The hybrid office is much in the news today. There is a lot of talk about technologies and policies that can help optimize the post-pandemic work environment. Those are good discussions and necessary decisions, but something is at stake that is not being addressed nearly enough: the impact of the hybrid office on a company’s core values.
Companies that are clear about their core values create a culture where living out those values is the norm. This requires intentionality and effort. For instance, such companies reinforce their values through regular communication with their team members. Employees receive feedback about and are held accountable for their words and behaviors. How tasks are performed as well as the outcomes they generate are evaluated in terms of their alignment with core values.
Companies that live out strong core values consistently outperform competitors who have not invested in defining and demonstrating their own core values. But therein lies the rub … in the hybrid office, clarity around and commitment to core values can suffer from a lack of personal presence.
Think about the words used above: reinforce … communication … feedback … accountability … evaluation. These are all terms that have historically involved face-to-face interaction; but interaction is what is sacrificed to a greater or lesser extent in the hybrid work environment.
Can technologies and policies help bridge the gap? Of course; but those are only tools. The battle to sustain strong core values that drive productivity, quality, and customer satisfaction over the long term is ultimately a leadership challenge.
Leaders are finding it much harder in the hybrid workplace to check in with team members as frequently as they did pre-COVID since most of the informal opportunities – such as dropping by the office or chatting after a meeting – are gone. Cues from facial expressions, body language, and verbal intonation can be missed, even in video conferences. After all, how easy is it to read a person’s expression when their face is one of half a dozen thumbnails on your screen?
These interactions and observations might seem negligible and far removed from a company’s core values, but in the aggregate they have a significant effect. We are seeing that leaders are finding it harder to “take the temperature” of their team, department, or organization. They are struggling to accurately assess employee attitudes, motivations, and engagement. Their people are beginning to lose sight of what the company’s core values are, and are therefore failing to live into those values.
The challenge for leaders in the hybrid workplace is to find ways to get the interactions necessary to make a confident assessment of how well their employees are aligning with their core values, and to reinforce those core values consistently.
The solution is straightforward – but that does not make it easy. Simply put, leaders need to bend over backwards to seek out and create intimate interactions with their teams and employees. What used to happen with consistent unpredictability now needs to be planned with intentionality.
The word “intimate” is chosen purposefully here. Occasional online happy hours are not going to make up for what has been lost. Rather, leaders need to pursue close connections with their people – connections that will help them understand where their employees heads and hearts are. Only by actively listening, asking questions, and engaging in conversation is it possible to discern whether the company’s core values are finding their expression in people’s daily work and lives.
Therefore, as a leader, when you are physically present with your people, leverage those opportunities to the maximum. When you are interacting virtually, make time for conversation and discussion beyond the work agenda. Remember that as you keep your team aligned with your company’s core values, everything else will fall into place.