How to create a good company culture while working hybrid

Andrea Himmelbauer explains what her organisation has done to create a strong working environment for its people in a hybrid world

Credit: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

The pandemic was a monumental change for everyone. Overnight we were sent home and asked to work from our makeshift offices. Systems were checked, doors were closed and all of a sudden we had a look into our colleagues’ homes from a small square on our screen.

Despite the difficulty of the pandemic, it did show us that we can work remotely. The technology is there – from Zoom to Slack and Google Docs, we had the tools we needed to communicate and work no matter where we were. These collaboration tools help us to be as close to the in-person experience as possible without being in person.

The problem that arose for many people teams was creating a good working environment and culture while we weren’t in the office. We had to work on maintaining and updating our company cultures from a remote-first perspective. How do you get teams to connect when we aren’t all together? It comes down to how we communicate, the ceremonies we hold and being understanding of each of our working situations. 

The rituals of communication 

Even before the lockdowns, people wanted flexibility – the pandemic only accelerated this trend. The challenge we faced in the people team was to offer that flexibility while at the same time maintaining inclusion and communication. 

Our culture shifted from a face-to-face environment to one where we relied on technology and tools to onboard new colleagues, and stay visible and available to everyone. We had to ensure that no matter where someone was, they felt supported, heard, and able to achieve their goals and ambitions.

To do this, we needed to invest the time to build a strong culture with people across different places. Culture needs to be collaborative, open and supportive with low ego and low politics. 

At Mettle, we’ve always had a certain level of flexibility and remote working to help our team in establishing a healthy work-life balance but also to promote the importance of personal wellbeing. A lot of our team have families, run side hustles or have other commitments – we want to be supportive of that. 

It was very important for us to rely on leaders to be close to the team and give them autonomy on how they worked. Our mission-led approach helped to create multidisciplinary teams where people were constantly getting to know each other. 

In the two months that followed the work from home order, we saw a 25 per cent uplift in productivity. In this move to a hybrid working world, our teams still made sure to get together virtually to talk. And it isn’t always work-related. Having a virtual coffee with a teammate or catching up about the latest Netflix show you’ve watched is as important as talking about projects and work done. We have to remember the human element to work – we might not be able to always catch up in the kitchen for a quick chat, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t chat at all. There were a lot of self-organising communities created on Slack where people shared stories or thoughts around common interests. 

The importance of ceremonies 

Communication is one aspect of a hybrid team, maintaining ceremonies is another. As much as those in-person get-togethers, watercooler moments and team outings are an important part of any company culture, there is a way to maintain that virtually. 

Moving from a fully remote working environment to a hybrid one, these ceremonies have become more critical than ever, as it helps us to remember that we’re not alone. We have team members and wonderful colleagues who still strive for a common goal even if we don’t share the same space. 

Our teams have a certain cadence of ceremonies, wherein our small groups get together to talk about what we’re working on, any blockers and what we can do to help each other out.  From a company-wide perspective, having ceremonies where everyone gets together to celebrate wins, showcase new work or discuss concerns fosters this culture of collaboration and openness. Here you can openly talk about company goals and the progress towards them, and in our ‘show and tell’ meetings, teams can showcase their hard work, giving everyone an opportunity to see how we are progressing and evolving.

We ensure that we have easily accessible dashboards for all of our goals that are used at these ceremonies. This includes a fortnightly business review where a number of people from across the business discuss business data to understand emerging trends and opportunities. 

But with more meetings while working from home, having the time to innovate, think and do is important. One example of this is our ‘maker schedule’. One of our engineering managers drove an initiative to embed this concept in the company – acknowledging that individual contributors focusing on deep work need large periods of uninterrupted time to maximise their effectiveness. To give people the space they need to concentrate, we block out our mornings so there are no meetings. 

To create a good work environment in a hybrid world takes two things: being able to listen to employees and understand their needs, and putting in the time to create a positive culture. Communication and collaboration go a long way in this new working world and with the willingness to make the changes, any company can succeed. 

Andrea Himmelbaure is people and culture lead at Mettle