- As more organizations consider hybrid working models following the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to adapt organizational culture to ensure the happiness and continued productivity of employees who are working remotely
- Innovation can be hard to maintain when some or all employees are working remotely
- There are actions business leaders can take to support a culture of innovation even after a transition to a hybrid-working model
What does organizational culture mean today? Has it taken on a new meaning during the pandemic? Should leaders care or even talk about it? Recent research shows they should. According to McKinsey, companies with healthy work cultures provided three times more returns to shareholders during the pandemic. On the other hand, 70% of transformations fail due to culture and people-related problems.
Organizational work culture has always been a challenge to strengthen and sustain, but with hybrid work models, the difficulty has increased manifold. It is rare to have such an opportunity as we do now, however. As new working models emerge, leaders can reshape how they run their workplaces. After the mass exodus to home offices during the COVID-19 pandemic, the current situation presents us with an opportunity to redefine the future of work.
Making the hybrid working model even better
Here are five ways leaders can drive the kind of positive work culture that is suited to new hybrid-working models:
1) Embed digital fluency
Digital technology now impacts every functional area of most organizations. Leaders who understand and prepare for this earlier will see success sooner. Businesses are shifting to a cloud-based architecture at lightning speed and technology will continue to play a critical role in transitioning to a hybrid work model. Making workforces digitally fluent and ready for this change is vital for success.
Customer needs and expectations have also changed over the past year. They are more flexible about channels of engagement and focus more on the desired output and outcome. This means service providers must build digital tools that create new ways to serve customers’ needs and drive value.
At HCL Technologies, we have seen a lot of investment in building such technological capabilities and a significant increase in service providers seeking new tools to secure a deeper understanding of customer needs. As online activity increases in this way, providing a growing array of data points, AI can help create more personalized solutions for customers.
2) Foster a purpose-driven organization
In my experience as a business leader, the happiest employees are the people whose individual purpose in life meshes with that of the organization. A higher purpose goes beyond economic gain. It reflects something more personal and aspirational. It helps the people involved within an organization feel like they are making a difference with a sense of purpose, thereby cementing their support in a hybrid working model.
What drives people personally and professionally can be complicated, but leaders can encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and explore their purpose at work. When both individual and organizational purposes meet, the workforce can experience positive outcomes, such as retention, motivation, satisfaction, engagement, and productivity.
3) Hybrid working model needs to support social capital
One of the main characteristics of strong organizational culture is the intricate web of social capital—the networks of people across the organization. According to Brokerage and closure: An introduction to Social Capital, a paper written by Ronald S. Burt, managers in the middle of these networks have a greater capacity to create social capital. Why? The information flows through these managers from multiple channels. They coordinate, cooperate, and advise to create an information advantage for the organization.
Managers in the middle see the best and worst of all worlds, have more clarity, and are therefore more adept at plugging holes in the network. In a world where organizations, markets, and society are trying to figure out how to develop social capital, leveraging managers across the network will create a competitive advantage.
This is particularly important for hybrid work models, where there is a risk of two organizational cultures emerging: one with strong in-person collaboration and interaction, and another for employees who might feel isolated. The latter can reduce an employee’s sense of belonging and purpose within the organization.
To maintain positive cultures in a hybrid working model, the leaders must connect people across departments, provide cross-functional learning opportunities, and create time for people to have virtual coffee or networking discussions with colleagues from across the company. To prevent the erosion of social capital, the managers must actively take measures to maintain an interactive atmosphere for the digital workforce.
4) Create virtual alternatives to off-sites
Before the pandemic, off-site meetings provided an opportunity to strengthen an organization's culture and bonds. They drove discussions that might not happen inside a regular office. Off-sites have taken a hit in the hybrid way of working.
Though a virtual alternative cannot fully match an elaborate and physical off-site meeting, it can at least keep the spirit alive by using well-crafted agendas, including all stakeholders. The overarching idea should be to keep the employees engaged and help them work toward a productive output.
When we tried this at HCL Technologies during the pandemic, we found that a simple toolkit can ensure an effective virtual off-site meeting. It should focus on interactive sessions and discussion over presentations, using technology effectively to increase participation and engagement. Coupled with a proper feedback mechanism, these virtual off-sites can unleash culture innovation to support the hybrid work model.
5) Push boundaries
One of the biggest challenges for leaders of the hybrid working model might be the potential to lose innovation at an individual level. Leaders facing this must shoulder the responsibility of fostering a culture of innovation. They need to incentivize people to work toward a specific purpose and understand the important role ‘people networks’ play in influencing the culture and success of an organization.
Your organization reflects how your employees feel - and vice versa. Under the new working model, it is important to continue to talk about the hybrid work culture and how leaders can help their teams push the envelope on innovation. Today, more than ever, there is a positive relationship between how employees feel and organizational growth. Implementing meaningful management practices and leveraging people networks will be the key differentiators for maintaining a healthy culture.
This article was originally published in WEF Agenda, Oct 2021 edition.