers

In a recent survey, 72% of employee said they would prefer a new manager to a pay rise. This clearly demonstrates how important the day-to-day relationship is with your manager. It has such an influence on your motivation levels and desire to contribute.  Managing a hybrid team is very different from managing a team that you would see face to face every day in the office.

Here’s a few ideas to support better people management:

  • Discuss with your managers the difficulties they are experiencing and support each other in overcoming them. Think about the different styles of managing people and draw up a list of expectations on how to “manage” that feels right for your business and culture
  • Managers need to be trained in managing a hybrid team. More structure is needed rather than ad hoc. Arrange regular team meetings, more comms on what is happening in the team etc.
  • Make sure your managers are conducting regular 1-2-1s with their team. Ideally this should be done face to face where possible. Ensure that these are not just covering the day-to-day tasks but checking in with the individuals on their wellbeing. These meetings are also good opportunities to update the individual on what’s going on in the organisation

2) Give people a voice

Many of us still spend a lot of time communicating via screens, especially hybrid workers. But not everyone is comfortable doing so. Over time, this creates a group of people whose ideas and contributions aren’t as represented as those who are more confident. This creates shifts in power and status purely down to the communication channel being used, which risks disengaging those who could contribute in a more conventional ‘in the room’ setting. While screens allow conversation, it’s easy to miss the subtle nuances of communication you’d pick up talking face to face in person.

Having a voice is an important engagement driver. We need to feel we are contributing and to be able to do this in a safe space without fear of ridicule. Listening is how organisations build trust. It’s important to think through how you can replicate this from an office setting to virtual.

Here’s a few ideas to help people be heard:

  • Analyse what channels are in place that gives your team an opportunity to have a voice. Ask for regular feedback through a pulse survey or more informal channels
  • If you have an Employee Forum, make sure they meet regularly, and all feedback is addressed by the senior management team.
  • Use your Tech – why not start an update channel for your team on Slack for example or better still get your teams to contribute regularly, for example, through an improvements channel.

3) Bring your team together

Some people are working in the office, others are not. We tend to talk to those who we see in a building, not those in the wider circles we don’t. Over time working relationships ‘thin’ and silos emerge, not helped by missing the conversations that are happening in the building, and outside. People get frustrated by being left out of those informal exchanges and decisions made that they weren’t involved in as they weren’t there. Over time this can grow into being excluded from bigger and more important decisions.

Here’s a few ideas to bring your teams together:

  • Organise Anchor Days – days in which the whole team get together in the office (once every three months or more). And think through how you can bring people together from other teams and areas of the business.
  • Just as with improving communication, think through how you can arrange for people to get together from other teams. You could organise “random coffees” – randomly select people to meet each other from another team for an informal coffee once a week.
  • When you organise a team meeting in the office – coincide this with other meetings and get them to meet over lunch. Arrange a social for all to attend. For those who can’t make it, set up a virtual link for people to see and hear what is going on. Send them a party pack so they feel included.

3) Leaders need to remain visible

It’s really important that leaders remain visible in the office and virtually. During lockdown leaders were present and often highly visible via virtual comms. Now, as offices have opened up, many have returned and the emphasis on virtual comms has declined – which leaves those people working remotely not seeing as much of their leaders as those in the building. Key messages aren’t being received equally, which also adds to the silo problem.

Here’s a few ideas to help leaders be more visible:

  • Leaders need to think through how they can maintain their visibility. For example, I know a CEO who goes online at 9am every morning to say good morning to all.
  • Set up a virtual quarterly ‘ask the CEO a question’ session and invite senior managers to speak at team meetings.
  • Set up a regular virtual ‘All hands’ team meeting led by the leaders and invite senior managers to speak at team meetings. Get your leaders to check in regularly with teams /people and send out regular updates on how well the business is doing.

4) Keeping people connected

At the heart of organisations are the networks and relationships that form over time. These provide social contact but also enable the professional networks that help people get promoted etc. Research, from organisational thinkers like Simon Sinek, shows that people need social contact. The difference from being present in the building and working remotely creates the ‘them and us’ of those central to the organisation and those who feel disconnected and isolated from the opportunities and social life that come with office life.

Here’s a few to help keep people connected:

  • Set up regular opportunities to meet and socialise face to face (and don’t worry if some people don’t or can’t come, they will on the next one when they hear how good it was). Online pub type quizzes work well here.
  • Use your channels such as Slack and Teams to set up social channels that encourage participation from teams and bring people together. I’ve seen this done with topics from gardening tips to photos of pets – even a very popular ‘Dad jokes’
  • Make checking in with teams also about wellbeing and just not performance related.

5) Meeting your candidate’s expectations

Any organisation serious about attracting and retaining the best talent must have a hybrid strategy that works. Recruitment will be more challenging for those organisations that don’t communicate how hybrid working works for their people. Over time people leave and potential candidates won’t know the organisation and will it hard to feel like they belong somewhere that they’ve never been. If you’ve previously recruited based on your office and location this culture will mean a lot less when hybrid workers will rarely visit or spend time together.

Here’s a few ideas to recruit hybrid workers:

  • Your employer brand needs to convey how you do hybrid working. Whether that’s through your careers website, your job ads or how you brief your external recruiters and line managers to explain, you need to cover this.
  • Your existing people are going to be your best advocates of your culture so consider using employee generated video, blogs and social media to get the message out about your flexible and hybrid friendly culture.

In conclusion

Hybrid working is a huge engagement opportunity that can re-shape how we lead, manage and inspire our organisations. But no two organisations – or set of challenges will be the same. The one constant thread running through the issues are your people. The more they are consulted and involved in designing what is after all, their organisation, the more likely you are to create a culture that better communicates, engages and retains. So, the key for successful hybrid working is to work with your people to get it right for both sides.

Richard Roberts is a freelance HR consultant and culture and employee engagement specialist. He runs en:Rich HR.


About Bristol Creative Industries

Bristol Creative Industries is the membership network that supports the region's creative sector to learn, grow and connect, driven by the common belief that we can achieve more collectively than alone. 

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