Five ways managers can create a great hybrid or remote work culture

May 25, 2022

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What started as a temporary solution to a global pandemic has forever changed the way we view work.

Hybrid work and remote work schedules have become the new standard for many of today’s workers. In a recent Gallup poll, 54% of workers said they would look for another job if their employer got rid of remote-work options. Though some may wonder if this signals a lower level of commitment to work, respondents gave practical reasons for preferring hybrid and remote work options, such as more flexibility for caregiving, to avoid a tiring commute, and better overall wellbeing that actually allowed them to feel more connected and productive at work.

As some companies are transitioning to remote and hybrid work models, managers and employees alike are wondering what might be lost in the shuffle, especially when it comes to office culture.

No more talks by the water cooler? No more free cake at staff birthday parties?

How can we work as a team when we’re not all together?

And it is true that mantaining a positive work culture is fundamental in the transition to remote and hybrid work. Toxic work culture is the number one reason people leave their companies, and managers play an outsized role in fostering a positive work culture (or promoting a negative one). If we see our manager working overtime most days of the week, we might feel pressured to do the same. Other work norms, such as timeliness for meetings, appropriate topics for small talk, and flexibility on project deadlines are all modeled by managers, both directly and subliminally. When it comes to the transition to hybrid work, the burden of answering these questions rests on managers' shoulders.

Fortunately, there are established best practices to help managers maintain a healthy work culture while working remotely. Here are five steps managers can take to create a productive, healthy, and fun work culture while managing a remote or hybrid team.

1. Don’t rely on metrics. Rely on people.

Tom just set his status to “Away” on Teams. It’s not his lunch break yet, so what could he possibly be doing?

This is the first mistake we make when managing a remote team. Though employee management software may seem practical, we shouldn’t rely on metrics to judge productivity. Katie Burke, HubSpot’s chief people officer (CPO), gave sound advice for hybrid management best practices at Nomadic’s virtual discussion on doing hybrid work right. She recommends we remember to treat our employees as human beings first, rather than means of productivity.

Of course, it’s important that employees get their work done. However, if we reduce them to metrics on a screen, that will negatively impact team morale and contribute to an unhealthy work culture. Instead, it’s important we give employees the autonomy to manage their own work and to set expectations for each employee’s role. You can implement this by setting up weekly one-on-one chats where you both go over that week’s priorities and establish goals for the week.

2. Establish hybrid work expectations.

In the online dating world, setting expectations is the norm. Are you “looking for something serious” or are you “looking for a good time”? It’s important to set expectations so both parties are on the same page. We can bring this same clarity into our work lives.

For hybrid managers, this means working together with employees to choose the days you can expect them in-office. For remote managers, this could mean a conversation about online etiquette when using workplace messaging programs, such as Slack or Teams. Are employees expected to reply to messages by a certain time? Or can they leave non-urgent messages for later in the day when they’re finished with an assignment?

It’s important for managers to also listen to employee expectations. Burke recommends listening to employee expectations about their role in the workplace. This will help cultivate trust and understanding between employees and their managers.

3. Cultivate trust with your employees.

Trust is built over time. However, if we approach employees from a place of distrust from the beginning, we don’t leave room for trust to grow.

How can we build trust while managing a hybrid team? We can start by trusting our employees to work without always being in-office. We can also start by trusting people know how to manage their time to finish their assignments.

However, this doesn’t mean managers should be completely hands-off. We can supplement this trust with frequent one-on-one chats with our employees. We can use these quick meetings to touch base on tasks and offer support in case our employees have any questions or concerns. According to research performed by Ashok Krish of Tata Consultancy Services, one-on-one chats not only help foster a relationship of trust, but also provide managers with better outcomes overall.

4. Foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in the hybrid workplace.

Though hybrid work comes with many benefits, it also presents new challenges to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment around the world dropped by 4.2%, compared to 3% for men, according to a brief by the International Labour Organization. With many women being forced to drop out of the workforce due to the pandemic and expensive childcare costs––Black and Latinx women in particular––it’s more important than ever for managers to offer more flexible hybrid and remote work schedules to working parents.

Proximity bias is another new challenge born out of hybrid work. Proximity bias is the tendency to look more favorably on the people we see more often. As a result, workers who simply appear in-office more often than their colleagues could be seen as more hard-working and deserving of raises and promotions than their colleagues.

This creates significant inequities in the workplace for employees who work just as hard, but opt to work from home due to a disability, child-rearing, a long commute, or even microaggressions in the workplace. In fact, one study found that 97% of Black employees working remotely in the US preferred a hybrid or fully-remote working model over being in-person, while 79% of their white counterparts felt similarly. This major discrepancy in preferences indicates Black employees may be less likely to feel comfortable in the office, as compared to their white counterparts. To rectify this issue, hybrid managers can establish a set number of days all employees are required to be in-office to avoid proximity bias–fueled inequities in promotions and raises down the line.

Managers who address these inequities and foster DEI in the workplace will ultimately be better positioned to leverage hybrid work to create a truly diverse team.

5. Create signature rituals that define your work culture.

What rituals do you partake in each day? Whether it be a good cup of coffee or some morning journaling, we all have at least one thing we do to start off the day right.

Rituals are just as important in the workplace. For example, here at Nomadic, our fully-remote team starts off the week with a Monday morning huddle. We share the best thing we ate over the weekend and what our goals are for the week. Not only does this help orient the team, but it also fosters a positive and authentic work environment.

Goldman Sachs, for example, was reported to have demanded employees to work in-office five days a week this past March of 2022. This ritual of working in-person every weekday now defines part of Goldman Sachs’s work culture and will affect how they’re perceived by high performing candidates looking for jobs. Based on the 54% of employees who said they would look for another job if remote and hybrid options were no longer available at their company, Goldman Sachs may see a decrease in retention rates while enabling this policy––one example of how it’s important to understand the culture you’re working toward as you choose which policies and rituals fit your team best.

Key Takeaway

Managers play a central role in the switch to hybrid and remote work. As we return to work post-pandemic, whether in-office, fully remote, or a hybrid model somewhere in between, we encourage these strategic leaders to use their imagination in order to craft a more equitable, productive, and effective work culture.

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For more insights about hybrid work, check out Nomadic’s Hybrid Working Program. This Program explores current best practices for the hybrid office, including creating community on a hybrid team, reimagining how we use time, coaching and retraining staff in a hybrid environment, and more. Sign your whole team or organization up for Nomadic to get them access to Hybrid Working and all our other Programs, Resources, and more.

Interested to discover more about what Nomadic’s cohort-based Academy can do for your organization? Learn about our approach, or get in touch to request a demo.

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