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Don't Confuse 'Being in the Office' With 'Culture'

Don't Confuse 'Being in the Office' With 'Culture'

by Nikki Morin and Heather Barrett

Story Highlights

  • Hybrid workers feel more connected to their organization's culture than others
  • Culture affects productivity, employee flourishing, employer brand and more
  • Managers experience the hybrid workplace differently, and they're struggling

This may shock you: Hybrid workers -- among all types of employees -- are doing the best when it comes to feeling connected to their organization's culture, according to a recent Gallup analysis. Twenty-three percent of U.S. hybrid workers strongly agree that they feel connected to their organization, compared with 20% of employees overall.

As many companies experiment with hybrid work, one question has risen above the others: What about our culture? There's a common belief that when employees are physically together, they develop important social bonds that simply can't be replaced by email, Zoom and Slack.

And leaders have good reason to care. Employees who strongly agree that they feel connected to their culture are:

  • 3.7x as likely to be engaged at work
  • 5.2x as likely to recommend their organization as a great place to work
  • 37% more likely to be thriving
  • 68% less likely to feel burned out at work always or very often
  • 55% less likely to be looking for a job

Culture matters when it comes to productivity, employee flourishing, employer brand and business reputation.


Why Hybrid Is Improving Company Culture

The reality is that the office never equaled culture. Gallup data show that, despite significant lip service and investment in "company culture" over the years, there's very little to show for it. Only two in 10 U.S. workers feel connected to their organization's culture. While in-person interactions are powerful, they alone were never enough to create the magic of connectedness.

So, what explains why hybrid is working better? Hybrid workers may feel more connected to their organization's culture because the office and the remote workplace are being treated with greater intentionality.

The reality is that the office never equaled culture. Gallup data show that, despite significant lip service and investment in "company culture" over the years, there's very little to show for it.

Hybrid workplaces have been forced to make in-office experiences more meaningful and substantial. In addition, hybrid workers feel more supported in their wellbeing. They are more likely to feel that their organization cares about them, which makes them feel more connected to the values, mission and purpose of the organization.

Overall, hybrid work is likely a positive development for most employees -- with one exception: managers.

Managers Struggle the Most With Hybrid


Notably, Gallup's analysis finds that managers are experiencing the hybrid workplace differently than other roles within an organization. Hybrid managers feel less connected to their company culture than do remote or on-site managers. They also feel less connected than hybrid leaders.

Why might this be?

Much of remote and hybrid work planning has focused on helping the individual contributor. During the worst parts of the pandemic, managers were tasked with making sure their teams had everything they needed to be productive, from equipment to schedule flexibility to communications from leadership. Individual contributors have been able to minimize many of the distractions of the office, allowing them more focused time or the ability to get their work done in greater comfort.

Managers, on the other hand, are responsible for creating an equitable and engaging work environment for their teams. They are in charge of interpreting company values and culture in a wholly new paradigm of work, creating an optimal environment in a new frontier.

Hybrid managers feel less connected to their company culture than do remote or on-site managers.

In the past, managers often leaned on other managers in their peer group to help them navigate challenges -- and those peers may not be as available as they were in the office. Accessing resources, social or otherwise, may be more challenging than before. In other words, managers are likely missing peer and organizational support, even as they support their teams' transition into the hybrid workplace.

Tips for Advancing the Hybrid Workplace

Hybrid work is a new reality for the workplace. And it's the most preferred option for employees who can do their work remotely.

We know that hybrid workers can be productive and happy, but the rules and best practices for hybrid are still being written.

Here are a few considerations when improving your organization's hybrid work strategy:

  • When it comes to hybrid, managers need extra support. Many managers do not have experience or training for leading hybrid teams. Hybrid management requires more frequent team communication and coordination. But managers need more communication, too. Be aware that highly productive, engaged teams don't necessarily mean that your managers have all of the support they need.
  • Managers may be able to move some of the culture-building responsibility to their teams. Managers shouldn't be carrying culture on their own. In fact, it's a good idea for managers to help their team take ownership of their unique style for getting work done. Managers can use a State of the Team format (like the one available on Gallup Access) to facilitate a conversation about how the team wants to work together. Make it special. Provide food and drinks, encourage people to change their virtual location, have a dress-up theme. End with action planning that the group -- not just the manager -- owns.
  • Bring your managers together into a community. Your organization may have lost manager-to-manager conversations in the transition to hybrid work. These provided managers with innovation, improved efficiencies and social bonding. Leaders should consider intentional ways of bringing managers together for culture building.
  • Invest in manager development programs that work. Hybrid work has nixed the traditional manager archetype who stops by employees' desks with a coffee cup in hand. Results and outcomes are more important now than watching the clock. Managers today must be more conscious of employee wellbeing, and they need to know how to have one-on-one coaching conversations that feel authentic and natural -- a skill they can learn.

Bottom Line

Don't be afraid of losing your culture to hybrid. Fears of culture collapse are likely exaggerated. And it's important to listen to what employees are asking for. Managers may be nervous about hybrid, and for good reasons. But hybrid workplaces can be stronger workplaces with better workplace cultures -- if leaders focus on the key relationships and experiences that bond teams together.

You don't have to choose between a thriving culture and a hybrid work model:


Nikki Morin is a Consultant at Gallup.

Heather Barrett is a Managing Consultant at Gallup.

Ryan Pendell contributed to this article.

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