At its best, hybrid work not only boosts your employees’ individual effectiveness; it also strengthens your organization and team culture.
But “culture” means different things to different people, partly because we tend to be a little fuzzy about defining it (is it about motivation? Trust? How we get our work done?) and partly because there is no one “right” culture: Some organizations succeed with a hard-driving, competitive vibe, while others flourish by cultivating a sense of camaraderie and mutual support.
I recently joined Zoom for a webinar how to build your organization’s culture into your hybrid work plans, by looking at the five dimensions of hybrid planning that make up FLOCS: Function, Location, Organization, Culture and Schedule. FLOCS is the model I created with my Remote, Inc. co-author Robert Pozen, and which first appeared in The New York Times as a way to help organizations navigate the return to office.
While this webinar has already happened, you can register for free to download the recording when it’s available.
My Zoom talk shares examples and stories from organizations that have baked their culture into their hybrid plans. To help you translate your own culture into your particular approach to hybrid, I’ve created this list of opportunities in each dimension of the FLOCS model. Which tactics you choose depends on the culture of your organization, or even of your specific team.
Function: Mixing solo and collaborative work
Ideally, each person or team’s mix of on-site and remote work reflects their functional role in the organization. That balance can reflect your culture when you…
- Transparently and consistently link time in office to the balance of work each team or employee does solo, in collaboration with colleagues, or on-site.
- Sync office schedules for the people who work together closely, drawing on any analytics that tell you who’s sharing documents or collaborating online.
- Support DEI commitments by tracking which demographics are more or less likely to be in remote-friendly roles. (Find more details on the metrics to track in the article I wrote with Tara Robertson for the Harvard Business Review, Don’t Let Hybrid Work Set Back Your DEI Efforts.)
- Create on-ramps to hybrid roles for on-site staff with digital and remote skills training opportunities.
- Provide opportunities to shift into roles with more solo work and less collaborative work, for employees with personal circumstances that limit time on-site.
Location: Connecting local and global colleagues
The right hybrid work model depends on whether people mostly work with local colleagues, or whether they’re spread out across the country or around the world. To factor that into your culture-building plans…
- Consider geography in forming project teams so that collaboration more often involves face-to-face work with immediate colleagues.
- Schedule monthly or quarterly on-site gatherings for distributed teams, focused around key inflection points in their work together.
- Reduce in-office requirements for people who work mostly with colleagues and clients in other places, and don’t have collaborators in their local office.
- Spotlight local-to-you events on your company’s digital dashboard, so people have a reason to come into the office.
- Provide coffee-shop gift cards or coworking space memberships to employees who want to cluster and co-work closer to home, but with their teammates.
- Create local channels in the off-topic section of your group messaging app, to make it easy for people to connect and share resources locally.
Organization: Connecting flat or hierarchical teams
Flatter organizations adapt more readily to distributed work, because in hierarchical organizations, people worry about being out of the loop when they’re not in the office. Be realistic about the kind of organization you have, and adapt your hybrid plan to…
- Reinforce the transparency and inclusiveness of a flat organization with senior drop-ins on team meetings (in office or online) so junior employees get some interaction with the leadership team.
- Strengthen information sharing within a hierarchical organization with a cadence of meaningful updates that cascade verbally down to frontline employees each week, in place of generic company-wide blasts that say little of substance.
- Move town hall meetings online so everyone in the organization can attend, regardless of location.
- Find out whether employees are sacrificing productive work time to get more time in office, simply because they’re worried about being out of the loop; use a mix of engagement surveys, badge swipe data and performance data.
- Track whether time in office correlates with time to promotion, which may be an indicator that people can only get information or mentorship via time on-site. (Whether that’s an issue depends on how much the role and organization depend on focused work time vs in-person interaction.)
Culture: Amplifying a collective or individual focus
Culture isn’t just an outcome of your hybrid plan: Culture also affects how much people crave together vs. solo time. To translate your existing culture into your hybrid model…
- Audit your physical office for culture signals (like leaderboards, pool tables or inspirational posters) and look for ways to translate those to your intranet (via leaderboards, online games or quote-of-the-day features).
- Extend the friendliness of your on-site break room with an always-on video feed that lets remote workers drop in on the break room or connect with one another during lunch hours.
- Celebrate the word-nerdery of your marketing or content team with a group messaging channel dedicated to trading Wordle or crossword hints.
- Take turns sharing a “snippet of the day” on your group messaging channel, to reinforce the generous knowledge-sharing within your engineering team.
- Supplement in-office sales trophies with emoji trophies on the email or messaging handle of each week’s top sellers, to reflect the playful competition within your sales team.
Schedule: Syncing face-to-face or across time zones
Particularly when people work across time zones, the schedule of your hybrid workforce is a daily reminder of who has power and how your organization handles power differences. So pay close attention to what your hybrid schedule is telling your employees, and consider how you could…
- Demonstrate your outcomes focus by setting and sticking to at least two extended meeting-free windows each week, when employees know they’ll be able to tackle focused work.
- Sync your common work hours to the time zone(s) of your biggest customers if you’re a customer-centric organization, to ensure your team is working at the hours that are most convenient for the majority of customers.
- Align global work hours with the time zone of corporate HQ if you have a strongly hierarchical organization where the main office calls the shots.
- Be explicit about expecting employees to answer emails on evenings and weekends, if that’s what aligns with a hard-charging, high-performance organizational culture.
- Underline the egalitarian commitments of a global organization by rotating common work hours so they are different on different days, so everyone shares the load of working outside of 9 to 5.
Schedule bonus: What about Fridays?
My piece for The Wall Street Journal titled What Should We Do About Fridays? argues that it’s time for us to get clear about our Friday work expectations, now that hybrid work has scrambled the five-day-a-week office routine. The article created quite a stir went it went live online: I heard from readers who have embraced Friday flexibility in a range of ways, as well as from people who think we should just shut up and go back to the office, already.
Those strong and contradictory reactions are a testament to the way Fridays reflect the culture of different organizations—which is exactly why FLOCS ends with that “S” for schedule! How you schedule time in office, as well as when and how quickly you expect people to reply when they’re out of office, says a lot about your culture.
But too often, we drift into a scheduling pattern without stopping to think about whether and how they reflect the culture we have, much less the culture we want to have. Here’s how you might think about clarifying your approach to Fridays, depending on your culture and the range of functions within your organization:
- Allocate the most desirable out-of-office days to the top-performing teams or employees in a performance-focused organization, so your stars get the chance to work from home on Fridays and/or Mondays.
- Let everyone work from home Fridays, and make Fridays a meeting and call-free focus/flex day, if you’re a togetherness-focused organization with no 100% on-site roles.
- Rotate which hybrid employees/teams get Fridays as a remote day, if you have a togetherness-focused organization where some people simply must be on-site to do their jobs.
This post was originally featured in the Thrive at Work newsletter. Subscribe here to be the first to receive updates and insights on the new workplace.