How to create an organizational culture with remote and hybrid teams

Like remote and hybrid work environments, the importance of organizational culture began long before the pandemic.

The way we work has changed forever. Waiting for the world to return to how it was is no longer an option as more and more organizations develop new working models in response to a rapidly changing world.

To be fair, organizations were already moving towards remote and hybrid working before the pandemic – the pandemic has only accelerated the pace. But let’s be clear: remote and hybrid working is not a new phenomenon, and it’s not going to slow down anytime soon either.

A Accenture Survey 2022 on remote and hybrid working found that:

  • 58% of respondents were already working in a hybrid model before and during COVID-19.
  • 63% of high-growth companies have already enabled productivity workforce models everywhere.
  • 83% of executives surveyed identified a hybrid model as optimal for the future.

What has not changed is the importance of organizational culture and its impact on organizational performance. Like remote and hybrid work environments, the importance of organizational culture began long before the pandemic and recent data suggests it will only continue.

For example, a 2019 survey by Glassdoor found:

  • When looking for a new job (remote, hybrid or in-person), 77% of respondents said they would consider a company’s culture before applying.
  • US millennials are more likely to care about work culture over pay (65%) than those ages 45 and older (52%). Similar figures were found in the UK (66% vs. 52%).
  • 89% of adults surveyed told researchers it was important for employers to “have a clear mission and purpose.”

Understand organizational culture

Let’s start by clarifying what we mean by “organizational culture”. Having a common understanding of this fuzzy and sometimes confusing term is an important starting point in today’s increasingly complex workplace.

I define organizational culture as an outcome that can be measured by patterns of behavior that reveal your organization’s true values ​​as modeled by your organization’s leadership.

Let’s break this down.

  • A result
    • Your culture is not a single lever or system on its own. Organizational culture is the result of multiple levers and systems (eg HR, development, communication, etc.) working together to shape an outcome that can be seen and experienced.
  • Behavioral patterns
    • Shared behaviors that are tolerated and reinforced by leadership structures and systems.
  • Values
    • What you say you like (eg core values, etc.), which is either reinforced or rejected by the behavior of your employees.
  • Leadership
    • The more authority and power a leader has, the more he contributes to shaping the culture.

If you prefer metaphors, think of organizational culture as the soil in which your staff and/or key stakeholders are planted. Are they healthy and productive? Do they produce good fruit? Are they still alive and thriving? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, there is likely a systemic problem in the soil of your organizational culture that needs to be addressed.

Related article: 5 Ways to Build a Company Culture in Hybrid Working

Distant and Hybrid Cultural Challenges

While remote work is clearly a positive development, it is not without its challenges, especially for younger generations who are just starting their careers. In the same Accenture survey cited above, 74% of Gen Zers said they want more opportunities to collaborate with colleagues face-to-face. The number was only slightly lower for millennials.

As workplaces continue to evolve, employee sustainability and success will depend on finding new ways to support and develop staff. How to reinvent organizational culture in a world where office rituals are no longer accessible to everyone? How do you build relational and functional trust when the physical connection is limited to once or twice a year? New generations of workers in new work realities will need new strategies and policies to support growth and productivity in this brave new reality.

Related article: Are your culture-building initiatives actually harming your culture?

What thriving organizational cultures have in common

Below are four best practices I’ve found in thriving organizational cultures that rely on remote and/or hybrid workplaces.

1. They make the culture explicit

Explicit — Stated clearly and in detail; leaving no room for confusion.

Senior managers can no longer afford to view organizational culture as something “taken rather than taught”. This may have worked when everyone was in the same building (although I questioned its effectiveness even then), however, there is little hope for this approach to be effective in environments remote and hybrid workplaces today. Organizational culture will not evolve if it is spongy and left to intuition and feeling alone.

To achieve lasting and consistent results in remote and hybrid environments, organizational culture must be articulated through a clear and compelling narrative. Create a “brand book” or “we book” or “culture guide” that includes applicable principles that leave little room for misinterpretation or ambiguity and apply equally to workers remotely than to staff in person.

2. They communicate too much

In times of crisis or change, frequent, focused, and thoughtful communication is a leader’s most powerful tool for gaining support and adoption. It is not possible to over-communicate during these times. However, many leaders under-communicate because they make assumptions about clarity and buy-in from their people, leading to premature calls to action that create frustration and resentment.

Like any new business, remote and hybrid workplaces need clear vision, strategy, planning, experimentation, and critical feedback in order to make iterative improvements. Understanding that communication is a conversation more than a presentation is key to creating alignment and support. This only happens if time is dedicated to key topics which are then facilitated with appropriate levels of candor and honesty.

Related article: Why you shouldn’t communicate with remote, onsite, and hybrid teams as one group

3. They develop new rituals

Rituals are recurring employee activities that create positive energy and reinforce brand values. Rituals can be led by leaders and include things like activities for all staff. The best rituals, however, are organically driven by employees, growing within the organization.

A good example is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Every October, the staff uses their time and resources to hold an over-the-top pumpkin carving contest. This is an employee-led activity that gives engineers (whether remote or on-site) the opportunity to apply their rocket building skills to something fun and unconventional.

Identify opportunities and/or employee-led activities already underway that reflect your brand values, then fan the flame of those brand rituals. And remember that support does not mean control.

4. They create psychologically safe spaces

Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, says, “Creating psychologically safe spaces means employees feel confident that their colleagues won’t embarrass them, reject them, or punish them for speaking up. »

To build a foundation of trust, mutual respect, and psychological safety, organizations with remote work environments must commit to facilitating meetings that elevate the following principles, regardless of medium:

  • Promote active participation.
  • Make sure everyone feels heard and seen when they engage.
  • Encourage diverse thoughts and opinions.
  • Emphasize the importance of vulnerability and honesty by alleviating any fear of retaliation or punishment.

Many of you reading this have the incredible opportunity to reshape the very way your organization works. It’s a brave new world, so lean in and make the most of this dynamic season of profound change.