Culture change to embrace hybrid working

27 September 2021

Colin D Ellis

Colin has over 20 years' experience of building and leading teams in both the private and public sectors. He is the is author of The Hybrid Handbook & actively helps organisations around the world to transform their working cultures.

Workplace cultures that had been previously designed for a model in which people interacted face-to-face in the same space, are no longer applicable. COVID-19 has changed everything, and for hybrid working to be effective, the working culture has to be redesigned to suit this model, writes Colin D Ellis.

Culture, or the ‘way we do things around here’, is – and always has been – the biggest determinant of team and organisational success.

When times are good, culture is invisible, save for

  • the smiles on people’s faces
  • the dedication with which they approach their work
  • their determination to get the best out of each other
  • how they collectively celebrate their successes.

When times are bad, culture shows itself everywhere.

The 2021 O.C. Tanner Global Culture report found that stagnant cultures – i.e. those whose employees were disengaged and demonstrating poor behaviours – were 10 times more likely to be negatively affected in a crisis and many organisations are still suffering the effects that the pandemic wrought on the way they operate.

Conversely, the businesses and organisations that thrived during the pandemic were the ones that recognised that the way work was previously done had changed significantly and as a result, the micro-experiences between staff would have to change, too. They focused not only on the wellbeing of staff, but also the interactions between them. They recognised the fear and anxiety that people felt, and created a space where it was both okay to talk about this while still bringing their most productive self to work.

In short, these businesses focused less on the tactical day-to-day of work and took a proactive approach to building emotional connections between people and to redefine the culture they needed to be successful. If you’re moving to a hybrid working model, you need to do that too.

When redefining the culture required for hybrid working, organisations – including financial planning practices – need to consider the following six key elements:

1. Personality and Communication

The relationships between individuals are critical for productive work in a hybrid world and this starts with people understanding themselves. The pandemic has affected everyone in different ways, so it’s important to recognise this and for people to re-evaluate who they are now, and how this has affected their purpose in life. Once they have that knowledge, empathy for others becomes easier and communication is strong.

2. Vision

One report at the end of 2020 found that only 30 per cent of organisations surveyed felt they had clear consensus on their new vision post-pandemic, which led to a detrimental impact on morale. The vision is an aspirational statement of what the culture is striving to achieve, and it should provide excitement around what’s achievable in the next 12 months, not the goal pre-pandemic.

3. Values

Values should provide emotional bonds and be lived in plain sight in every interaction between team members. These may have changed during the pandemic. One business I worked with added ‘vulnerability increases our humanity’ to demonstrate the increase in transparency required to be successful in their hybrid working.

4. Behaviour

By far the biggest impact on culture during this pandemic has been in the behaviours of employees. Fear, anxiety, confusion and anger have understandably undermined productive work at various stages during 2020 and 2021. Redefining the behavioural expectations of staff will increase responsibility and accountability, and ensure that all staff understand where their opportunities for improvement and growth lie.

5. Collaboration

Implementing collaboration tools won’t improve the way people interact, unless there is an agreement on how people will use them, while respecting each other’s need for time to do productive work. Technology should support collaboration, not get in the way of it.

6. Innovation

Microsoft is one organisation that saw a reduction in innovation as a result of not moving to a hybrid working culture. Tools such as Gather can be used to create casual interactions between team members that give rise to ideas, or else hold online ‘hackathons’ to generate a pipeline of creativity.

The world has changed

Too many businesses still leave the definition of working culture to chance, or else hope that it ‘naturally’ evolves to suit the new working conditions. It almost never does, and senior managers will seek to blame the new ways of working, rather than their underinvestment in cultural evolution.

Defining the culture required to meet the challenges or opportunities that hybrid work will bring needs to be done as early as possible. The world has changed, so the way work gets done needs to evolve to meet that.