There is no doubt that the way the world works has changed dramatically over the past year and a half. Every individual, team and company was quickly catapulted into a new way of working that no one could have imagined with the pandemic. We went from a culture that revolved around a physical place, around routines that involved spending hours a day in the same location, mostly interacting face-to-face, to one in which we didn’t have physical contact with anyone we worked with for over a year. Certainly, organizational culture evolved dramatically - almost overnight - as a result. Many people were thrown into remote work for the first time in their careers.
Organizational culture is defined by an organization’s shared beliefs and values, its communications style and channels, the degree of hierarchy and more. Each of these dimensions were impacted by moving from a fully in-person existence to a fully remote existence. Companies are now forced to experiment with different working models to find the right one for their employees as the option to return to the office opens up.
Understanding employee needs
One of the beauties of having been thrown into a new way of working is that each individual really had the opportunity to learn what their unique preferences were. For some employees, they realized that working from home allowed them to be more productive because it saved commute times and allowed them to schedule their day around the work times that made the most sense for them. For others, they realized that in-person collaboration was far more effective than trying to whiteboard and collaborate remotely. We emerged from the great work-from-home experiment with a key learning that not all types of work are well-suited entirely for in-office or at-home.
Now, companies have the opportunity to leverage those learnings to enable employees to decide where and how they do their best work. With hybrid work, there is an opportunity to create working models that are really targeted to each employee’s needs and what matters to them.
To understand their needs, it’s useful to segment them, as you would your customers. There are multiple facets to consider when segmenting your employee base, from behavioral dimensions to demographic dimensions to environmental requirements. Are they in roles that require frequent collaboration with team mates, or do they work mostly on individual tasks? Segmentation can also be made based on an employee’s life stage. For example, employees with very young children may appreciate the flexibility of a work-from-home arrangement.
Maintaining company culture in a hybrid environment
A lot of organizations work hard to "define their culture," but I believe that "culture is defining the things that are shared". One major factor that defines culture is a shared sense of belonging, and that’s closely tied to having shared values. I believe that these are punctuated by defining “shared moments” that provide a consistent experience for employees during critical milestones - or creating memories and stories as an organization that reinforce who we are.
While it may seem that shared experiences means spending time together in the office, it doesn’t necessarily need to be. A shared virtual experience is also a type of shared moment, and it’s important to take into account the purpose and context of those interactions when deciding whether in-person or virtual is the better format.
Take for example, an activity like onboarding, which is a critical step in an employee’s work experience. Companies can strategically decide to bring all new employees together for in-person onboarding so that remote employees will get an opportunity to bond with their colleagues and get to know their team members, which will prove to be extremely valuable as they onboard and ramp up. On the other hand, regular All Hands meetings may be best in a virtual format because of the intimacy one feels making eye contact with people via a Zoom screen - something that’s not possible through a large, in-person meeting where speakers are on a stage.
Using technology to help build and maintain connections
To combat Zoom burnout, it’s helpful to consider new productivity and collaboration tools that would enable people to focus on “deep work” that would otherwise be consumed by meetings. It’s also helpful to think about different ways that you can deliver content, communications or messages outside of the traditional channels of meetings or emails.
There’s little doubt that developing relationships can be challenging in a purely remote environment and that “accidental collisions” - the spontaneous introductions you might have had in an office setting with new faces - can be rarer. But there is a proliferation of new digital tools now that are meant to replicate those collisions and even “watercooler” conversations. It’s an exciting time in the People Tech space given these emerging technologies.
In addition, there are different types of whiteboarding tools that can simulate what it feels like to be sitting in the same room as your team. These are some of the ways that technology can be used to make people feel closer to an experience that resembles the physical office.
Be ready to evolve with the needs of the employees
Just like a company trying to retain and grow its customer base, companies need to also embrace employee needs that are shifting and evolving constantly. Employees’ expectations will evolve and change, and our goal should be to innovate in how we can meet those needs or risk losing the war for talent.
Companies often run customer surveys to understand the changing needs of their customers and at Mixpanel, we do the same when it comes to understanding our employees. We also initiate a number of one on one conversations with our employees to better understand expectations and address issues proactively, similar to customer focus groups or customer interviews.
It won’t be possible to prioritize addressing every employee's needs but you will be able to collect enough data to know what actions you can take to move very key metrics like improving engagement. It’s especially important to commit to doing this regularly in hybrid environments as you will not have as much opportunity to interact directly with the employees to gather this information informally.
Employee motivation is still key
There is quite a bit of evidence that suggests giving employees greater flexibility, freedom and ownership over their work results in greater engagement, which is typically high ROI for companies.
Engaged employees tend to be less likely to leave, reducing turnover costs. Engaged employees tend to be more productive because they are motivated and happy. Engaged employees also tend to be higher performing because they feel more accountability toward the company. So giving employees greater flexibility and freedom can be quite a high ROI for companies. Of course, companies need to decide what employee flexibility and freedom means given their particular culture. Having clear and meaningful performance expectations around outcomes, not specific activities or tasks, is critical.