Hybrid Organizations Are the Future

A Future Forum study of knowledge workers across six major countries found that the vast majority value flexibility — while only 16% want to be fully remote, only 12% want to return to working in the office five days a week. A clear majority of 72% want the option of working within a hybrid remote-office model. They’re eager to avoid the commute and have better work-life balance.
The benefits of a hybrid model for companies have also come into focus. It opens the door to hiring from broader talent pools, reducing real estate costs, and generally operating more efficiently. A number of high-profile organizations have announced that they may never return to an office-centric culture. According to FlexJobs, companies including Deutsche Bank, Infosys, Nationwide Insurance, Nielsen, Siemens, Starbucks, Twitter, and many more are moving to permanently give employees the option of working from home some or all of the time.
Leaders need to start thinking now about how they want to “re-enter” the office environment. How might we reimagine the office to reinforce culture in new, better ways? More importantly, how do we ensure an even distribution of culture across those in the office and those working remotely? One of the greatest risks with hybrid work is the potential for employees to have different and incompatible understandings of the company culture.
For many, this comes back to fostering inclusiveness and ensuring the transmission and reinforcement of culture for remote employees. Ensuring inclusiveness might mean changing habits around how and where information is communicated. For example, asynchronous, video-based updates might work better than live all-hands, or meeting norms might involve leveling the playing field by dialing in all members, regardless of their location. For companies focused on fostering an inclusive culture, providing greater flexibility to work from home can be a considerable benefit. In Future Forum’s own research, we found that Black, Hispanic, and Asian American employees’ sense of belonging was actually higher in remote work settings, while white employees’ was worse.
Organizations should be concerned about watering down their culture by relying solely on asynchronous communication. Even fully remote companies like GitLab and Automattic rely on episodic in-person gatherings to rebuild bonds among employees and socialize new members. Organizations will undoubtedly require a mix of practices that enable efficient, inclusive engagement while at the same time preserving aspects of synchronous and in-person activities that strengthen culture.
Almost every executive we talked with over the past few months knows that we’re entering a new, untested period. It will take early experimentation to generate ways of promoting remote-first cultures while preserving the value of in-office symbols and side-by-side work to strengthen culture. Tolerance for failures along the way will be essential to finding a path forward. Leaders must recognize that thriving in the new era of work depends on being open to new formulas for building and maintaining strong culture.

By Pamela Hinds and Brian Elliott
Excerpted from Harvard Business Review Article "WFH Doesn’t Have to Dilute Your Corporate Culture" February 1, 2021