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Creating a culture of connection in a hybrid world

13th Jun 2022
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There is no denying that we are entering a new era of work. According to McKinsey, nine out of ten executives envision a hybrid model going forward, post-pandemic, and HR and business leaders across industries are striving to navigate these new hybrid waters.

But whilst this approach can offer benefits for employers and employees alike, including flexibility and the choice to work where it suits them best, there is one thing that hybrid work can’t offer – daily opportunities for spontaneous in-person connection.

Indeed, hybrid work has the very real potential to undermine the all-important human connection, engagement, and sense of belonging that business and HR leaders have been working years to achieve in the workplace. So, what can these leaders do to ensure all this hard work doesn’t go to waste, and that a culture of connection is kept alive, no matter where people are working?

Here are three strategies that can be implemented now:

1. It isn’t just about the work – celebrate human moments too

Without the human, work is just that – work. After the challenges of the past few years, human connection has never been more important. In Workhuman’s ‘The Pandemic’s Impact on How We Work’ survey, respondents reported feeling anxious (37%), isolated (31%), overwhelmed (28%), and less motivated (24%). But what’s causing this strain for workers? An overwhelming 59% of those surveyed cited “less human connection” as the culprit.

Indeed, with the future of the workplace still a work in progress and challenges associated with different ways of working still rife, feeling connected to your company, its culture and its humans is vital. There are numerous ways leaders can strengthen this sense of connection, from virtual happy hours and lunches and mentoring programmes to Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). All of these build authentic human connections, recognise people’s individual and group team achievements, and are also ways for people to celebrate the whole human.

In addition, celebrate those non-work-related moments, from birthdays and marriages to new pets and babies. No matter whether your work environment is in-person, virtual or a mix of both, celebrate and recognise the big and small human moments, include both remote and in-person employees in these celebrations, and show employees that you value them for their whole selves and everything they bring to the table – in and outside of work.

2. Take the time to listen to employees – and act on what they have to say

The hybrid puzzle is still a mystery, but in order to find out what your employees want in order to do their best work, there is one simple thing you can do: listen.

Whether through frequent town hall meetings, regular manager-employee check-ins or company-wide monthly pulse surveys, it’s vital that employees know and feel they have the opportunity to have a say in what their workplace and its culture looks like in the future. This ensures they feel supported and that they have a voice in the discussion – further helping to build a culture of connection, across the whole organisation, no matter where people are working.

In addition, leaders that show they can lead with empathy are creating a more authentic, human-focused environment for both remote and in-person employees, where everyone is included. But don’t forget to act on what your employees tell you they want from the future of work. Whether that’s more flexibility in where they work or requests for more ERGs, it’s important to recognise and acknowledge every employee’s requests and accommodate them where possible. 

3. Recognise the ‘culture champions’

In every workplace, there are those employees that always go the extra mile. Those that do so to promote and strengthen company culture – the ‘culture champions’ – are a key part of building a resilient, connected workplace. So, take the time to recognise them.

Make sure leaders and managers are trained to keep an eye out for these champions of culture. This could be someone who volunteers to give employees hired during COVID their first office tour, or an employee who creates new ways of connection, such as Slack channels for new parents or an ERG for women in technology.

Not only should they be recognised for their extra efforts, but in doing so, it’s likely others will follow in their footsteps, leading to a more connected workplace around shared values and purpose. This recognition can be anything from a simple ‘thank you’ message, to a monetary reward, and can reach across the organisation as a whole if a social or peer-to-peer recognition programme is in place. Considering Workhuman’s Two Years Into COVID: State of Human Connection at Work report found that employees at companies with recognition programs are 2x less likely to be planning to leave, there has never been a better time to strengthen that ‘gratitude’ muscle within your company.

Don’t be afraid to fail

As Workhuman’s CEO Eric Mosley said, “Building a culture of human connection – of shared purpose and individual meaning – takes time, and it can’t wait.” Building a culture of connection can undoubtedly be tricky, especially as we continue to explore the uncharted territory of hybrid work – but don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way.

There are an infinite number of tips out there about how to make the best of hybrid working – including the above! – but each organisation is different and you won’t know what’s best for your humans until you try, fail, and try again. Don’t be afraid if you don’t get the results you’re looking for at first. We’re all only human after all, and leaders and organisations that are open to failing forward in the new world of work will show they truly prioritise the human element of work by showing authenticity, vulnerability and humanity – and building a true culture of connection in the process.

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