A child's hands holding a small plant in soil.
PHOTO: Adobe Stock

Workplace teams are increasingly collaborating in virtual and hybrid environments. In fact, according to a recent Quantum Workplace survey, a majority of employees report working with hybrid and remote team members. As the workplace continues to evolve, leaders will need to get more intentional to ensure they’re creating a culture that attracts, engages, and retains top talent.

Leaders have traditionally been successful in building organizational culture in a physical environment. They feel like they are more in control because they can hear, see, and feel that culture daily. Experiencing culture in the physical workplace is immediate and tangible.

However, new Quantum Workplace research shows only 28% of employees experience culture in the physical workspace, showing that culture expands outside of the office walls. For those remote or only coming into the office occasionally, the culture they experience can either hinder or boost employee engagement. To keep employees engaged in an increasingly hybrid world, leaders will need to be more intentional in creating a culture that remote and hybrid employees can experience.

83% of employees say leaders are responsible for creating the organization’s culture. 75% believe managers are also responsible for building culture. Thus, organizational cultures and how employees experience those cultures are dependent on the strength of leadership.

How Employees Experience Culture

Employees experience culture in a variety of ways. Our research shows the top three aspects of work where employees experience culture most strongly are:

  • Mission and values
  • Recognition and celebrations
  • Approach to employee performance

In all three of these aspects, frequent and effective communication by leaders and managers is crucial to shaping culture. Communication is led by executive leadership but should be reinforced by managers and monitored through employee feedback.

Communication needs to be a two-way street. Team leaders should be willing to listen as much as they speak. Employee feedback and input are critical to building any culture that has lasting power.

Feedback is even more important in hybrid and remote environments because opportunities for incidental conversations don’t occur as frequently as they do in a physical workspace. Creating opportunities for connection and celebration is part of building an engaging organizational culture, regardless of whether the employee is in the office or not.

Building a Team Culture that Drives Engagement

How you shape your organizational culture can boost, hinder, or have no impact on employee engagement. Thus, the key to a strong and engaging organizational culture is by building team cultures that are engaging in any work environment.

What drives an engaging team culture? Our research found the team-level drivers of an engaging team culture –

  • Having clear and effective team communication
  • Creating clear and aligned team goals and responsibilities
  • Working with highly innovative or creative team members
  • Feeling psychologically safe to express opinions
  • Building a culture of effective team feedback

These drivers are true for onsite, remote, and hybrid teams. Teams can be intentional about these building blocks in virtual and hybrid environments just as effectively as in the physical workplace. But managers may need to rethink and get creative in their approach to drive engagement in remote and hybrid teams.

Evolving Your Culture for Remote and Hybrid Workers

In the physical workspace, employees gather to get coffee and chat about family, hobbies, and other outside work experiences. Short, incidental conversations as you interact with employees in the office also help pass critical information throughout the organization. These opportunities are more limited in a virtual environment.

Team leaders must adapt their strategy to include increased communication opportunities for employees not in the workspace. As you work to upgrade your culture, follow these steps:

Increase feedback opportunities. With hybrid and remote workers, you will need to keep communication channels open to ask employees about their experience. Send out pulse surveys at key moments in the employee journey, like following onboarding, after a significant change, and before an employee exits the organization.

Replicate an in-office experience by allowing time for those non-work focused conversations in messages or video calls and make sure you’re scheduling continuous one-on-ones for remote and hybrid workers to share ideas. Research shows hybrid and remote workers prefer weekly one-on-ones with their managers. This is a great way to relay information and make sure employees feel informed, aligned, and connected.

Receiving continuous feedback is also connected with engagement. 70% of employees who have weekly performance conversations are highly engaged. Regular coaching helps employees feel supported and empowered to act and make decisions.

Build deeper team connections. Humans have a deep need for personal connection, and this might be especially true with the people they work with most closely. It is difficult to build strong cultures without encouraging personal connection among team members.

About six in 10 employees agree that they feel connected to their team members on a personal level. That means almost half of employees don’t feel connected to their team.

One important way in which team members build strong personal connections is naturally through working together on shared goals. Team collaboration and ultimately team success is one of the strongest connectors of a team especially if that success is on goals that are moderately difficult and critical to organizational success.

Take action to build an engaging culture. Feedback is not enough. Take immediate and bold action based on the feedback you receive to build an engaging culture. Managers must make meaningful improvements to the employee experience in order to engage and retain their best. Quantum Workplace research shows only 48% of departing employees said that the feedback they provided was well-received and followed up on.

Encourage managers to use conversations with employees to remove obstacles for hybrid and remote employees. Increase communication to meet the need for human connection and make sure everyone is on the same page. Align goals so remote and hybrid employees can achieve together as a team and watch their work contribute to the organization’s success.

And most of all, recognize the great work that is contributing to the organization’s success. A lack of recognition is the number one reason employees leave their jobs. Employees want to know that the organization and their manager values them and their work. Creating a culture of recognition connects remote and hybrid employees to their teams, and in turn, the organization.

Engaged employees describe positive organizational cultures as caring, supportive, positive, and engaging. By being more strategic with your employee feedback strategy, you can be more intentional with your organizational culture and improve the experience for every employee. Building those environments for remote and hybrid teams can help them do their best work, anywhere.

Want more information about building an engaging workplace culture? Read the 2022 Organizational Culture Research Report.