As many states open up and lockdown restrictions begin to ease, many organizations have decided to take a hybrid virtual approach in opening up for business post-pandemic. The hybrid virtual model, which many employees adopt, consists of some employees working remotely while others work completely onsite.
The new hybrid virtual world promises greater access to top talent, increased productivity among employees and teams, lower costs, more flexibility for workers, and overall, an improved experience for employees.
Although these benefits are definitely a major plus in the corporate world, history has proven that maintaining a hybrid organizational culture can be a lot more difficult than it seems. Despite the success it has proven throughout the pandemic, this virtual workplace strategy may not work long-term. Some important aspects of a company’s culture — such as collaboration, unity, and trust — may become lost in a fully virtual workplace. As a result, the culture may diminish, leaving employees unhappy and unproductive as organizational performance deteriorates along with the corporate culture.
Post-pandemic, it is important now more than ever to pay careful attention to the choices you make as a business leader. For a successful hybrid organizational culture, you should aim to focus on what brings your team together. Use this as a starting point to begin crafting the perfect hybrid virtual model that works for your organization. This will, in effect, give rise to a new culture among your group and increased feelings of stability and togetherness even if your employees are working remotely or on-premises.
The new normal gives companies an opportunity to modify their business structure and organizational culture while adapting to the change that is currently happening in the world. Here are a few ways you can prepare in helping your organization reach its potential while taking on the post-pandemic workforce.
Cut even the most traditional ties in a virtual workplace
Some virtual teams find that a remote work environment is a major threat to social ties. Look at Skygear.io, for example. Skygear is a cloud backend that makes web, mobile, and IoT app development easier for companies. Years before virtual teams became the norm, this business took a hybrid virtual approach with their team of over 40 employees. Upon doing so, leaders quickly realized that they did not want to take this approach, so they abandoned the idea altogether because of the team’s lack of social interaction.
Those who did not come into the office, for example, became unable to take part in team meals and casual conversations about new tech launches and advancements. This is not uncommon for virtual teams across the board. For the most part, employees on these teams that began following a virtual model during the pandemic found themselves longing for their office environments, team lunches, and walk-by conversations with co-workers. For many of these new virtual teams, Zoom happy hours were not enough to satisfy their need for socialization and physical interactions.
Interestingly enough, many successful workplaces social interactions to boost their culture and morale. For many teams, being physically together and engaging in face-to-face interactions play a significant role in creating a feeling of unity and togetherness among the group. In addition, interactions between team members and leaders are essential in unifying the hybrid organizational culture when working in a virtual workplace.
When it comes to virtual teams, try to avoid harmful disruptions to your culture
A hybrid organizational culture may sometimes even create divisions in a company. Let us take a look at a fictional company that has divided the team working in one business unit. The smaller group follows a completely virtual workplace with members scattered in different parts of the world, from Los Angeles to Paris to New York. The larger group in the same unit has office space in Dallas, where team members report every day. Before the pandemic began, a new leader came on board in Dallas and quickly assimilated with the large group working there.
When the pandemic began, this group also began working remotely, with the new leader creating new arrangements and business practices for the larger group to follow. The smaller group, which was already situated for remote work, was left out of the equation and did not participate in the new workflows and resources widely shared among the larger group. As a result, new and highly sought-after assignments were given to those in the larger group, while the smaller group saw a reduction in work and responsibilities. Although unintentional, this type of exclusion created a major disruption and may have even caused even more of a division in the overall business unit as employees in the smaller group grew unhappy and unproductive.
In a rush to adapt to the new virtual workplace, the business unit’s new leader failed to create a fair and inclusive environment for all members of the team — not just the larger group in Dallas.
Be wise in choosing your hybrid virtual model
When adopting a business structure to meet the evolving needs of these unprecedented times, you as a business leader need to ask yourself first: What type of hybrid virtual approach is the right fit for my company? If you are having trouble answering this question, you may want to begin by deciding which area you would like to optimize the most. Are you looking for better real-estate costs? Increased productivity among your employees? Or more access to top talent? Once you have determined this factor, you may have a better idea of what type of hybrid virtual model best suits your situation.
Fully Virtual Model
This type of business structure is often reserved for organizations in specific industries under certain circumstances. These fields often include:
- Outsourced call centers
- Customer service
- Public Relations (PR)
- Research and information services
- Information Technology (IT)
- Software development
Eliminating the need for physical office space, this all-virtual model optimizes real-estate cost. In addition, it also provides better access to talent since candidates are not limited to one city or state. Top talent can come from across the country — even around the world — and a fully virtual workplace allows anyone to join the team.
Fully Onsite Model
Few companies opt for a model that is 100% onsite. For the most part, many workers will often seek accommodations and flexibility due to work-life balance or health constraints. A model that requires employees to be on-the-premises at all times does not accommodate the needs of most modern-day workers.
As a result, most companies opt for a business structure somewhere in the middle ground with a hybrid mix of onsite and remote work solutions.
Hybrid Virtual Model
Although it comes with its advantages, meeting in the middle and taking a hybrid virtual approach can also be difficult. Leaders have to handle many logistics before deciding that a hybrid organizational culture will work for them. One of the first things to determine is what percentage of employees will be working remotely and how many will be working onsite.
One advantage of a hybrid virtual model is that employees will be able to split their time between home and the office while still getting sufficient social interactions in the workplace. If they work one day remotely, for example, they will still be reporting to the office four times a week. This means they will not miss out on the personal connections needed for collaboration, idea generation, innovation, and social interaction. This type of hybrid virtual approach allows for partially remote employees while maintaining a healthy workplace culture.
A different type of hybrid virtual approach involves a fraction of employees working from home 90% of the time. This type of model poses significant barriers to social unity and physical interaction. If one-third of your team works most of the time remotely, they will miss out on team events and the office culture that comes with it while the remaining two-thirds of the team feels a better sense of unity and togetherness.
One solution here would be to bring the remote workers into the office more often. In this case, it can be beneficial to create multiple hubs or multiple micro hubs, which would make it a lot easier for employees. They can travel to more regional hubs rather than a central HQ location that may be far away. Micro hubs can also play a major role in promoting collaboration and unity as workers are able to connect with each other more directly. This will help boost employee morale while contributing to a successful hybrid virtual world.
Measure your virtual team’s productivity and speed
When managing a virtual team, you will undoubtedly want to ensure that your employees are as productive as possible. In the office, this may have been an easier task, which simply entailed observing which employees were working harder and more diligently than others. You may even have found yourself monitoring which employees were the first to get there in the morning and the last to leave in the evening.
In a virtual workplace, however, measuring productivity and speed may become a bit more difficult. In any case, you should make sure to go beyond simply monitoring activity and inputs as a proxy for productivity. Metrics focused on inputs or high volumes than focused on outcomes and results are not always the best measure of success and productivity.
In a hybrid virtual model, it is best to define the outcomes you expect from your teams rather than monitoring and tracking specific activities or the time that employees have spent on these activities.
Give your team clear objectives on your expectations as well as the accountability and autonomy for delivering on your expectations. More importantly, however, you’ll want to guide, inspire, and enable them to overcome obstacles that may hinder them from reaching their goals. You would also want to equip them with the tools and resources needed to help them move fast.
Once your teams understand your expectations as a leader and what kind of solutions they should deliver, you should focus on monitoring the outcome-based measurements. In fact, leaders who focus on outcomes and outputs often see a higher quality of work being delivered by their virtual teams.
Netflix, the 32nd largest company in the world, is a great example of an organization that focuses on outcomes, not inputs. Netflix is able to succeed without limiting paid time off for employees or specifying how many days per week they should spend physically in the office.
Regardless of which hybrid virtual model you choose to employ at your company, you should keep in mind that your essential task as a leader is to prioritize the organizational norms that matter most when adopting any type of hybrid virtual model.
Manage the transition to a virtual workplace
When two cultures emerge — such as a hybrid virtual model — organizations may find their sense of purpose and shared belonging getting lost in the mix. When this happens, the in-person office culture may begin to overshadow and disenfranchise the experience of those who are working one hundred percent remotely. This has even been seen in major companies, such as HP, IBM, and Yahoo!.
A few scenarios may lead to this type of division if the transition to a virtual workplace is not handled or managed correctly. Here are a few common mistakes that may make remote workers feel overlooked, especially compared to onsite employees:
- When teams mishandle conference calls by making remote workers feel out of place or even forgotten
- When collaborators use onsite tools, such as whiteboards and projectors, rather than online collaboration tools, such as Miro
These types of occurrences can actually divide and dismantle the company culture by making remote workers feel like they are not even a part of the team. In addition, culture can also begin to fall apart in instances where onsite employees are favored for promotions or highly sought-after assignments.
