On 4th February 2022, Habit Action hosted an edition of the virtual speaker series, Tenant Talks.  In this event, the panel explored the topic of managing your workplace culture in a hybrid environment.

Panellists included representatives from Knight Frank, TripAdvisor, and Veeva Systems.  The event was hosted by Murray Hibbert, Sales Director, and Owner of Habit Action.  Our moderator for this event was Rocky Ozaki from NoW of Work.

Our panellists discussed how great company culture can be managed and maintained whilst teams are physically apart since hybrid working is here to stay for most companies even since Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted in the UK.

Question #1: What are your thoughts on hybrid working? Is it sustainable?

From Andrea’s perspective, Hybrid working isn’t something new for them at TripAdvisor, as they have always had a level of flexibility with where they work.  She views this as a positive thing in that it gives entire teams so much more flexibility and more opportunity to collaborate across different geographical locations. Andrea made a very interesting comment that ironically it has shifted things in her mind in that pre-Covid, she enjoyed her days at home where she could have a break from the commute and greater flexibility, whereas now, going into the office is the exciting part of the week.

Sarah’s opinion on this was that the hybrid working model is sustainable and that now looking back at how people used to commute for hours to sit at their desk and answer emails is just absurd.  Making sure that your company allows for choice on how the hybrid model works for each individual is important because of the differing needs and preferences. Working from home 5 days a week is not sustainable for everyone and nor is working from the office 5 days a week, so it’s about allowing your people to have flexibility and choice to make it work.

Hearing from Sian at Veeva who comes from a “work anywhere” company, the message was loud and clear that where people can still do their jobs just as well if not better at home, companies should allow for this, keeping the physical office space as a hub.  The office space has to be inviting and somewhere people want to come back to to collaborate and have that face-to-face interaction that you can’t enjoy just over Zoom.

Question #2: Some would argue that the hybrid model is detrimental to great company culture as it can create silos within large organisations where you only communicate with those you work directly with. How far do you agree?

Sarah presented an interesting perspective on this question where she argued that whilst she could see why people perceive this as a risk due to creating greater physical distance between people, this specific issue isn’t much different between a hybrid or non-hybrid office.  Managing this issue comes down to having a strong enough culture within your organisation to encourage communication across all areas of the business, cultivating a feeling of belonging.

Andrea agreed with Sarah on this but added that the biggest concern is where junior people join the company and aren’t able to interact with or have access to senior leaders, potentially missing opportunities for promotions and recognition.  A lot of how we manage this does come down to company culture and giving people the right tools and technology to stay connected.  Providing tools such as Slack for messaging or Imperative and Hallway for peer coaching are all ways TripAdvisor are trying to bridge the gap and tackle issues that could potentially arise through hybrid working.

Question #3: A lot of large corporates based their culture around the perks within the office but how do you feel this has changed and can be managed in a hybrid environment?

Andrea’s take of the topic of perks in the office was that the pandemic has allowed us some breathing space from the spiralling expectations of what the office should provide in the way of perks.  With free food, massage chairs and manicures at lunch time, it gave rise to your life becoming your work.  Now having been brought back down to a more level playing field, companies are focussing again on what actually matters to people at work but broader into everyday life. Things like health insurance, wellness, inclusivity, and their access to things they might not previously have had are all ways companies can give more meaningful perks to their staff.

Finding out from your staff exactly what it is they want through surveys and questionnaires is an important part of this process.  It may take time to understand from everyone what they’re looking for from their company however learning from it and acting upon it pays dividends.

Question #4: Many people are finding that the culture and environment they remembered their workplace having pre-covid has dramatically changed when they come back, especially with there being less people in the office at one time. How have you managed this change in your workplace?

Sian carried on the theme of having the office as a hub space to draw people in, however she really emphasised the importance of not just saying the office is now open you can come back, it’s about educating people about what the office has to offer.  At Veeva’s oxford office, the branch underwent a relocation and huge renovation of their new space, so now with so much more to offer staff than before, they have been keen to get people back to the office to experience it all.  Creating a community feel about the office and even over zoom, with charity events, quiz nights and competitions are all ways Veeva have helped bring their people together.  Going beyond just the fun and perks the office can bring, the other aspect to this is how you can support people with their mental health and wellbeing through having mental health first aiders and providing a safe environment to talk.

Interestingly Sarah said that at Knight Frank, they haven’t felt such a drastic change when being back in the office which is testament to the strong culture of partnership they have there.  A strong aspect of Knight Franks culture is creating office environments to be like a home environment and where they can all come together. Beyond just having an amazing physical space, the strong communication from leadership around having choice on where you work has been an important aspect of managing this change.  Knight Frank have adopted a ‘dynamic working policy’, formalising that it’s your choice depending on what works best for you and your teams on where you work.

Question #5: How do you view the physical office going forward? Is it a hub for bringing people together to collaborate or is it just an office as it was?

Sian believes we’ve already seen a dynamic shift in the office space, and it is unlikely we’ll go back to how it was pre-covid, which is a positive thing.  Creating a collaborative space but not somewhere people have to be 9 to 5, Monday to Friday is what the office has become.  As Veeva’s office manager, Sian has noticed a big change in the atmosphere when different teams come in.  The buzz about the office, the watercooler chat and ideas bounding around the office are all things that you can’t replicate virtually, so tyring to entice people back more is key.

Through the data Sarah and her team at Knight Frank have gathered from their clients, they are seeing a much greater increase of needing space for focus booths, zoom rooms and phone booths but also greater collaborative space to make the most of that face-to-face interaction.  She argued that whilst many people are speaking about the office being purely for collaboration, this isn’t sustainable as there are going to be times people want to do their focused ‘normal office work’ at a desk.  Giving people the right environments to work, collaborate and meet as well as giving them different spaces that make it fun or different to come to the office.

Andrea agrees that the office definitely won’t be what it was before Covid however she doesn’t feel we will know the full scope of how things will change until there is a fuller return to the office and we find out what it is that people want and need.  As we start to see more back in the office it is really important the environment and experience is good enough to entice them to come back more and more.

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