According to a Gartner survey, three-quarters of HR leaders believe that hybrid working challenges employees’ connection to organizational culture. The survey of over 200 HR leaders says the most challenging aspect of defining their hybrid strategy is adjusting the current organizational culture to support a hybrid workforce. While 40% of HR managers said they had increased their culture budget since the start of the pandemic, the survey of more than 3,900 hybrid/remote workers in December 2021 suggests that only one in four is connected to the culture of his organization.
“Hybrid and remote working hasn’t necessarily changed our culture, it has changed the way we live culture,” said Alexia Cambon, HR practice director at Gartner. “Where employers could once frame their cultural values and hang them on walls for employees to see, that no longer works today when hybrid and remote knowledge workers spend 65% less time in offices than before the pandemic.”
The cultural experience of the workplace before the pandemic was based on the physical environment in which employees worked. She was primarily defined by three experiential attributes: working in an office space controlled by their employers; being surrounded by colleagues and having physical proximity to each other; and experience the culture at scale through interactions with colleagues with whom employees have worked directly and indirectly.
Culture remains imperative for employees to succeed – 76% of employees say culture is very or extremely important to them being effective at their jobs. Sixty-one percent of HR leaders say that to achieve organizational goals, culture is more important in a hybrid work model than in an on-site work model.
For a culture to be truly successful, employees must be aligned and related to that. Cultural alignment means that employees understand and buy into their organization’s culture, while cultural connectedness encompasses employees who identify with, care about, and belong with their organization’s culture. Together, these two measures – cultural alignment and cultural connectivity – are essential to ensure the impact of culture.
“Historically, senior leaders have intentionally invested in cultural alignment, but have primarily relied on cultural connectivity to happen through ‘osmosis’: relying on time spent in offices, in person, and at scale to that employees feel connected to the culture,” Cambon said. “Employees at all levels, and across demographics, are suffering from a connectivity crisis, which suggests that this problem is not just related to hybrid and remote working, but to organizations’ lack of intentionality to foster connectivity historically.”
Some organizations try to ensure employees connect with the culture by forcing a return to the office. Organizations that take this approach will face significant attrition risk. In fact, organizations that force their employees back to an all-on-site arrangement could lose 33% of their workforce.
“Contrary to popular belief, flexibility is not in tension with culture. The more flexible an employee is, the more likely they are to be connected to their culture,” added Cambon. “Of the more than 3,900 hybrid and remote knowledge workers we surveyed in December 2021, only 18% of those with the least flexibility felt a high degree of connection to their organizational culture, while 53% of workers who had radical flexibility as to where, when and how they work signaled a strong cultural connection.
To intentionally boost cultural connectedness, leaders must make three key changes:
- Spread culture through work, not just in the office. The office is no longer the most common and constant cultural experience. Organizations need to identify opportunities for employees to see and feel connected to culture through the new cultural constant: work itself.
- Connect through emotional closeness, not just physical. As face-to-face interactions become rare, HR managers need to identify when employees are most likely to to feel seen – rather than being seen — to connect them to the culture. These moments of emotional closeness occur when an employee feels important, valued and recognized.
- Optimize micro-based experiences, not macro-based experiences. The hybrid world shrinks ecosystems. As employees interact with fewer people, these relationships intensify and form the core of the employee experience. Leaders must equip teams to create vibrant and healthy microcultures that encourage greater connectivity.
Organizations that successfully connect employees to their culture can increase employee performance by up to 37% and retention by up to 36%.