Other aspects of the job can also become challenging when managing the transition to a virtual workplace. These include:
- Getting new employees accustomed to the team’s culture
- Learning through hands-on coaching and apprenticeship
- Undertaking complex and collaborative innovations
- Fostering creativity to craft new ideas as a team
At the end of the day, you as a business leader will be responsible for addressing these types of issues. How you approach the situation will speak volumes about your leadership and management style and how well your style supports your teams.
Make sure your virtual team has strong managers and leaders
For many, the more dispersed and geographically widespread a team is, the less effectively the leadership is. At times, leaders who excel in an office environment may not be so great in a hybrid virtual world. As a result, many leaders and managers in a new virtual workplace may find themselves taking a completely different approach when interacting with employees face-to-face or virtually.
In a virtual workplace, leaders should make sure to create time and space to allow employees to engage in informal interactions with their peers. Here are a few more ways leaders and managers can facilitate unity, cohesion, and trust among their virtual team.
Inspiring virtual teams
In the military, senior leaders will often tour the troops and march alongside them rather than sending them emails or other types of communications when they need to get a message across. This type of leadership style is known as hierarchical leadership. This leadership style is known to thrive in various situations, the majority of which require face-to-face interaction.
When a company follows a hybrid virtual model, leaders will have to focus on inspirational forms of leadership, rather than traditional hierarchical leadership strategies. A distributed team of employees working in various locations requires new leadership behaviors in the form of inspiration to compensate for the lack of social interactions in the virtual workplace.
Cultivating informal interactions
Information interactions, such as bumping into someone in the hallway or at the coffee machine, make way for an unexpected cross-pollination of ideas. These unplanned encounters introduce an exchange of implicit knowledge. These types of interactions are essential for healthy and innovative organizations. Not only do they provide a great starting point for collegial relationships and strengthen one’s social network, but they can also result in some of the most innovative and creative solutions.
In the office, informal interactions were more common among employees who were located near each other. In a virtual workplace, these types of interactions are nearly nonexistent as no one is working near each other. As a result, many leaders find themselves searching for new approaches to help create informal interactions even among a virtual team.
A few ways leaders can manage to bring informal interactions into the virtual workplace is by establishing an open-door policy or holding virtual fireside chats without any structured content. This creates a forum for less formal interactions and can make employees feel like they have access to leaders in a more informal and casual setting, which is far less intimidating for anyone who may have been too timid to speak up in the past.
More examples of approaches that re-introduce informal interactions into the virtual workplace include:
- Virtual coffee chats
- Virtual social events
- Private chat rooms
- Online conferences
- Private sessions
Another best practice is to remain in touch with your team by creating a group chat — whether through text message or instant messaging — and sending each other messages throughout the day. These practices can help boost culture and help virtual teams connect similar to how they did in the office.
Being a role model for the team
Research shows that an outstanding amount of leaders fail to recognize how their actions affect others and how others interpret them. Look at working locations as a good example. If a leader wants to show employees that they are accepting and understanding when it comes to remote work, they may be sending them the wrong message if they themselves are reporting to the office every day.
By coming into the office every day, you signal that face-to-face interaction is essential and that the HQ is the center of gravity for the company. As a result, your remote team may feel unsupported as they begin to think that your actions mean that you’d like to see employees in the office every day as well.
By working remotely for a few days each week, however, you are signaling to employees that you do tolerate remote work and are more accepting of a hybrid virtual model. Doing so, you are also showing that employees do not necessarily need to be in the office to be successful.
In a hybrid virtual world, your actions as a leader can have a significant effect on the rest of the organization.
Not relying solely on virtual interactions
Despite technological advancements in the past few years that allow teams to connect without being physically present, nothing can completely replace face-to-face interactions.
So much of communication is non-verbal and relies on body language and gestures, which are nearly impossible to convey in a virtual team setting. Face-to-face interactions create more opportunities for informal interactions, emotional connections, and creative collaboration that does not come easy in a virtual workplace.
In addition, some messages are best communicated in a face-to-face setting. It is essentially up to the leader, or the person delivering the message, to determine the best way to communicate to their intended audience based on the type of message they aim to deliver.
Regardless of which type of hybrid virtual model your organization follows, it is important to try to get the whole team together at least once or twice a year, even if their roles can always be conducted virtually. Bringing everyone together every now and then will help build strong relationships and innovative conversations and connections.
