Keeping It Together: Foster a Culture of Inclusion, Connection and Belonging in a Hybrid Work Environment
Working remotely, or a hybrid model combining both in-office and from-home work, is here to stay.
Employees love the autonomy and flexibility, and many organizations have enjoyed the increase in productivity arising from individuals who have the ability to set the pace and place of their workdays.
While the benefits of these shifts have been numerous, they are presenting new challenges as well. According to a PwC “Next in Work” study, 36% of executives cite the loss of corporate culture as the biggest challenge to hybrid work. And, employees are echoing that sentiment, reporting that workplace culture and a sense of belonging have diminished as their work has moved online.
In the virtual work world, leaders are being called to shift how they create a workplace where people feel included and connected. Intentionality is everything; more has to be managed than before. What used to happen organically must occur in more methodical ways. Leaders must take the time to create more opportunities for employees to connect, to learn from each other, and to develop bonds that go beyond the day-to-day. Below, we share strategies and tactics leaders can use to build a sense of belonging, inclusion and connection within their organizations.
Galvanize Around Purpose
Purpose-driven cultures engage employees in meaningful work together. Purpose roots every employee into why they show up to work; showing them how they, along with their peers, contribute to the same noble pursuit. Larry Fink of Blackrock Capital shares, “Those who . . . . stay grounded in their purpose are more likely to build the kind of bond that endures the span of someone’s career.” When committed to and communicated about, purpose can bond all employees in an organization, no matter where or how they work.
Lived values create consistent interactions between employees and set the foundation for cultural norms. Some organizations may have values that lead employees to behave in ways that decrease a sense of belonging. If a company has values statements around “personal drive” or “independence,” these can actively detract from the desired outcomes of connection. Now is the time to evaluate whether existing values statements are helping or hurting unification efforts, and respond either by adding or changing values to help shift employee experiences.
Get Intentional About Culture
Getting intentional about culture means thinking through each step of the employee experience and setting a vision for how it could be. Hybrid work isn’t the outlier in the employee experience. It needs to be taken into account as leaders ask: “What is the through-line that connects employees to each other? What kinds of outcomes can both virtual and in-person employees expect at our organization?” With this clarity, leaders can more easily shape an inclusive culture and measure progress toward it. Each employee can better understand what to expect at work and how they play a key role in shaping the experiences of their co-workers.
When employees can share stories with one another about more than just the day-to-day of the business, they create lasting bonds. It’s important to give employees a chance to connect with each other on a relational level. When they can share who they are and what they’ve experienced in life, and hear the stories of others, they are able to see and celebrate similarities. It’s important that each employee feels seen and heard for who they are as much as what they do. This allows individuals to belong to the group and creates a deeper network of relationships amongst peers.
Diversify Team-building Activities
When moving online, it’s important to offer diverse ways to connect employees to each other. Different people have different needs and preferences. Some people like group activities, while others desire one-on-one interactions. Invite employees to help create new programs to ensure everyone’s needs and desires are met. Make sure new activities put employees in touch with those across the organization, not just those on their own teams. Giving employees the opportunity to learn new skills or develop deeper connections allows them to share similar experiences and build a rapport over time.
Build Leadership Skills
Leaders are the models for a company’s culture. They must be able to live out the organization’s values and consistently do what they say they will. Leaders must have the opportunities to discuss what the organization’s purpose and values are, and to practice these principles in action. This group must also respect and work well with each other, demonstrating to all employees that leaders “walk the talk” of the culture. By committing to these components, and continuing to develop skills in empathy and candor, leaders can build trusting relationships among employees that deliver cohesion across the organization.
Hybrid work increases individual freedom, which gives employees a boost in the sense of ownership over their day-to-day. In order to keep organizations cohesive though, leaders must be willing to create new ways of connecting co-workers. With purpose and values as a guide, united leaders can develop a culture where storytelling and diverse activities lead to a greater sense of inclusion, connection and belonging.
Lauren is a storyteller, experience designer and brand strategist. She taps into the human condition to author authentic brand stories and she thoughtfully analyzes brand experiences to ensure they match intentions. Her work in brand strategy, content creation, digital marketing, community outreach and event design for clients are a testament to her artistry and insight.