People remain undecided about whether remote- and hybrid-working models are better or worse for workplace community, in the U.K. especially. That’s the conclusion of workplace culture and recognition firm O.C. Tanner’s 2023 Global Culture Report.
The global study – which aggregated answers from over 36,000 employees, leaders, HR professionals, and business executives – found 37% of U.K. respondents felt hybrid work made it harder to create a workplace community, but 41% reckoned the opposite.
Similarly, 37% of U.K. employees that had shifted to hybrid working thought the workplace culture was now better, while 43% said it was at the same level. Notably, however, 68% of U.S. respondents believed the move to hybrid working had improved culture, and the global figure was 59%.
Regardless of the unclear verdict, there is clearly room for improvement. To help, WorkLife gathered experts’ top tips for creating a better workplace community for a hybrid or remote workforce.
Make a habit of regularly recognizing and celebrating employee contributions
“To create a strong workplace community, especially in a hybrid world, organizations must incorporate three key elements into their everyday employee experience,” stated Robert Ordever, European MD of O.C. Tanner. The trio of elements? “Integrated employee recognition, modern leadership, and employee feedback.”
Ordever pointed out that with regular employee recognition, the chances of having a “strong community” increased by 508%. If leaders celebrate individual and team successes, there are many short- and long-term benefits.
For example, Ordever said that reduced physical interactions made it more challenging to collaborate and learn through role modeling. “This is where regular social appreciation and recognition can bring value, which means continuously reaffirming what ‘great’ looks like through publicly giving recognition,” he added.
Even personal achievements – “like a new home, the birth of a child or completing a marathon” – should be celebrated, suggested Derek Irvine, senior vp of strategy and consulting at Workhuman, which offers cloud-based, human capital management software solutions. Indeed, a recent global study by Workhuman and Gallup indicated that employees are nearly three times more likely to strongly agree they belong at their organization if the latter recognizes life events.
Leaders must communicate well and create a sense of belonging
The role of those in charge of determining whether a workplace community is successful – and specifically making employees feel as though they belong – cannot be overstated. They have to set the tone and make an effort with employees. If people are an organization’s most important asset, leaders must prove it in word and deed.
“Modern leaders are crucial to building relationships with both in-office and hybrid workers as they focus on understanding, collaboration, and advocating for their teams,” said Ordever. “They naturally improve the culture of their organizations and increase the odds of having a strong workplace community by 269%.”
Marseille-based Arnaud Devigne, co-founder and co-CEO of global flexible-job-search platform Jobgether, developed this theme. “Creating a workplace community in a hybrid setting is all about building connections and fostering a sense of belonging among employees, regardless of where they are located,” he said.
Devigne added that how leaders communicate strategy, goals, and values is vital. “By prioritizing communication, engagement, and collaboration, companies can create a strong and connected workplace community in a hybrid or fully remote setting.”
Invest in better technology and co-create flexible policies for all
A study unveiled in February by Logitech, which captured the thoughts of 3,000 employees and 1,000 IT hardware decision-makers in large organizations, found that most employees were still under-equipped for optimal remote collaboration. Alarmingly, 89% and 85% said they struggled with video and audio, respectively, in their work-from-home office.
Workplace community is founded upon communication and collaboration, so it follows that investment in technology tools to support employees better is vital. “When introducing a new working policy to your workforce, having the right software and hardware should not be underestimated,” said Debbie Irish, head of human resources in the U.K. and Ireland at HP.
She added that listening and learning from staff challenges would help address pain points quicker. More than that, engaging employees enabled the co-creation of policies that work for everyone. “Rather than following a rigid set of rules, these policies need to act as a framework to encourage a more equitable experience for everyone,” said Irish. “They should be made in partnership with employees so that staff can make it genuinely flexible.”
Create a hub suitable for hybrid working that is more than an office
Simon Forster, Leeds-based founder and executive creative director at strategy branding agency Robot Food, stressed the importance of upgrading offices so that they help rather than hinder workplace community. He argued that fully remote working could not offer the same level of culture as in-office and hybrid working models.
He recently invested a sizeable sum in fitting out a new studio space with access to a café, a communal break-out area, and even wet rooms. “It’s a hub that incorporates lifestyle and work, not just an office,” Forster added.