Keeping track of your informal networks
Because the hybrid virtual model reduces face-to-face and informal interactions in the workplace, the strong social networks and bonds with a corporate organization may begin to crumble. To prevent this from happening, leaders should make it a point to map and monitor all informal networks within their organizations. They should also occasionally refresh social network maps to avoid losing any critical information.
If you are wondering how to do this in a virtual workplace, you can start by identifying functions and activities where connectivity and interactions would be the most common. From there, map the relationships within these priority areas and track any changes in those relationships over time.
If you do not know where to start, here a few ways to get the information necessary to begin tracking these networks:
- Track past emails.
- Observe employee behavior.
- Use existing data, such as time cards and project charge codes.
- Let employees answer short questionnaires.
In a virtual workplace, leaders may also need to intervene and create more solid connections between groups that rarely interact with each other as a result of the hybrid virtual model.
Lead your hybrid virtual team to success
In any setting, leadership is crucial. In the hybrid virtual world, however, this becomes even more important as teams need to adopt new norms and may need to change their ways of working completely to improve productivity.
As a result, leaders must be committed to leading their team to success by gathering information, coming up with innovative solutions, putting new approaches into practice, and refining outcomes. These become especially difficult to manage when teams are split between remote and onsite work. Below are a few ways leaders can help their virtual teams to be successful.
Creating safe spaces
For employees to feel secure and appreciated in their workplace, they must be allowed to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. However, creating an enhanced sense of safety can become difficult when the team is split between remote and in-person settings.
The key here is to support and strengthen a culture where employees feel safe and comfortable making mistakes, speaking up, and coming up with new ideas that they are not afraid to share. This will help contribute to a positive culture as you operate using a hybrid virtual approach.
Considering different time zones
When you have a virtual team working across the country, or even around the world, you need to remember that not everyone will be on the same clock as you. Unfortunately, this can make it a bit more difficult to manage workflows as real-time connectivity may be entirely lost based on how far off your time zones are.
While you may want to connect with your employees live, you would want to avoid asking them to wake up early or stay up late to meet with you or the rest of your team. It may work for a short period. However, it will prove to be unsuccessful in the long run as your international employees may begin to feel burnt out due to their increased workload and working hours.
In this case, it may be best to build your teams with at least four hours of overlap during the day. This will help ensure that they can have some collaboration without asking anyone to work additional hours.
Gathering your virtual team when possible
Teams that have been working together for a longer period tend to be more productive than teams who have just met each other. These new teams are still in the forming and storming stage of collaborative group work.
On the other hand, the increased productivity from well-established teams likely comes from the trust surrounding their relationships and their familiarity with each other’s workflows and routines.
In an entirely in-person work model, you may find yourself switching members between teams more frequently. In a virtual setting, you would want to avoid doing this as it may take a longer time for the employee to become accustomed to and comfortable with their new team. This, as a result, can halt their productivity until they feel more comfortable.
You should also hold team kickoffs to align the team’s overall goals with the team members’ goals.
Track your progress in the hybrid virtual world
Once your hybrid virtual model is well underway, you will want to track its effectiveness to make sure it is working out for your team. This will also help you determine whether you enhanced or maintained your team’s overall culture.
Did you meet your goals? Did you increase your access to top talent? Have you been successful in developing strong leaders? Are your employees more engaged and productive?
As you consider these points, keep track of the metrics that hold the most significance for you and your company. Avoid trying to excel in every single area, and instead, focus on the areas you are aiming to optimize in your organization.
By tracking your progress and results, you will gain a better idea of whether you have managed to keep your culture intact while transitioning to a new hybrid virtual model.
How to thrive in the post-pandemic workforce
Adapting to new ways of working can be difficult. But the good part is you do not have to make every single decision all at once. Find out what works for your organization, then use it to see where you should go. Consider the areas of your business that you are looking to enhance as well as the skills and needs of your employees to determine what type of hybrid virtual model would work best for you.
When you approach it the right way, creating a new hybrid virtual model at your company can help you make the most of your team’s capabilities and talents while lowering costs and making your team culture stronger than ever.
At Infinity Consulting Solutions (ICS), we understand that adapting to the ever-changing “new normal,” especially during these unprecedented times, can be a time-consuming and challenging task. Please know that ICS is here to become your partner and guide you toward top talent and new opportunities regardless of how this pandemic has affected you or your company. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or need assistance as you navigate the post-pandemic workforce.