Contributed by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, an internationally-renowned thought leader in future-proofing and cognitive bias risk management and an EO 360° podcast guest. We asked Dr. Tsipursky to explain how companies can help employees adapt and thrive to hybrid return-to-office scenarios. Here’s what he shared:
Organizations will need to pivot their corporate cultures if they wish to survive and thrive in the world of virtual collaboration after the pandemic. The most significant changes will stem from the wide-scale and permanent shift to hybrid and fully-remote work modes.
Between 65 and 75 percent of employers intend to keep a mainly hybrid schedule, with a minority of staff fully remote. Combining hybrid and full remote work largely matches what employees want their work schedules to look like.
To adapt to the hybrid and remote future of work, leaders must benchmark and adopt best practices based on external research, as I learned from interviewing 47 mid-level and 14 senior leaders whom I guided through the transition to the future of work.
Why corporate culture suffered during the pandemic
Culture refers to the social and emotional glue that bonds employees together into a community of belonging, motivates employees and protects against burnout. It includes the norms and practices that determine how people collaborate. It also involves the values that guide the community of your employees into the increasingly disrupted future.
During pandemic lockdowns, companies quickly shifted to working from home. Numerous companies simply transposed their office culture style of collaboration to remote work, to unsatisfactory results.
Only a select few took the strategic approach of revising their company culture to fit remote work needs. Such companies reported better employee retention, morale and engagement.
Human beings are tribal creatures. We connect with others and belong to communities to be fulfilled. Working-from-home cuts us off from much of our ability to connect effectively to our colleagues as human beings, rather than little squares on a screen.
No wonder so many suffered from WFH burnout and Zoom fatigue and felt increasingly disconnected from their employers.
Recognizing these problems saves us from the deprivation of our human connection. Meanwhile, in-person meetings still connect us on a human-to-human level, no matter how brief they are. Naturally, employees will demand fewer virtual meetings.
3 Ways to adapt your culture to virtual collaboration in the post-pandemic new normal
The hybrid model of coming into the office once or more per week will help address this issue, while still offering effective connecting activities for virtual collaboration on non-office days. It’s critical to replace bonding activities from in-person office culture with bonding activities designed for a virtual format, through the wonders of digital technology.
Prepare a cultural re-onboarding as part of your office return and adaptation plans to rebuild connections within the organization. Educate your employees on the changes, provide them with ample time to prepare themselves, and seek their buy-in for reintegration into an office-based culture.
1. Encourage virtual water cooler conversations
Most of my clients implemented a “Morning Update” for teams of four to eight people in their company. Teams established a separate channel for personal, non-work discussions using collaboration software.
Every morning, all team members send a message answering the following questions:
- How are you doing overall?
- How are you feeling right now?
- What’s been interesting in your life recently outside of work?
- What’s going on in your work: What’s going well, and what are some challenges?
- What is one thing about you or the world that most other team members do not know?
This activity provides an excellent foundation for developing relationships, rebuilding trust and accommodating differences.
2. Address diversity, equity and inclusion
Surveys found a much greater desire among minorities for a hybrid or fully remote model. A study by Slack found that 79 percent of White knowledge workers wanted either a hybrid or fully remote model, but 97 percent of Black knowledge workers preferred such work. The study suggests that hybrid and fully remote work addresses DEI concerns because it reduces instances of discrimination.
Other studies have shown discrimination through the bullying of minorities on group video calls and one-on-one harassment via chat and email, as well as men frequently interrupting or ignoring women in virtual meetings.
It’s best to assume that these problems occur in your company unless you have reason to believe otherwise. Conduct internal surveys to determine issues with DEI and remote work and institute policies and solutions as appropriate, and facilitate effective virtual collaboration. A refresher on DEI during your cultural re-onboarding will help.
3. Promote work-life balance in virtual work
The physical and mental health of employees is of utmost concern to entrepreneurs. Encouraging employees to take physical and mental breaks reduces burnout, increases productivity and minimizes mistakes.
Employees should take at least a 10-minute break every hour while working remotely. To counteract the harmful effects of prolonged sitting, at least half of these breaks should include physical activity, like stretching or walking around.
Redevelop workplace processes with a virtual water cooler, healthy physical and mental breaks, and reinforce DEI during and after the pandemic. Research-based practices will promote virtual collaboration, build sustainable strategies, and accommodate the needs of companies and employees.
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky serves as the CEO of the boutique future-proofing consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, which specializes in helping forward-looking leaders avoid dangerous threats and missed opportunities. A best-selling author, his newest book is Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage.