The evolution of the digital world should complement the physical world, and companies should develop work strategies to maximise the potential of both.
Re-designing culture in a Hybrid World
One of the biggest challenges facing leaders in a Hybrid Era involves organisation culture. While existing employees have gone through the process of imbibing the organisation’s vision, mission, values, principles, and ethics (the building blocks of culture), its new joiners – especially those who have been remotely onboarded – often find it difficult to come to terms with these concepts. A 2022 Gartner study shows that only a quarter of remote or hybrid employees feel connected to the company’s culture. This presents leaders with an unenviable task of explaining how culture is the foundation of the company to remote employees who have no prior experience in an office environment.
Before the pandemic, firms tended to focus their culture-building efforts on alignment, secure in their belief that connectedness would occur more or less by osmosis.
There are several ways that culture can be retained even in a “Hybrid World of Work”:
- Connecting culture with the work itself: Managers often worry that remote workers’ productivity will suffer because of interruptions and distractions at home. In fact, just the opposite happens: people often have more time for deep work, and productivity soars. This points to a valuable opportunity for employers to instil culture through daily tasks. Leaders should start by auditing the firm’s work processes to ensure they are compatible with the intended culture. For instance, leaders can encourage employees to innovate in their remote delivery using the new tools and technologies built into remote work-delivery platforms. Remote work has helped us to do away with bureaucracy and physical supervision. This must be replaced with providing autonomy to the workforce and encouraging them to be self-motivated. A big cultural shift has been that productivity is no longer connected with presenteeism in any way.
- Build emotion connects, not physical proximity: Physical proximity is to be in the same space as another individual – “being seen”. Emotional proximity, on the other hand, is to be of importance to others – “feeling seen”. A survey showed that emotional proximity increased employees’ connectedness to their workplace culture by 27%, while physical proximity had no impact. Because remote and hybrid employees have fewer workplace interactions, each exchange makes a stronger impact. That heightens the imperative to identify and remove toxic workers, especially those in positions of influence. It also means that companies should refrain from mandatorily requiring people to attend meetings unless they are truly needed. The more employees feel that their contributions are valuable, the more connected to the culture they become.
- Shift from optimising corporate culture to fostering microcultures: Multinationals have long faced the challenge of creating a strong corporate culture while also allowing local microcultures to thrive. With hybrid work splintering workforces into more-autonomous cells, all companies must now strike that balance. Companies are weaving fresh perspectives around this approach. For instance, Royal DSM – a Dutch health and nutrition company – now treats culture as a flotilla of independently piloted ships rather than a single tanker. The company provides the flotilla with guidance to sail in the right direction, but it does not prescribe the norms and behaviours aboard each boat.
The future of work is the Metaverse
The metaverse, where the digital and physical world converges, will transform work in many ways. Its combination of technologies driven by virtual and augmented reality promises to make the virtual world a far more realistic substitute for the physical one.
New remote work and virtual collaboration tools like Meta’s Horizon Workrooms, Microsoft’s Mesh, and Arthur are huge advances beyond Zoom and will enable workers to brainstorm, discuss, and interact with one another’s avatars. They will create a much more realistic consumer experience for shopping for everything from fashion and luxury goods to art. It’s easy to see why such an advanced technology might render cities and physical locations obsolete.
The evolution of the digital world should be seen as a complement to the physical world, and companies should develop their location strategies to maximise the potential of both the megacities that have become centres of talent and innovation and the new opportunities presented by the metaverse. In developing this strategy, companies should think of the physical world and the metaverse as channels, both of which are good at communicating different kinds of information.
The real world is good for creating an emotional connection, while the metaverse is better at transmitting huge amounts of information. This is the future of work, and leadership must get ready to lead in a metaverse that would be a logical evolutionary step forward from the Hybrid World of Work.
Also Read: Leader-shift for a hybrid world of work 2