Co-founder of business consultancy The Culture Builders Jane Sparrow says companies need to focus on what they believe in and to work proactively on supporting wellbeing and human connection
The shift to hybrid working is a chance for organisations to pause and ask, actually, what do we want our ways of working – and therefore our culture – to look like in the future? What opportunities are brought if we don’t expect everybody to be in the office all the time every day? Can we think, for example, about how we do more project-based working across geographies and so on? It’s a chance to look at what you need in the future and to be intentional about factors that will determine a firm’s future. “People now want to work wherever is most convenient and productive,” says Mark Dixon, Founder and CEO of Spaces parent company IWG. “And employers who fail to embrace the hybrid model risk losing their best talent.”
Bridge the gap
Some leaders worry that they might end up with two cultures: a remote culture and a workplace culture. But it doesn’t need to be like that. We’ve worked with global businesses for years that have teams spread around the world, and they’ve shown that the gap can be bridged. You’ve got to work at it – it’s a bit more complex than just flicking a switch and telling everyone to go remote. It’s all about managing that change.
The first thing we tell organisations is that your culture is going to change whatever happens, but you have to be on the front foot and make sure that it changes in a way that is true to what they want to continue to be. That means putting time and strategic thought into how you’re going to intentionally evolve the culture at both organisational level and team level. What do you value and what do you believe in? And how do you make sure that this continues in a hybrid world? This is the conversation you need to be having.
Wellbeing front and centre
A lot of organisations tend to just focus on policy and how many days a week people will be in the office. That’s great, but it’s not about what people believe and how they’re going to behave. What we’re also seeing, particularly in the more progressive organisations, is that wellbeing has moved from being something on the sidelines to being absolutely front and centre of people’s minds. It’s definitely much more on the agenda than it ever was, yet it’s harder than it ever was if you have a dispersed workforce. I work with some of the world’s most intelligent people and yet they struggle with saying, “Right I’m going to stop looking at my emails at 7pm for a couple of hours.” They know they need to do it, but knowing it and doing it are two different things. Burnout is a threat to our wellbeing and changing our habits is very difficult.
So it comes down to culture. Some companies we’ve worked with have done things such as banning meetings between 12 and 1, which gives people permission to have the space to go and get a break. There are others that don’t allow meetings after 3 o’clock on a Friday. Again, it’s a way of saying we’re giving permission for you to stop. Senior people need to be very overt role models, but individuals and teams also need to own their own wellbeing. We all need to look out for each other.
One of the main priorities in terms of maintaining and evolving culture is a focus on human connection. This is what makes us thrive and, if we’re not together, or only some of us are physically together at certain times, then the risk is that we start to feel disconnected and that silos start to appear, which we’ve spent decades trying to get rid of. We all have to take more responsibility for making sure that we connect more often, both formally and informally.
When people are together, they need to make sure they have those moments of connection, and make the time to perhaps go for a walk together, or have lunch together, or stand by the coffee machine together. What you don’t want them doing is coming into the office to do Zoom meetings or being on email the whole time.
In terms of the people who are working remotely, there’s going to be a bigger onus on those individuals to own being included. If they’re maybe the one in the team that’s working remotely and others aren’t, they need to step in more than they would have done when everybody was remote. That means speaking up, saying they’re feeling a little isolated, asking to be included in meetings.
No one left behind
For their part, team leaders need to make sure they’re ‘over-connecting’ with people who are still remote. So if they’re having half-hour one-to-ones with everyone, they put in 45 minutes for the remote people, so they can still do a bit of social chitchat as well. What have you been up to today? What have you most enjoyed about this week? What have you learned this week?
Keep hybrid meetings inclusive
We suggested to one of our clients in Hong Kong that when they were having a meeting, if there were, say, five people in the room and four people remote, they should put an extra four chairs in the room as a reminder that there were four people that they needed to not only include during the Zoom chat, but also to remember to inform about anything they talked about after the meeting finished. One group went as far as putting photographs on the seats of the people that were remote.
Allow remote workers to shine
Something we started with a business in Asia was the idea of ‘trophy moments’. They would start the weekly team meeting with just a couple of people voicing something that they’d learned, or they’d contributed over the last week. That five minutes at the beginning of the meeting gives people the permission and the comfort to speak about themselves and their role and the value they add.
Make time for the human stuff
One of the leaders I work with schedules 50-minute meetings, and she intentionally dedicates the first ten minutes to asking, “How are you doing? How are you feeling? What was good about last week?” The next half an hour is the business of the day. And then she’s got a little bit of overspill at the end. She actually uses a timer and she says it really works because it reminds her to do the human stuff. It’s easy to forget if you’re seeing people most of the time, but you still need to do it.
Some people talk about going back to how things were before the pandemic, but there’s no going back. Work will never be the same as it was. It will be different, and the key is to make sure that difference is a positive rather than a negative.
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