HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments
The process of redefining a company culture is a complex one. Culture contributes directly to the day-to-day experience of employees, and many leaders are struggling to sustain what their cultural identity means for hybrid, remote and in-office employees. How do we offset the erosion of company culture due to the lack of physical contact? What elements of our cultural identity have we lost following the pandemic? How do we identify diminished workers’ mental health challenges?
On Thursday 5th May 2022, HRD Connect hosted a group of senior HR and people leaders to discuss these questions in a virtual roundtable that was led by Kate Philpot, Global Sales Enablement, Getty Images, supported by Daniela Porr, Solutions Marketing at Workday.
The group explored how the lack of in-person interaction can lead to feelings of separation and exacerbate mental health issues and that when culture is effective, organisations see enormous benefits. The session was conducted under Chatham House Rules so while this write-up will include key discussion points and takeaways, all participants are anonymised.
How can we offset the erosion of culture due to a lack of physical contact?
From a day-to-day perspective, it’s important to encourage people to connect, by coming together at local offices to ensure they get the social interaction they crave. For many, culture, and its maintenance is understood through the connection and communication of line managers with their teams. One participant shared that they’ve achieved this using the Peakon survey tool, which has enabled strong lines of communication through the business allowing the reinforcement of their cultural values. The tool provides an employee score, much like an NPS score you may have for your products. This score, the user explained, is a direct reflection of how your employees are feeling and can pull insight by age, sex, length of tenure, location, etc. This tool gives additional levels of ownership to managers as it offers tips on how to improve areas that their team is struggling with, offering managers direct accountability, instead of waiting for HR to tell them what to do.
The group recognised the benefit of using such surveying tools to understand the sentiments of their workforce, yet many have struggled with survey fatigue and consequently survey engagement. What is the definition of a good level of engagement and once achieved, how do you sustain it? Naturally, participation levels fluctuate. One participant highlighted they opt to do temperature checks, where employees can quickly and easily select a number to inform their company of how they are feeling. Another participant has moved to a 10-minute survey, twice a year, which covers all key drivers of engagement.
Culture & Communication Styles
Informal communication opportunities are a necessity in safeguarding company culture, from weekly huddles, and charity functions, to work lunches. HR leaders need to lead the charge in driving deliberate interactions amongst their people. But many are left asking, how should they deliver these sessions tasked with encouraging informal communication? Is getting everyone back in the office the right approach? Or is hybrid the best course of action?
Others have shared that the ‘watercooler’ moments, which so many have stressed the importance of over the last few years, are not missed by all. For some groups of individuals, these environments have always appeared exclusive, especially since they did not feel like there was a place for them in the office. This feedback is and should be actively fed into DE&I initiatives, especially when considering workplace culture and hybrid working policies.
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Hybrid Working & Productivity
One participant shared that their company has mandated a full-time office policy, and along with record profits, they have seen fantastic survey responses and great levels of employee morale. Having experienced a decrease in productivity during the pandemic, this participant believed that you can only truly drive cultural identity from employees being around one another.
In contrast, the rest of the group found that where it was possible to measure productivity, it increased significantly whilst working from home. Not only did the group put importance on wellbeing checks during the height of the pandemic, but they also spent time grasping what aspects of working from home their people wanted to keep once normality returned.
How do we identify diminished workers’ mental health challenges?
COVID remains the number one reason for absence days for most organisations, yet many are seeing general sick days decrease. Some attest this to the fact that employees feel they can work through a sickness bug whilst working from home, whereas they are less likely to if they are required to go into the office. The next biggest cause of absence that HR leaders are seeing is mental health-related issues.
As a result, a lot of companies are exercising high levels of activity to support the mental health of their people, from mental health first aiders, wellbeing chat channels, men’s wellbeing programmes, and financial support sessions. With so many people working alone, and many becoming isolated, a company must create platforms where their people can share their feelings, experiences, and felt heard. One participant shared that they have expanded their private medical cover for employees to include mental health support and subsequently made a lot of internal noise about this change to ensure employees were aware and were utilising it.
Redefining Culture in the Face of COVID
Feeding culture, for many, comes through connections with others and the ability to drive innovation off the back of social interaction. With many struggling to get employees back into the office, what cultural aspects are being lost? Further, how do we balance these losses while at a crossroads in redefining our culture post-pandemic?
Spontaneous conversations and the subsequent moments of inspiration are a huge gap within the virtual working world since having an ‘accidental’ zoom call simply isn’t possible. Disparities persist between age groups; older, more senior individuals believe a huge amount has been lost from their companies’ cultural identity, whereas the younger employee base tends to feel more inspired from benefiting from a much better work-life balance.
Kate Philpot asked the group what can be done to create more organic collaboration when working virtually. The group agreed it comes down to the culture around meetings. For instance, if you previously relied on whiteboards during in-office brainstorms, can you benefit from the use of a virtual whiteboard now? Should you be considering training sessions to support employees on meeting structures and the correct etiquette? How can we normalise saying ‘I do not need to be here for the rest of this meeting?’ Is it worthwhile trailing a ‘no meetings Friday’ policy?
The roundtable concluded with Daniela Porr, Solutions Marketing, Workday sharing a summary of the key conversion pieces that drove the discussion. In essence, it was agreed that most people leaders feel like the spark of coincidence has been lost from their cultural identity off the back of changes to the working environment. As employees begin to share their mental health challenges and expectations around DE&I initiatives more openly, the biggest takeaway is the necessity to accurately, consistently, and effectively take the time to understand the sentiments of your people.