13th April 2022
Before we get started, let’s address the elephant in the room: no, social drinks on Zoom aren't the solution we're proposing here. Between long, painful periods of silence and then bursts of chatter that override other people, and, not to mention, the reality that you’re slowly getting tipsy on a glass of wine or Heineken alone at home, Zoom drinks aren’t a great substitute for the real thing.
Zoom drinks are, however, a brave attempt at bridging the gap between culture development to create a sense of community within the organisation, and the steady increase of people working from home.
In a post-lockdown world that’s been heavily affected by the pandemic, hybrid work is becoming commonplace in the corporate world. Hybrid work is the blanket term that describes the fluid model of work where employees have either a completely flexible working week, or arranged in-office/working from home days.
The challenge of hybrid work is figuring out the most effective ways we can maintain a strong culture which employees feel part of. Culture is a fundamental success indicator for any organisation - a weak culture can be the catalyst towards business catastrophe.
The history behind the hybrid hype
The concept of hybrid work isn’t new, but the pandemic has helped accelerate this trend - taking it from a 'nice-to-have' perk that existed in workplaces few and far between, to a common job feature that’s become a necessity for many people.
Certainly, global lockdowns proved that working from home, well, works. When teams were forced to work from home, business managed to continue - perhaps not as usual, but certainly better than we might have predicted in pre-2020. In spite of the challenges that the pandemic created, many people leapt at the chance to work from home and relished in the benefits the new arrangement brought.
With no long commute into the office, more time spent with family, and the freedom to better fit in what we love doing after work in our day, flexible work has rapidly become a necessity for many. Studies have noticed that organisations offering flexible work options reap the benefits of increased productivity, greater employee satisfaction and overall improved mental health for all people across the board.
Hybrid work has become more than a rare bonus. In 2022, hybrid work is becoming the norm and job seekers expect as much when they look for work. We’re also in the midst of the Great Resignation, where businesses across the world are experiencing increased labour shortage. The pandemic was a catalyst for this trend - living through a life-changing event has mobilised many to chase the life they’ve always wanted to live, while others have decided to not put up with poor working conditions any more.
With such rapid changes becoming commonplace, businesses have had to rethink their cultural development strategy in order to retain their people, and have a strong culture despite incorporating hybrid work. Culture is an integral make-or-break part of any organisation. In a nutshell, culture encapsulates how things are done in an organisation and the underlying assumptions and values that underpin this.
There are many differing opinions about working from home versus working in the office, with clear pros and cons for both options. While working from home saves many people time and money, and takes away some of the stressors that a corporate lifestyle often brings, being in the office is a great way to set work-life boundaries and connect with others, fostering an all-important sense of community.
Let’s take a step back: how do relationships form?
Relationships are incredibly important for our quality of life. We’re inherently social creatures and our relationships contribute vastly towards our mental wellbeing. Our relationships form our most important support systems
Psychologists explain that we form bonds with people often, due to the proximity principle. In a nutshell, we tend to form stronger relationships with people that we’re physically in closer proximity to.
Think back to your school and university days; many of our strong relationships are often formed simply because we’re around the same people day in and day out. Proximity can also be psychological. If we’re in similar stages of life or social groups, we’re more likely to like each other and form relationships.
Physical proximity helps to create a sense of psychological closeness that increases interpersonal attraction, helping strengthen relationships. Increased exposure - without pre-existing opinions - can boost our positive feelings towards someone.
Take away physical proximity in our location, and life proximity in our age and stage, and that explains why it can be challenging to form new friendships and relationships as an adult. The hybrid workplace is no exception. With different people in the office at various points in the day, a clear issue emerges: the lack of consistent, uninterrupted proximity that stunts the natural connections we make, and therefore it can become more difficult for genuine relationships to develop.
How can we mitigate the lack of physical proximity with hybrid work?
There are several ways we can try to mitigate the lack of physical proximity with hybrid work, to help build stronger relationships and create a robust working culture.
1. Visibility and accessibility
Ensuring that you’re visibly accessible during important work hours is essential. One of the key criticisms about working from home is the lack of connection and poor communication that follows. Let’s face it, it’s difficult to have a casual chat when it’s always through an online messaging software that replaces a classic ‘water cooler’ conversation you might have in the office.
Frequent feedback sessions and strong communication are essential tools that help you have a clear snapshot of how each team member’s feeling at a given moment.
2. Encouraging people to develop their networks within the company
It may sound obvious, but it’s true. Ensuring that you have established social groups - whether that’s Dungeons and Dragons groups, football teams, book clubs or more - that give people a chance to bond and catch up over something work-unrelated, but retains that all-important psychological and physical proximity.
3. Initiatives with a strong focus on community
Potentially have a one in-office day each fortnight for each working team, so that people have an opportunity to talk in-person and bond.
Some offices created incentives where employees could offer to help each other - i.e. exercising together, looking after children at necessary points and overall fostering a stronger sense of community between people.
Celebrating wins from different teams that link to the main purpose of the company. Feeling like we’re a part of something greater than ourselves and contributing to a bigger mission helps us to feel like we belong and motivates us to work hard.
We need to be open to new ways of creating strong culture, with a focus on being nimble and adaptive to changes.
Embracing the new way of work is a great step forward to retaining your best people and attracting top talent to the workplace. Inevitably, flexible working arrangements are the way forward of the future, so we need to be proactive about mitigating potential issues.
Understanding how exactly we form relationships and where we can ensure that these precious moments aren’t taken away from us is critical.
Your team will thank you for it!
- Want to know more about how to create a better health and safety culture? View ecoPortal smarter safety videos. ecoPortal health and safety software can also help your business. Try a demo or get in touch with the team at ecoPortal.