Company culture in the hybrid working world
Deep in the heart of hybrid working land, things look a little different to how they used to look. Some of these are obvious differences. Multi-site working. Hybrid meetings utilising video conferencing tech. But there are some changes that aren’t as visible.
If we said the phrase ‘company culture’ to you, how many of you would come up with the same words to describe it? And how many of you would say hybrid working has changed your company culture?
It’s an interesting question but if we are to think about the impact of our new hybrid world, it makes sense to talk about what company culture actually is. No doubt it is a phrase and a concept heard often but not always interpreted in the same way.
Indeed, the idea of company or organisational culture is one that has fascinated academics and experts for years. So much so that there isn’t one universal definition, but rather there are many terms used to describe it, and many models created based on the theory behind how cultures develop and grow in organisations.
Now, we’re not going to take you into the depths of academia today, but to give you a flavour of the wealth of research out there, here are a few examples. Balogun and Johnson offered a simple definition of company culture - ‘the way we do things around here.’
Edgar Schein created the model of organisational culture based on three levels, which he called the artefacts, the values, and the assumed values. Other researchers have identified different types of culture in organisations. Handy’s model lists four types – power, task, role, and person, whilst Robert E Quinn & Kim S Cameron identified four other types of organisational culture – clan, hierarchy, market, and adhocracy.
As you can see, the well of information here is deep and there’s plenty to get your teeth into should you wish to find out more. For now though lets break it down into bitesize pieces. The first thing to say is that company culture is unique to each company. A company’s culture is formed and developed by and because of the people in the company. Typically, it comes from the top down, created and led by its founders or directors, and developed over time until it becomes embedded in the foundation of the organisation.
A shared approach
Company culture is a collective approach shared across the company.
When we think of a company’s culture, we often think of how its values are understood and reflected in its workforce. We think of the belief system that permeates through the levels and the way ideas are approached and acted on. We think of how a company treats its workforce and what kind of attitudes are displayed and accepted.
Many organisations will have very visible symbols of their culture. These may be in the form of a mission statement and supporting values on their website, telling visitors instantly what the company is trying to convey. Values such as trust, integrity, inclusivity, and honesty are highly regarded as they reflect to the outside world that the company stands for something good.
But as we said earlier, culture isn’t always visible. It is much more than the values system. An organisation’s culture is like blood running through its veins. It appears everywhere, supporting the company, affecting the staff, and contributing to the social and psychological environment. It runs through the leadership, it flows into teams, and it envelopes the company like a blanket. That blanket can be a comfort or it can be overwhelming, depending on what the culture is like.
Positive or negative?
The tone of an organisation’s culture can have a significant impact. A positive company culture can lead to high employee retention and engagement, increased productivity, high recruitment levels, and a happy workforce. In contrast, a negative culture can have the opposite effect. Negative company cultures can become toxic, where people are afraid to challenge bad practice, and where poor attitudes and values dominate.
Keep it flowing
Of course, it’s not as simple as saying a good culture should stay and a poor culture should go. Company cultures evolve and should continuously adapt to avoid becoming stuck and stale, or worse, toxic. A good culture can quickly become bad with the wrong decisions or hires, and it takes effort to maintain a good culture. There is no room for complacency.
The Harvard Business Review referred to how closely leadership and culture are linked in their feature The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture’, saying, ‘Founders and influential leaders often set new cultures in motion and imprint values and assumptions that persist for decades.’ Change should be identified and led by leadership, and continuous horizon scanning should be a priority, to be able to pinpoint when things need to change.
Hybrid company culture
Embracing a hybrid working model is not without its challenges and we’ve outlined some of these here. Unsurprisingly many of these relate to organisational culture.
There is a risk that multi-site working could lead to a two-tier company culture, with those present in the office enjoying a more inclusive experience than those predominantly based at home, who may suffer from proximity bias. This isn’t inevitable however, and leaders should look at this time as an opportunity to review the culture and build a new one that reflects the new world. Within this it’s important to be mindful that part of culture is the way people think and the mindsets they hold. The traditional ways of thinking around office-only models may be harder to shift, but not impossible.
Leaders should prioritise openness, fairness, and inclusiveness, as well as employee wellbeing. Hybrid working is a much more fluid approach to work than the traditional office model and the company culture should reflect that.
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