Virtual Teams

Culture building in a remote and hybrid world

We are facilitating conversations and workshops with companies around the world on implementing hybrid working. They are at very different stages of thinking and acting

  • Companies in the UK and the US are beginning the hybrid return to the office
  • In China some people have been working in a hybrid pattern for some months and they are starting to review what’s working and evolve their pattern and skills for the next stage
  • In parts of Central and Latin America senior leaders are just starting to think about the implications of a hybrid future
  • In Australia and some other countries lockdowns are still in force.

The rate of learning and experimentation is ferocious, we are facilitating over 150 workshops in September alone with different organisations.

Different industries are finding different solutions that match their own corporate realities and culture; but all face a sustained message from their employees who favour flexibility.

Nearly all of them understand that the talent market will punish companies that don’t provide location and time flexibility in the future.

However, there are also some consistent concerns. One of the most common concerns is how about how we build and sustain our corporate culture, particularly with new joiners.

I think it’s important to realise that there are organisations who have overcome these challenges. I have led an organisation that was founded on the principle of “virtual first” 27 years ago and we have onboarding people and built a strong culture with very limited face to face time, usually two collective team meetings per year.

Many organisations have onboarded people to virtual teams remotely for decades.

The old adage is that culture is ”caught not taught”. In a remote and hybrid organisation it needs to be both, we need to be much more explicit in using our values in our decision making and living them in our actions. In learning a culture, people pay much more attention to what you do rather than what you say.

In a hybrid pattern where people are spending a day or two a week or more in the office, I am really not concerned about this, I think we have plenty of bandwidth to transmit cultural values in that time. You don’t spend five days a week learning important cultural nuances.

To accelerate the process, we might appoint a cultural buddy to help new people navigate the organisation. One of our clients W. Gore have “water carriers” on each site who exemplify the culture and can act as guides.

During my corporate career with Mars Inc I experienced (and ran) some excellent on boarding training around the Five Principles that are at the heart of the culture there. We introduced the principles to new people and then gave them a range of common business cases and ask them how they would solve these cases using the principles.

We then got them to present back their solutions to experienced line managers who actually been in that situation who explained what had actually happened and how the principles had been used to help make that decision. It was an excellent process for accelerating peoples judgement and ability to use the principles in practise.

It’s nice if you can get together and do this in a room but you can do it virtually.

It’s a testament to the quality of these values and the way they were instilled that I still use the five principles to run my business nearly 30 years later.

If you’re concerned about your ability to build and sustain your corporate culture in a hybrid world, then you need to be much more intentional about it. Review how you build your culture now. If it’s completely informal you may need to systematize it more.

For me the critical snapshots that really bring a culture alive are when I see the values of an organisation being expressed through behaviours, particularly when things are difficult. As leaders we need to be more explicit about when and how we are doing this and show that the values of the organisation are part of the way we make decisions, not just a nice laminated card or booklet.

How are you going to build and maintain your corporate culture in a remote and hybrid future?

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