Hybrid work

Ask a Resourceful Human: How to create culture at a hybrid company?

These proven practices can help HR pros foster a hybrid culture—no free food required.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

Welcome to our regular HR advice column, Ask a Resourceful Human. Here to answer all of your burning questions is Erin Grau, the co-founder and COO of Charter, a media and services company that aims to transform the workplace. Erin has over 15 years of experience at the intersection of talent and operations in global organizations and startups, including the New York Times and Away. You can sign up for the free Charter newsletter about the future of work here.

It may sound like the best of both worlds, but if you’re like most HR pros, you’re probably wondering: How can you build culture in a hybrid environment?

One of the biggest challenges I have encountered advising companies on their shift to hybrid work is convincing executives that culture doesn’t live in an office. No, people aren’t more productive in person. No, the water cooler isn’t where the most innovative ideas are born. No, not all employees feel a sense of belonging (or want to brainstorm with others!) once they walk through the door.

So, how can you intentionally build and elevate culture among your organization’s employees? Here are a few research-backed practices:

  1. Create a hybrid-work playbook. Flexibility is no longer a perk; it’s an expectation. Some 80% of all knowledge workers want flexibility in where they work, and 94% want flexibility in when they work, according to Future Forum. More companies are focusing on digital-first and asynchronous work, and getting clear on when, and more importantly, why teams come together. Create a hybrid-work playbook to make the implicit explicit, invest in tools, and help teams align on norms and schedules with team-level agreements.
  2. Address proximity bias. Your hybrid work plans and your DE&I goals are tightly coupled. One challenge that could interfere with achieving more equitable outcomes is proximity bias, or unconsciously giving preferential treatment to people you see more often and in person. We all know why this is problematic: Those people who come into the office most frequently are more likely to get plum assignments, raises, and promotions. Mitigate this bias through education, such as manager and company-wide training. At Charter, for example, we share our internal practices, including performance evaluations, to check for bias and ensure they are focused on output and outcomes over face time.
  3. Prioritize building connections across the team...Person-to-person connections help information and knowledge flow throughout an organization, and high-quality connections are the foundation of high-performing teams. Prioritize socialization and learning when team members come together in person. Start meetings with check-in questions, icebreakers, or mindfulness practices, like a mindful pause, to help you build more meaningful connections with coworkers. Strengthened relationships between colleagues will, in turn, have positive effects on psychological safety, trust, and individual functioning.
  4. And don’t forget about one-on-one time. Building strong 1:1 relationships might even be more important than team connections: Research has shown that when individuals have a higher level of trust in one other person, the trust level of the group rises as well. Add Donut to Slack, or have breakout sessions at your next team meeting, pairing up team members to give them two minutes to find two things they have in common.
  5. Find purpose. Nearly two-thirds of employees have reflected on their purpose in life as a result of the pandemic and employees are five times more likely to be excited to work at a company that reflects on its impact on the world, according to McKinsey. Purpose is a driver of productivity, well-being, resilience, and retention. And as if that wasn’t already great news: Helping employees connect to your mission won’t cost your company. One of the best ways for organizations to connect employees to purpose is to collect and share stories of how they’re impacting people’s lives. Managers can also help their team members connect to the organization’s purpose by articulating their own purpose to model how it’s done.
  6. Reimagine your office. We’ve heard from many employees who have returned to their offices only to sit at their desks with headphones on, dialing into Zoom meetings with colleagues. Consider reversing how you use the office, inverting the usual spaces into enclosed areas for focused work and open ones for meetings and for people to informally step out of the main flow to connect with a colleague or two.
HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.

And before your CEO asks: No, free food will not bring employees back to the office.—EG

What culture-building activities are you seeing? Or do you have a different question about HR? Let us know at [email protected]. Anonymity is assured.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.