Remote and hybrid work may be relatively simple to implement from a logistical point of view, but things get complicated real fast when it comes to maintaining an inclusive corporate culture that takes in all employees, be they in the office or 3,000 miles away. What’s the magic formula that maintains equilibrium when many people are only seen on a Zoom or Teams screen?
At Hewlett Packard Enterprise, at least 70% of employees in internal surveys indicate they do not want to be at the office five days a week, requiring new ways of extending corporate culture. “Maintaining culture is the biggest challenge in a hybrid environment,” says Alan May, executive vice president and chief people officer for HPE. To address this, the company adopted an “edge-to-office” model with the aim of embedding its culture “into the work experience whether someone is working on-site or remotely,” he explains.
At the same time, HPE’s leaders acknowledge that some degree of in-person interaction is essential. “We strongly believe in-person interactions drive innovation, which is why we have designed a hybrid working model that encourages our people to return to the office,” says May.
Corporate culture and values risk getting lost, obfuscated, or even forgotten in remote and digital settings, many business leaders now recognize. “We have learned that being intentional about collaboration and recognition is even more important when we are connecting digitally,” says Raul Villar Jr., chief executive officer at Paycor. “Making it easy for our employees to know what is going on and celebrate each other has been an area we continue to focus. Ensuring our associates are able to cheer each other on from wherever they are drives connection and positivity throughout our organization. Even small things like Zoom bombs, coffee connects and a central place to get information goes a long way.”
There’s a middle ground that needs to be reached as well when it comes to hybrid workplaces. “After more than two years of meeting virtually, we’re finding more of our staff and customers want to meet in person, and we want to provide that option,” says Lynne Smith, senior vice president of global human resources at Robert Half International. “Our ‘in-person- with-a-purpose’ philosophy is especially important for our newer employees with options for in-person trainings and mentoring sessions.”
At Robert Half, hybrid work has stirred high levels of collaboration to ensure everyone is where they want — and need — to be. “Managers and employees work together to determine which work option best meets the requirements of the individual, role, organization and business,” says Smith. This is built upon a new flexible work philosophy based on allowing employees to “work where they can achieve work-life balance,” meet their professional and personal needs,” and “be treated fairly and equitably, regardless of where they do their job,” she relates.
Not only are there productivity benefits to such an expanded culture, but it opens up a world of talent. “Companies that offer remote work options — and are open to hiring talent outside their local market — have an advantage when it comes to finding candidates with the skills they need, hiring quickly and negotiating salary,” Smith says.
No remote or hybrid work arrangement will success unless all employees — on-site and off-site — are regarded as equals. Robert Half’s own survey finds nearly three in 10 workers (29%) said their biggest concern about hybrid work models is that “they create an unequal playing field for career progression and opportunities.”
It’s important that companies “make a concerted effort to create equal opportunities for all employees to grow and develop, network, and build authentic relationships with colleagues — regardless of where they work,” says Smith. “Managers can foster this is by having consistent check-in and goal discussions with their direct reports, hosting in-person and virtual team building events for colleagues to connect Inviting feedback on areas of improvement and acting on it, when possible.”
This is a need not lost on hybrid-intensive companies such as HPE. “Unconditional inclusion is a key tenet of our culture, and that includes providing equal opportunity to employees no matter their working arrangement,” says May. “While this equity and inclusion process requires continuous improvement, learning, and careful management, we have reinforced the need for our leaders to adjust their mindsets and how they engage their teams.” Trust in leadership depends on this process, he adds.
Virtual work is effective, yet calls for different approaches to maintain corporate culture and values, Villars points out. “People have learned — and are still learning — how to communicate, align, plan, innovate in ways we never did before. What we have learned is that just taking what we did in person – virtual, doesn’t work 100% of the time. We have had to reimagine tools and processes to adapt to virtual and hybrid ways of working. Doing the same physical thing virtually isn’t the answer. We have to stay fresh and creative as our working dynamics change.”