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Remote Not Distant

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Remote Not Distant

Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace

Gustavo Razzetti,

15 min read
8 take-aways
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Leaders must accept that the hybrid workspacehas become a permanent feature of life.


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Leaders must accept that hybrid work is now a permanent situation – and use it to their company’s advantage. Consultant Gustavo Razzetti spells out what executives must do to gain the maximum advantage from a hybrid workforce. Some corporate leaders initially believed people would return to in-office work, resuming their pre-pandemic routines. These bosses didn’t understand how COVID changed their employees’ view of work. Before the pandemic, about 25% of employed Americans worked from home at least part of the time. Despite that, remote work had a negative connotation. Now, results prove that remote work boosts productivity, and the nature of work has changed. Razzetti explains how to make the most of this new world.

Take-Aways

  • Leaders must accept that the hybrid workspace has become a permanent feature.
  • To use remote work optimally, reflect on your corporate culture.
  • Many companies need to overhaul their in-office culture because it will not work in a hybrid workspace.
  • Create a purposeful vision of the future.
  • Foster employee engagement and belonging by stating each team’s purpose and goals.
  • Design, not luck, produces effective collaboration.
  • To assess your firm’s culture, examine the difference between leaders’ stated values and the behaviors the organization praises or punishes.
  • Distributed teams can choose among six different modes of collaboration.

Summary

Leaders must accept that the hybrid workspace has become a permanent feature.

As pandemic work conditions eased in 2022, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced a policy change: Employees would work at Apple Park on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. He acted in the belief that Apple’s culture depends on one-on-one relationships. He didn’t expect any opposition, but 80 employees signed a letter stating they had maintained Apple’s reputation for quality while working remotely full time.

“Seize this unique chance: Consciously design a successful hybrid workplace that bridges the gap between what employees want and what leaders demand. ”

In the face of the pandemic, organizations turned to the “work-from-home model” out of necessity. However, their leaders did not change their thinking. Many senior corporate officials erroneously believed their employees had to work together in order for their companies’ cultures to reach their full potential.

To use remote work optimally, reflect on your corporate culture.

Culture provides an atmosphere that lets people work productively. It emerges from how people behave, think and feel.

Corporate cultures develop gradually. They can evolve by accident or by intent. A deliberately conceived culture should boost employee engagement and enhance a business’s performance and profitability.

“Every organization has a system that shapes the behavior of its employees. Increasing performance and innovation requires focusing on the forest rather than the trees.”

If your company’s culture is not working in the wake of the pandemic, don’t expect to find a one-time fix. Your organization must work on its culture continually over time.

Culture and strategy don’t compete. They are components of a larger whole. Even if you have a vibrant culture that boosts your operations, you still need a proper strategy.

Many companies need to overhaul their in-office culture because it will not work in a hybrid workspace.

Before the pandemic, about 25% of Americans with jobs worked from home at least part of the time. Some 50% of workers had schedules that allowed a degree of flexibility and enabled some work-from-home periods.

Despite that track record, management regarded remote work negatively. Companies’ experiences with remote working during COVID – which changed the nature of work – made it clear that those earlier, negative impressions lacked justification. 

Remote work boosted productivity and increased employee satisfaction. Many employees still enjoy the malleability of hybrid working conditions. They benefit from the ease of working from home and, with a hybrid schedule, they still get to enjoy the camaraderie of the office.Yet, many businesses are insisting their employees return to the office full time. 

“Digging your heels in, going back to the office and pretending the pandemic never happened is a mistake. And trying to take in-office cultures and practices and copy-paste them into a half-remote/half-in-office experience can backfire.”

These organizations will find that merging old office practices into a hybrid framework isn’t effective. Instead, executives should re-examine all elements of their existing cultures. They need to experiment and adapt to make sure they don’t create dual cultures – one for employees in the office and the other for those in remote locations.

Companies need to move from letting culture evolve accidentally to designing their cultures with deliberation and intent. Prior to COVID, organizations rewarded people who worked late in the office and appeared very busy, sending many emails and always being around. Instead, firms must reward people who achieve their targets – rather than judging employees by how many meetings they attend or how many hours they stay at their desks.

Culturally, most people believe that work and life operate separately, and they often find it hard to balance the two. People may find that important goals are easier to achieve in a hybrid situation. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, for example, says harmony between his work and his personal life has been extremely important to his happiness and success.

Create a purposeful vision of the future.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said that civilization begins when people help others in times of difficulty. Her characterization of civilization underlines a facet of life that people often forget: the goodness of human nature. People want more than a job. They want to affect the world beyond their business roles.

Conventional wisdom suggests that companies succeed when they have good leaders, good products and good technology. But the organizations that lead their industries are the ones that forge a “shared future” with their employees. They foster cultures that promote collaboration and alignment. A shared future keeps employees in sync, no matter where they work.

“Now, as companies increasingly move to hybrid work, a clear purpose becomes more vital than ever, serving as a kind of North Star that keeps employees aligned in the service of a shared future, regardless of how distant they are from each other.”

Employees in such companies protect and guide each other because they share common goals. They recognize they can achieve their aims only if they work together. By contrast, most companies don’t explore their purpose. Instead, they focus on targets or activities.

Businesses with shared purposes do well in times of uncertainty and crisis. Clarity of purpose becomes even more necessary as organizations move toward hybrid work, because it enables employees to collaborate to achieve a common goal, without regard to geographical location.

