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Hybrid work is the future but is your company's culture still in the past?

How to adapt organizational culture to thrive in a hybrid working model

Hybrid work has become standard for countless companies. But creating a culture that supports people working from the office or from home, a coffee shop, or indeed, anywhere, requires much more than simply developing policies or deploying collaboration tools like Teams or Slack.

Businesses need to evolve their organizational culture so that it unites people through a common purpose, engages employees, and facilitates collaboration, innovation, and learning with people working remotely. When all of these ingredients come together, culture thrives. And a strong company culture has been widely accepted as key to business success.

To help companies improve the employee experience and drive growth, we asked our senior leaders to share their insights on how organizations can cultivate a culture that adapts to hybrid working styles and brings out the best in their people and businesses.

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Uniting workforces through shared purpose

For organizations to succeed with hybrid ways of working, we cannot overstate the importance of an organization's purpose – it's the reason why the business exists beyond traditional metrics like profitability.

When done well, purpose is the North Star that guides every decision, program, investment, and action. It is also a crucial unifier for employees and the very foundation from which the business builds and evolves its organizational culture.

Everyone is responsible for the company's purpose

Purpose is also inextricably linked with business performance. Research shows that having a strong purpose can contribute to the overall health and performance of a business.

As such, defining and articulating the organization's purpose must be a deliberate, thoughtful process conducted at the highest levels of leadership while still including input from all parts of the business. Organizations must create a culture in which every employee feels united by a mission and responsible for the company's ability to live up to its promises.

"Culture is a two-way street," explains Crina Ilie, a people function leader at Genpact. "Leadership needs to shape, instill, and preserve the culture, but employees need to hold leaders accountable for living up to the organization's values."

Keeping employees engaged by measuring sentiment and wellbeing

It is impossible for an organization to fulfill its purpose without engaged employees who feel connected and heard. Organizations need to reconsider how they interact with employees and how they foster a culture in which people can use their voices openly. If companies are not actively listening to employees, issues in the workplace go unresolved and whole groups of people, departments, and teams can become isolated, leading to low engagement.

As a starting point, companies must understand how employees feel about their work lives. This can prove a challenging task when the workforce reaches far and wide, as is often the case in a hybrid working model. But technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) can play an important role in helping organizations gather and analyze data to understand employee sentiment. It also helps to keep a finger on the pulse of employee wellbeing because part of having an engaged workforce depends on employee physical and mental health.

At Genpact, we use an AI-powered chatbot, Amber, as our cultural assistant to periodically poll employees about their day-to-day workload and experiences, reactions to policy changes, new initiatives, or questions for leaders to discuss at upcoming meetings.

Addressing burnout, isolation, and mental health

One of the most valuable aspects of using AI to measure employee sentiment and wellbeing is the speed at which organizations can respond to information. Traditional surveys or focus groups can take weeks or even months to generate insights, but AI-powered solutions can produce actionable findings in minutes and can quickly identify issues – such as burnout, fatigue, or policy adherence – while they're nascent and act on them before they cause lasting harm.

For example, at the height of the pandemic, one of the most common issues facing many members of the workforce was isolation. For many employees, productivity during the pandemic increased but at the expense of the team camaraderie that is typical in a traditional office setting.

Many managers didn't recognize when employees felt isolated in a remote-work setting. Leadership and managerial roles, by nature, tend to be highly collaborative. Even in a remote environment, managers are interacting with their teams, clients, and partners daily. They may have a hard time understanding that elsewhere in the organization, people who work as individual contributors can feel isolated in a purely remote setting because their roles may not have as many natural points of collaboration.

This is the kind of feedback that companies need to gather continuously – and prepare to respond to quickly – to help avert low employee morale and high attrition rates.

Tools that allow companies to measure employee sentiment are also important for understanding how employees perceive various internal initiatives or even external global trends and their impact on culture.

For instance, workplace analytics can provide insights into emerging, situational trends, such as women and women of color withdrawing from the workplace since the pandemic.1 "Technology is available to help organizations understand how declining numbers of women in the workplace and a lack of diversity in general impacts employee connections and company culture," says Jesse Murray, employee experience leader at Rightpoint, a Genpact company. "Use of technology in this way is a critical – and underutilized – tool in building cultures that endure, and we are seeing more and more companies embrace this idea."

The power of weak ties to spark collaboration and innovation

Most workers continue to be in favor of hybrid working. At the same time, most consider the office to be valuable for collaboration or relationship building.

