Organizational culture has long been touted as the glue at the center of successful companies. Management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Yet there seems to be uncertainty around how to adapt culture to the new world of work. In recent conversations with business leaders from across industries, we hear a common question: How do we demonstrate our culture when everyone is remote or in hybrid work arrangements?  

It’s a good question, and one whose answer has lasting impact. Our recent data insights revealed that:  

  • 68% of employees want more flexibility in where they work; and  
  • 60% want more flexibility in when they work.  

In other words, employees are saying loud and clear that they want flexible, hybrid work arrangements moving forward. As organizations adapt their work models accordingly, they’ll need to adapt their culture norms, too. 

However, each time I’ve dug a bit deeper to better understand what organizations are currently doing to reinforce culture, I left the conversation feeling that leaders are confusing culture with perks such as food, office décor, or benefits.  

While all those things could be manifestations of culture, culture is so much more. At Glint, we believe organizational culture takes shape when a group of people shares a set of values, beliefs, and mindsets. In turn, these shared understandings:  

  • influence what people do (like how they make decisions and behave);  
  • shape the experiences people have; and  
  • determine how work gets done.  

So how can organizations continue to shape the “how things get done” vibe in the hybrid work environments that are likely to dominate the future?  

Why culture matters 

The pandemic caused many of us to reevaluate how our lives are structured. We quickly had to focus on what matters the most, whether that was personal health, projects that align with our own purpose, being present with family, and many others. The result of these choices often meant a blending of employees’ work and personal lives, and made culture a key differentiator. In fact, according to LinkedIn research, people would rather accept lower pay and forego a desired title than deal with a bad workplace culture.  

Challenging times can test any culture. But regardless of whether employees are working from home or in an office, through tough times or in the best of times, culture has a profound impact on people. It often determines the types of behaviors that encourage or hinder belonging, and employees who feel a sense of belonging at work are more than six times more likely to be engaged than those who don’t.  

What’s more, investing in culture is good for business. Research found that organizations that proactively manage their culture show higher revenue growth over a 10-year period, high levels of innovation, and higher employee retention. But that means actively driving, measuring, and reinforcing it. Without active management, everyone in an organization is susceptible to forming poor habits and norms that conflict with the desired culture.  

So what can you do to improve your culture? 

Here are a few steps you can take to cultivate and sustain your culture:  

1. Ensure your culture is visible 

A strong culture is one that is predictable and reinforced through various touch points.​ From initial contact through the entire employee lifecycle, employees should understand and feel the culture and values of your organization. 

Find opportunities for managers and leaders to highlight these elements on a regular basis. For example, some organizations may have previously placed a cultural emphasis on employee health by providing free, healthy meals or snacks in offices. But in a remote or hybrid-work environment, organizations have had to rethink how to execute on certain cultural values. Leaders can help employees remember the why behind an organization’s values and adapt the culture to meet employees where they are. In this example on employee health, many organizations whose employees are now working remotely have continued to share resources related to healthy eating, innovated virtual team building focused on preparing healthy meals, and even provided recommendations for meal services.  

2. Enable informal connection 

I’ve heard some organizations talk about creating a virtual water cooler. Indeed, employee camaraderie is critical, so consider how you can use informal work time to help employees continue to build relationships.

Just a few years ago, organizations may have discouraged the use of technology to discuss or share links to interesting sites or even an appropriately funny gif. Today, many organizations have virtually replicated these informal spaces using tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. For example, at Glint, we’ve used Teams to celebrate birthdays, relay exciting personal news, and even start a team playlist to share our favorite music. There are also more targeted Teams channels, for instance, for Peloton riders who schedule time to ride together and vegan teammates who share recipes.  

3. Build your communication practices 

In a remote world, communication is key. Communication provides the organization an opportunity to shape the culture—how, when, and what messages leaders and employees share are all opportunities to reinforce the desired culture. 

Unfortunately, in a remote world, messages are missed, or misinterpreted, causing confusion, frustration, and sometimes distrust. And while more tools to help employees collaborate seem like a bonus, they often mean more messages scattered in various places, causing additional frustration. A few best practices include: 

  • Over communicate key messages. A general rule of thumb is people need to hear a message seven times before they take an action. This is magnified in a remote world. Because employees are not privy to information they may have been accustomed to in the office, it’s important that everyone be very intentional about sharing key messages. These messages provide an opportunity to connect back to the organization’s purpose or reinforce a sense of humanity and support for people’s well-being and belonging. 
  • Set up norms for the use of communication tools. I often hear frustration over the haphazard use of communication tools. Since culture is focused on “how things are done,” norms are necessary to establish consistency. For example, use email for requests for work and status updates, and use chat apps for informal conversations and questions.  
  • Schedule consistent “huddle times” when the team can align on key priorities. This allows managers to ensure everyone is working towards the same goal and prevents the need to micromanage. Managers can also deliver important messages in person and share recognition or appreciation.  

4. Ask employees about their cultural experience regularly. 

Most organizations want to understand how their culture plays out compared to the values and behaviors they wish to build. A culture survey is an easy way for employees to share their experience with the culture in practice to ensure it lines up to what is desired. 

For many organizations, measuring culture annually provides the right cadence of information for executive leaders to actively manage their culture. In addition to your annual culture survey, we recommend continuing your quarterly engagement pulses, integrating themes on culture, as needed.  For example, if leaders learn from a culture survey that they need greater customer focus, they can add a customer-focus item to the engagement pulse. That way managers will know where to focus and take action.​ 

Digital River Vice President of Human Resources Becky Garroch said the culture metrics her organization gleans from employee engagement surveys helps leaders better understand how culture impacts both their business and their people.  

“The real power was being able to present to our executive team a cultural description that they recognized as tangible, important for business success, and vital for employee engagement,” she said. 

Final thoughts

​As organizations begin to explore the next phases of remote work and return to the office, including hybrid teams, it will be increasingly important to understand what culture exists and redirect the organization towards the desired culture. Remember, culture is built through consistency. Helping employees feel connected and in the know, and giving them a voice regarding your culture, will enable the organization to be resilient in times of change.  

Learn more about how Glint’s People Success Platform can help you measure your organization’s culture.