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Flexible Work: Trends and Tactics

Strengthening Culture & Connection in Hybrid and Remote Work Environments

It’s no secret that the Future of Work is flexible. Even as companies have reopened their offices, many are keeping or expanding their remote and hybrid work policies. A 2022 survey of growth-stage CHROs and CFOs in The Circle revealed that 80% of respondents have adopted “fully-flexible” work models for their companies, where employees are either fully remote or can choose if and when to come into the office.

A Gartner study also found that employees that work in a flexible hybrid model are 3.8 times more likely to be high-performing, 3.2 times more likely to stay, and 3.1 times more likely to have lower fatigue. Nevertheless, a fully remote or hybrid work model can present significant cultural and operational obstacles that grow in complexity with company size. Our community members cited maintaining culture and connectivity, enhancing virtual collaboration across teams, and increasing in-office attendance as their most common challenges in today’s hybrid work environments. 

We recently convened CFOs and CHROs in The Circle to review the benchmark survey results and explore tactics for improving hybrid work culture and engagement with Rob Sadow (Co-Founder & CEO of Scoop) and Sacha Connor (Founder & CEO of Virtual Work Insider).

Here are the Takeaways from the conversation:

Culture Requires Intentionality

It’s tempting to think of hybrid work culture as virtual happy hours and on-camera Zoom meetings. However, Sacha believes there is a stark difference between camaraderie and culture:

  • Camaraderie is mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.
  • Culture is the values, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a team. It is how people work together toward a common goal and how they treat each other.

“You have to be intentional about spelling out the type of culture you want to build. When working in hybrid and remote teams, we’re behind virtual curtains so it’s not as easy to pick up on those cultural cues as it is when we’re co-located. We must remember that it is within our everyday virtual meetings and digital communications where culture can be built or torn down.” – Sacha Connor, Founder & CEO of Virtual Work Insider

Sacha advised leaders to work with their teams to ladder their company-wide values down to the specific beliefs and behaviors they want every team member to exhibit. For instance, if fairness and equity are core company values, every virtual meeting, team-building activity, or recognition ritual must be location-inclusive. “Leaders must create a virtual environment where everyone feels heard and valued regardless of where anyone is working from on any given day,” she said.

Having engaged employees is critical to a hybrid work culture. Engagement influences performance, retention, and profitability. “It isn’t just about having fun at work; engagement means that people are investing their full self at work,” explained Sacha. 

An ADP research study identified higher engagement levels among employees who felt connected to their team and trusted their leaders. According to the study, employee trust comes from knowing what was expected of them and leaders getting to know their team members on a personal level with a deep understanding of their strengths. 

Building Connection Across the Organization

Whether fully remote or hybrid, leaders should create consistent opportunities for connecting their distributed teams and other groups within the company.

At the company and functional department levels, leaders need to determine the right frequency for face-to-face meetings between employees. If necessary, they might repurpose some of their office real estate budget for offsite and intra-company travel.” – Rob Sadow, Co-Founder of Scoop

Expanding from annual to semi-annual or quarterly in-person offsites has been effective for some Scoop customers, added Rob. Companies can also improve the effectiveness of their virtual all-staff meetings by incorporating small group discussions on a pre-planned topic or prompt.

Sacha added that helping employees connect outside their immediate teams can be a powerful unlock. A Microsoft study of 100 billion email interactions and 2 billion meeting interactions revealed that remote work has significantly decreased interactions across “distant networks”. Helping to bridge those connections can encourage diversity of thought and give employees more exposure to the teams and individuals that may influence decision-making and career progression. 

A valuable management tactic Sacha recommends is having employees sketch out their spheres of influence and exposure within the organization to visually see where there are opportunities to build new relationships. “Managers can help employees see all the different people across the organization they should connect with and create a tactical strategy for building those connections,” said Sacha.

Bringing Employees Back to the Office

Many members of our community are grappling with how to encourage in-office work. The first step is to articulate the main motivation – is it a financial-based decision related to the exorbitant cost of real estate? A way to build deeper connection and camaraderie? Or do you have leaders who are ill-equipped to lead virtually and just want to go back to what they know? It could be a combination, but understanding your “why” will inform your “how”. 

 “Given the greater level of flexibility companies are now offering, employees are unsure what the in-office experience will be like,” explained Rob. “They’ll weigh the decision of whether to come in based on the perceived value vs. cost of coming into the office.”

Rob offered a few tactics that help encourage people to come back to the office:

  1. Consider downsizing your real estate – “If your office feels big and empty, people aren’t going to want to come in,” said Rob. “It’s like going to a party where everyone you want to be there is, but the room feels way too open and awkward.” However, a smaller office with higher occupancy can create a feeling of a more energetic workplace that may entice employees to return.
  2. Give employees visibility into attendance – Companies can utilize software that lets employees see who will be in the office on a given day to determine whether it is worth it for them to go in. “This eliminates overhead in coordinating days in the office with your manager or team members and pays real dividends in creating a more attractive office environment,” said Rob.
  3. Invest in office perks – Leaders may want to entice (or bribe!) employees with more attractive commuter benefits, lunch, or snacks. “It may seem small, but that stuff is significant for motivating people to come in,” said Rob.

The Takeaway:

As hybrid and flexible work becomes more of an employee expectation, companies should invest in building culture and connection both in person and virtually. Early focus on these efforts is key, as the complexities of implementing hybrid work compound as a company grows.

To learn more strategies for enticing employees to come back to the office, check out Scoop or email Rob Sadow (rob@takescoop.com).

If you’re interested in leadership training programs for employees in hybrid and remote teams, check out Virtual Work Insider or email Sacha Connor (sacha@virtualworkinsider.com). 

Apply to join The Circle and become part of conversations like this with other CXOs regularly.

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