Building Culture in Hybrid Work

Petter Stordalen, the Norwegian investor who owns the Thomas Cook Group and the Nordic Choice Hotels, made a poignant remark in a seminar. He observed that you can’t build culture on Zoom, referencing a spirit-lifting virtual meeting where attendees wore Mexican hats and drank tequila, and he noted that it wasn’t enjoyable even once. This sentiment that culture can’t be established in Teams or similar platforms is widely shared.

Indeed, cultivating team spirit exclusively through digital tools is a challenge. However, it’s crucial to recognize that culture also develops robustly in the digital workspace. Every thought, word, and action contribute to a company’s culture, including behaviors in remote meetings or on communication platforms.

James Stanier, the Design Director at fully remote Shopify, emphasizes that delivering an exceptional employee experience in hybrid work requires a cultural shift. Teams, units, or entire organizations need to embrace a hybrid culture, treating all employees as remote workers, whether they are office-based or not. Without adapting the culture to this new reality, hybrid work guidelines can become rigid and frustrating, hindering both leadership and team cohesion.

The essence of this cultural transition is simplicity: ensuring equitable treatment for all. Regardless of their work location, everyone should have equal access to information, tools, and opportunities to succeed, and be able to interact seamlessly with colleagues. Building a genuine hybrid culture means de-emphasizing the physical location and focusing on nurturing the work and operational culture.

Despite concerns about corporate culture in the era of hybrid work, culture does not vanish with the shift to remote work. Beliefs and norms related to culture continue to form and can be actively nurtured. The difference is that the practices and routines that define culture are different from those in a traditional office setting. Therefore, the methods for strengthening and building culture need to evolve from those previously used in office-centric environments.

Experts suggest that remote and hybrid work could make organizations more robust and resilient, provided there is an acknowledgment of the need for cultural change and a commitment to steer it. The absence of deliberate leadership could lead to unpredictable outcomes.

In shaping corporate culture, it’s essential to reimagine processes and ensure ample opportunities for staff interactions. The need for meeting points extends beyond what was initially considered: simply having team meetings isn’t enough. The purpose and objectives of these interaction points must be clearly defined and communicated to everyone, acknowledging that they can be both virtual and physical.

When it comes to corporate culture, organizations face choices. Doing nothing different is also a choice, allowing culture to evolve naturally through daily team interactions and practices, influenced by events outside work. What is the desired outcome in your company?

About The Author

Ulla Vilkman is a pioneering expert in modern work and leadership, specializing in dispersed and hybrid work. Since 2015, she has developed corporate leadership and collaboration skills for remote environments. Leading the expert team at Timanttia Consulting, Ulla focuses on creating effective workplaces. She is also an accomplished author with significant publications on leadership and remote work, including books aimed at elevating hybrid work practices.

Interested in reading more?

Ulla is currently translating her book called “Succeed in Hybrid Work”.
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