As you outline your company’s purpose, don’t muddle it with your mission and vision statements. A mission statement describes what a business does. A vision statement delineates what a company would like to be in the future.

Often, companies make their vision statements egoistic and bombastic. They fill them with self-praising phrases like “best in class.” By contrast, a purpose statement clarifies how a company intends to serve others. For example, Tesla defines its purpose as “accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

A company’s purpose is much more than its motto. A genuine purpose requires a business to be authentic and to have a sense of commitment. It acts as a compass that enables people to find their bearings, especially in difficult times. Purpose provides a reason why your employees want to work jointly to achieve your objectives. Many companies issue purpose statements, but do not live by them. An organization’s actions define its purpose, not its words. But during the pandemic, leaders had to make a critical choice. Should they remain committed to their purpose and values – or cling to staying solvent?

Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price, for example, had to make the uncomfortable choice of going bankrupt or laying off 20% of the company’s employees. He presented the problem to his staff, and asked for solutions. They decided together that all employees would accept a salary reduction, factoring in individual needs. As a result, the company didn’t lay anyone off, and it avoided bankruptcy.

When you draft a purpose statement, clarify how your business influences the world and benefits others. In difficult times, your purpose will help you maneuver through stormy seas.

Foster employee engagement and belonging by stating each team’s purpose and goals.

Companies that structure themselves for hybrid or remote work need to help their employees remain “engaged, connected and aligned.” Teams within a company align with its culture and often develop their own subcultures. Employees who bond strongly with their teams engage more fully with one another. People like belonging to a “tribe,” and the smaller the group, the greater the loyalty they feel toward it. A team’s purpose adds fuel to fulfilling the organization’s overall goals. It also enables team members to understand how their actions contribute to the company.

“When we experience a sense of belonging, our body activates ‘happy hormones,’ like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, that promote happiness, pleasure and even love. This increases trust, connection and collaboration.”

Your corporate purpose should clarify what you consider essential for teams whose members are scattered in hybrid and remote settings. To draft a team purpose statement, create a one-line sentence that describes what your team produces 0r delivers. Choose your most important stakeholder – then, figure out that stakeholder’s challenges and what help you can provide in overcoming those obstacles. Your team’s purpose should add to (and never conflict with) your organization’s aims.

New Zealand’s indigenous Maoris use the term “Whakapapa” to express the idea that each person forms a link in an unbreakable chain. Everyone in the chain shares a “sacred identity and culture,” and has a sense of belonging.

Human beings, as social animals, thrive when they think they belong. Leaders often discount how much employees feel the need to affiliate. For organizations to succeed, leaders must go beyond recognizing their employees’ ability to perform. They must respect their employees’ need to feel connection. This becomes even more vital when employees work in remote locations or come into the office only part of the time.

When an organization promotes an atmosphere of psychological safety, it enables open and frank discussions and innovation. It can prevent dissension by encouraging feedback and discussion among colleagues.

Design, not luck, produces effective collaboration.

Business leaders have long touted collaboration as boosting organizational innovation and productivity, but they have offered little evidence to support this contention. To the contrary, a “meta-analytic review” of more than 800 teams revealed that individuals have a greater probability of coming up with new ideas when they do not collaborate – such as during the work-at-home hours of a hybrid schedule.

In the past, conventional wisdom suggested that collaboration required people to work “synchronously,” with the entire team doing things simultaneously. Examples include brainstorming, evaluating evidence or making decisions. Organizations with this mind-set almost drowned in online meetings and in the expectation that employees would be available outside their regular working hours. Effective collaboration brings people together around a future they all work to achieve.

To assess your firm’s culture, examine the difference between leaders’ stated values and the behaviors the organization praises or punishes.

A crisis reveals a company’s culture. Leaders’ choices under pressure show their clarity and consistency in supporting their organization’s purpose. Toward the end of 2019, Glassdoor suggested that during the next decade, organizations will prioritize their cultures.

Marc Eugenio, a customer of US Bank, faced a problem on Christmas Eve. He had no money in his account, and no gas in his car. Although he had made a deposit several hours earlier, the bank still hadn’t credited it to his account. Eugenio spoke to customer service, and a representative who felt sympathy for his plight said she would give him $20 of her own money for gas. Emily James, a senior official at the bank, got approval from her supervisor, and took her lunch break to meet Eugenio and give him the money. Rather than recognizing her customer service and generosity, US Bank fired James and her manager. James had broken its rule that call center employees should not meet customers.

Unfortunately, many companies behave in ways that contradict the values they espouse. 

Distributed teams can choose among six different modes of collaboration.

Recognize several distinct types of work, and motivate employees to shift from one kind of collaboration to another. Distinctive collaborations exist, including “chat, converse, co-create, huddle, show and tell, and warm-up/cool-down.” Individuals working alone also use various work modes, including “process and respond, create and contemplate.”

“The hybrid workplace has made it more critical than ever to intentionally identify the different types of work, encouraging people to switch from one to another as needed. Most collaboration models, however, remain office-centric.”

Gensler Architecture suggested a simpler model of “focus, collaboration, learning and socialization.” But whichever hybrid model you pursue, base it on the “gains,” not the “pains,” of working remotely.

About the Author

Gustavo Razzetti is CEO of Fearless Culture, a workplace culture consulting firm.

This document is restricted to personal use only.

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