In other words, employees expect to have the flexibility to work from a location of their choosing but also recognize the need to feel connected to each other as well as to the organization as a whole. In response, organizations need to balance how to offer flexible working styles while also encouraging collaboration between teams and functions because it often leads to better results.

Creating opportunities for chance encounters

We've learned that collaboration tools are an effective alternative to face-to-face collaboration for established teams that have already created strong in-person connections. But it's trickier to foster spontaneous collaboration because, in a hybrid working model, employees tend to fortify their existing ties to co-workers who play an important role in their day-to-day jobs. But weak ties between people who are not part of the same team or working group are just as important for innovation because they spark ideas that may not have occurred between people who work together all the time.

"In a hybrid working world, there are fewer opportunities for informal or chance meetings," says Piyush Mehta, chief human resources officer. "That's an issue because the exchange of organizational knowledge and collaboration is dependent on those forums. So, the challenge for the organization is to find ways to use technology and digital tools to make those previously casual and opportunistic interactions more deliberate in a work-from-anywhere model."

The good news is that collaboration tools can foster weak ties and the innovation they spark just like they can for strong ties. One way our organization is strengthening weak ties is through Watercooler, a tool that we developed with Microsoft. It uses organizational network analysis to orchestrate seemingly serendipitous meetings to help people build and maintain relationships outside of their immediate networks and become more connected across the organization.

Solutions like Watercooler are a core component of strengthening organizational culture for a hybrid working model. Digital tools can help overcome physical boundaries to build relationships, connect diverse perspectives, drive inclusivity, and spark creativity.

Collaboration tools can also help organizations grow DEI initiatives. Watercooler helps start conversations about shared experiences and can provide employees with greater access to senior leaders, opening the door to new career opportunities and professional growth.

Democratizing learning and development to unleash the full potential of the workforce

A healthy organization is one that is constantly learning. And to maintain that health and growth, businesses must invest in helping people expand their skills and expertise.

The pandemic made digital transformation an even greater necessity to strengthen business resilience against uncertainty, which ramped up the demand for new skills and roles. Forward-thinking enterprises are fostering a culture of continuous learning to meet this demand, providing learning and development opportunities to employees and people beyond their organizations, too.

"The elephant in the room right now is the idea that people in the office are going to have better career prospects than people working from home," says Gianni Giacomelli, former chief innovation officer at Genpact and head of design innovation, Collective Intelligence Design Lab at MIT. "One of the most meaningful things that companies can do is democratize knowledge and remove barriers for people to express their potential. The company needs to invest in people and redirect resources to facilitate that change."

More than a curriculum, a learning journey

This means embedding learning into the fabric of the organization and making it a component of every employee's workday. "You need a culture of learning to be a learning organization," explains Murray, “But providing training content is not learning. Businesses should provide an end-to-end learning journey that helps employees apply the new knowledge they've gained."

For example, Genpact's learning and development platform, Genome, offers an on-demand, self-directed, immersive learning experience that enables employees to build on the organization's collective intelligence, acquire new skills, and learn quickly as industries and technologies change. Genome goes beyond training – it is learning and development led by our people for our people. And to date, our employees as well as learners outside of Genpact who tap into our public-facing Genome platform have logged over 10 million learning hours.

Genome uses discussion forums extensively so people can learn from one another and from our experts – or gurus. It features thousands of microprojects, developed by our gurus, so people and teams can learn by doing. And by opening parts of Genome to people outside of Genpact, we're helping learners acquire new digital skills and increase their professional resilience while making sure our employees are continuing to develop and broaden their knowledge.

By harnessing and sharing employees' expertise and helping people learn by doing, companies can provide more than just a curriculum, but an end-to-end learning journey that helps create fulfilling careers, meet talent needs, and strengthen the organization's collective intelligence and competitive advantage.

Four actions to take to strengthen your organization's culture

By combining technology with a clear ambition, company culture can thrive in a hybrid world of work. Here are four actions that will set companies on the right path:

  1. Instill a strong sense of shared purpose across the organization to unite people around a common goal
  2. Keep a finger on the pulse of employee sentiment and wellbeing with AI-powered technology. And create strategies to turn data into insights to quickly act on employee feedback
  3. Increase effort and investment in collaboration technologies that can overcome physical boundaries and foster connection between employees
  4. Create a culture of continuous learning to accelerate the development of critical skills and release people's full potential

The future of work is undeniably hybrid. How you go about it will determine whether it becomes an organizational obstacle to overcome or a launching pad that supercharges your culture. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we're all capable of much more than we expected. With the right leadership, investments, and technologies, it's possible for organizations to shape a culture that can adapt, thrive, and support people wherever they work.