Whether out of necessity or by choice, in recent years, a large portion of companies have adopted a hybrid or remote-first approach to work. In a 2022 Gallup poll, workers cited improved work-life balance, more efficient use of time, control over work hours and work location, burnout mitigation and higher productivity as the top advantages of hybrid work. However, about one-third of those surveyed said they feel less connected to their organization’s culture since beginning a hybrid work arrangement, and 24% reported impaired working relationships with their colleagues.
A distributed workforce can make it more challenging for leaders to maintain consistent employee engagement and uphold the organization’s culture across the workforce. As a result, organizations that offer hybrid work policies need to be more intentional than ever about facilitating connections between employees and creating a sense of purpose.
Here are three key strategies that keep team members engaged, whether they come into the office regularly or work remotely full-time.
1. Involve Executive Leadership in Welcoming New Employees
Making sure team members feel connected from their first day forward is an important component of fostering a strong corporate culture. Sending care packages and emails about what to expect in advance of their official start date, inviting (but not requiring) people to come into an office space for their first day and surveying new employees after 90 days to ensure they feel connected and have the support they need helps create an onboarding process that starts new colleagues off on the right foot.
For new employees who are working remotely, executive access and transparency during the onboarding process can go a long way toward establishing a sense of connection. Panel discussions with the leadership team are a great way to demonstrate cohesion and collaboration at the executive level and get new team members onboard with the organization’s strategic vision, particularly in a remote environment. These sessions are especially valuable when there’s an opportunity to open the panel for questions and engage new team members in dialogue.
2. Empower Leaders to Cultivate Relationships With Remote Team Members
In a hybrid or remote work setting, people don’t experience the kind of spontaneous interactions with their colleagues that happen in a traditional office: for example, saying hello as they pass each other in the hallway or chatting during a coffee break or elevator ride. As a result, organizations need to empower leaders to develop strategies for building strong connections with teams and direct reports who don’t work in proximity every day. Ways to do this include encouraging leaders to introduce check-ins at the top of team meetings, having regular 15-minute stand-up calls to give updates, scheduling coffee chats once a week with the team and sharing guiding questions that can help team members get to know each other on a more personal level.
Keep in mind that people in different roles benefit from different degrees of training when it comes to relationship-building skills. First-time leaders need different support than experienced leaders — but it is important to provide guidance for leaders at every level. Investing in development for frontline leaders is especially valuable.
3. Recognize and Respect Individual Needs and Preferences
While the past few years have shown that many people prefer to work remotely because of the flexibility, there are also many who still deeply value in-person connection. Maybe they’re just getting started in their careers and are actively seeking camaraderie and mentorship, or maybe they’re just more productive in an office setting. For a myriad of reasons, some people may not flourish in their position working from home all the time — and it’s important not to overlook their needs and preferences.
From a culture standpoint, this often means holding events in two different formats: in-person and remote. Coordinating twice the number of events requires a larger investment from the human resources team, including a heavier lift when it comes to planning and budgeting. The payoff of creating opportunities for connection and engagement that accommodate everyone in the organization is worth the additional effort.