Many employees were in survival mode for the last two years as remote work became the norm. Now that workplaces are preparing for a hybrid model, it’s time to acknowledge the damage done to company culture and prepare to rebuild with some new techniques.
A new era of leadership
A new form of leadership is emerging at digitally-mature companies. According to Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill, traditional leaders were narrowly focused on value creation for the product or service their business provided. They were the figurehead with the vision, responsible for rallying the workers to march in step towards that goal.
Hill found in interviews that global leaders are now shifting their views. The top five leadership skills they self-identified were adaptability, curiosity, creativity, comfort with ambiguity, and digital literacy. Successful leaders are now prioritizing experimentation and learning and are encouraging collaboration across the company to achieve a superior end-to-end customer experience.
Hill explained that leaders are now prioritizing the idea of “creating an environment in which people will co-create that future with you.” This means today’s leaders will need to be open to being challenged by their employees, regardless of age, skillset and experience level. To achieve a collaborative, innovative workspace, the top brass needs to encourage diversity of thought by treating everyone with respect.
Storytelling, passion and effective communication will help leaders inspire purpose and energy in their teams, which is crucial for those lacking in-person connections. While leadership is nowadays less about top-down directives, modelling desired behavior is an important way to reinforce a healthy workplace culture. As a leader, it’s important that you use your vacation time, respect work-life boundaries and support well-being initiatives.
Ties that bind
So how do you bring all of these threads together to achieve collaboration? Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, explains that there are four ingredients required:
- A culture built on trust and co-operation.
- Diverse networks to move knowledge between stakeholder groups.
- The soft skills to be able to work collaboratively.
- A sense of purpose that builds motivation.
Corporate culture is under strain
In a hybrid setting, teams often struggle to connect the same way as before companies went remote. For managers, it can be incredibly difficult to support a distributed workforce with diverse (and often hidden) stresses and needs.
Some weaknesses that are natural side effects of remote work have started to affect employees. People’s networks have started to disintegrate. Conflict resolution becomes harder. Energy flags. People’s sense of identity and belonging begins to fade.
It’s crucial that these issues are identified and addressed by leaders.
For businesses that rely on innovation and creativity, there are much fewer opportunities for water cooler moments leading to new ideas and discoveries.
Corporate culture that encourages collaboration can create innovative workplaces. It improves worker wellbeing, productivity and morale, and can help reduce health care costs and absenteeism. A healthy company culture is especially valuable as workplaces struggle to retain employees during the Great Resignation – the wave of dissatisfied workers leaving underpaying, unflexible and unfulfilling jobs during the pandemic.
Six ways to support staff and bolster your culture
1. Decide to reinforce or start fresh
As a leadership team, decide if your company culture is still relevant to your future vision. If it’s worth preserving, work to strengthen and revitalize. If your culture needs to be changed to match your new vision, allow employees to contribute feedback, as this encourages buy-in and inclusivity.
2. Put purpose first
More businesses are moving to the social enterprise model: a revenue-earning organization with a mission to achieve social, cultural, community or environmental outcomes. Companies who identify with this model should continue to focus on profitability and cash flow but also encourage ongoing communication that connects the dots between each employee’s daily work and the company’s overarching goal and performance.
3. Don’t just focus on accountability and performance
Leaders are properly concerned with performance and accountability but sometimes don’t sufficiently encourage soft skills and ongoing development. Skills like communication, work ethic, time management, empathy, problem-solving, critical thinking and conflict resolution make people effective collaborators and hybrid workers. Learning and development equips workers with new skills and knowledge so they can adapt when needed.
Organizational agility receives high praise, but often people are punished for trying and failing. Instead, employees sometimes choose to take safe jobs that require execution because output is equated with success. Innovation involves risk and that is an unstable and unrewarding career path. So, if you want your people to try something new, consider building a culture that supports innovation and failure.
4. Rethink your office space
Workplaces should prioritize creating a healthy, accessible environment for their employees. Safety protocols need to be tailored to employees and their needs,
Companies that are using a hybrid model will need to update meeting spaces so groups of in-person and remote staff can work together. In some cases, leaders may need to rethink office space and how it functions. It may be in your employees’ best interest to see if a different layout promotes better productivity.
5. Experiment with virtual tech for better engagement and collaboration
Webinars and one-on-one video calls are standard fare, but they may not do enough to foster the much-needed water cooler chats that encourage new ideas and connections. Experiment with different technologies and formats of virtual events to find the best option for your company.
Perhaps encourage boundary-crossing to help avoid team isolation, giving people the time and opportunity to connect with others through networking, collaborating on projects, or simply joining another group’s call.
6. Prepare to have real, tough conversations
Leaders who start asking people how they’re feeling or if they are struggling are starting to get honest answers. Employees are starting to talk about mental health challenges, being impacted by social or child care issues. These aren’t conversation starters you can gloss over. Gone are the days of “I’m good, you?” across the board.
Leaders are going to need to be prepared to have these difficult and emotional conversations they’re not used to, and sometimes to act on them.
Create a thriving office space
Culture, strong leadership skills and purpose are all important ingredients to build a successful, thriving business. If you’re curious how investing in human capital assets for better collaboration or becoming more of a social enterprise would impact your business, contact our team today.