A year into lockdown: Five ways that businesses can improve culture in a hybrid working world

Stressed woman

At the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, way back in March 2020, the immediate challenge for many businesses was plain and simple: adapt and transition to working digitally.

Since then, lockdown and the events of 2020, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, have accelerated change for businesses in many ways, from flexible working culture through to advancing diversity and inclusion.

But as we approach the roadmap out of lockdown, there’s a risk that businesses will take two steps back as life returns to some sense of normality. Company culture needs to keep up with the shift toward a more hybrid way of working. Not only does this create a happier workforce, but there’s a strong business-case for doing so – 42% of purpose-driven firms have greater customer loyalty, more successful innovation, and more engaged employees, according to the EY Beacon Institute. The one-year anniversary of UK lockdown marks a crossroads for businesses, so now’s the time to look ahead and choose the right path.

Below, Olivia Fahy, Head of Culture at compliance consultancy TCC, shares her advice for businesses to improve culture in a hybrid working world:

  • Get employee insight

While businesses will be getting plans in place to return to the office, many companies have already committed to an array of flexible working policies, establishing remote working as a permanent feature. But for this to be a success, it’s important that employers get a sense of what their employees really want and need from these policies and how it will impact them. Getting that employee insight is key, so that organisations put policies in place that address the true needs of employees, rather than the business’ perception of what is needed. What policies do parents need to support them with childcare? Do employees believe flexible working will genuinely be encouraged, or will it just become lip service as life returns to normal? How can a good work-life balance be encouraged? Surveys are a good way to gather information from employees on what will actually benefit them going forward.

  • Lead from the top

Culture change needs to be led from the top and owned across a business. With so much change happening in the way we work, company culture shouldn’t just be owned by HR or compliance. Company culture is only going to climb up the risk register in future years, so it needs to be embraced and addressed at a C-suite leadership level across the business now.

  • Maintain good culture through hard times

The onset of the pandemic put businesses into crisis mode as they focused on immediately adapting to remote working. There was a concern that culture would fall to the bottom of the agenda but instead many organisations have embraced the opportunity to focus on their people, prioritising mental health and wellbeing, flattening hierarchies and building more collaborative work environments. It’s important that businesses maintain progress as we move out of lockdown. Economic hardship makes it challenging to focus on culture, but good culture does more than just improve retention, it can lead to better business performance too.

  • Consider assessing your company’s culture

As remote working does become a more permanent feature of modern workplaces, it’s worth considering how the digitalised environment can provide greater insights into culture. Communication at work is currently largely virtual, and this is unlikely to change as we shift towards a hybrid model of working – this means employees are all engaging, sharing their thoughts and concerns, via digital platforms. Can employee wellbeing and happiness be analysed and understood using data from platforms like Microsoft Teams or Slack? This doesn’t mean prying on employees, but it means utilising digital platforms and harnessing your data to get a sense of how people are feeling. There are sentiment analysis tools that can help with this.

  • Foster psychological safety

Psychological safety means team members feel free to express their ideas and opinions without fear of embarrassment or punishment. It is a key element of an inclusive culture and allows diversity of thought to flourish. As working norms shift and the workplace continues to be decentralised, it’s vital that all employees feel they can share ideas, questions and concerns and vital that they are listened to. A younger woman of colour might surface a different insight to that of an older white man, for example, and it could be the difference between identifying a risk before it crystallises and only spotting it when it’s too late. Creating the conditions for psychological safety can also lead to greater innovation, new ideas and better problem-solving, so it’s worthwhile for businesses.