5 ways to inject culture into a hybrid working model

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Vijay Anand Guntur, Corporate Vice President, Engineering and R&D Services (ERS), HCL Technologies


  • As more organizations consider hybrid working models following the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to adapt organizational culture to ensure the happiness and continued productivity of employees.
  • Innovation can be hard to maintain when some or all employees are working remotely.
  • There are actions business leaders can take to support a culture of innovation even after a transition to a hybrid working model.

What does organizational culture mean today? Has it taken on a new meaning during the pandemic? Should leaders care or even talk about it? Recent research shows they should. Companies with healthy work cultures provided three times more returns to shareholders during the pandemic, according to McKinsey. On the other hand, 70% of transformations fail due to culture and people-related problems.

Organizational work culture has always been a challenge to strengthen and sustain, but with hybrid work models, the level of difficulty has increased manifold. It is rare to have such an opportunity as we do now, however. As new working models emerge leaders can reshape how they run their workplaces. After the mass exodus to home offices during the COVID-19 pandemic, the current situation presents us with an opportunity to redefine the future of work.

Here are five ways leaders can drive the kind of positive work culture that is suited to new hybrid working models:

1) Embed digital fluency

Digital technology now impacts every functional area of most organizations. Leaders who understand and prepare for this earlier will see success sooner. Businesses are shifting to a cloud-based architecture at lightning speed and technology will continue to play a critical role in transitioning to a hybrid work model. Making workforces digitally fluent and ready for this change is vital for success.

Customer needs and expectations have also changed over the past year. They are more flexible about channels of engagement and focus more on the desired output and outcome. This means it’s crucial for service providers to build digital tools that create new ways to serve customers’ needs and drive value.

At HCL Technologies, we have seen a lot of investment in building such technological capabilities and a significant increase in service providers seeking new tools to secure a deeper understanding of customer needs. As online activity increases in this way, providing a growing array of data points, AI can help create more personalised solutions for customers.

Digital technology now impacts every functional area of most organizations. Leaders who understand and prepare for this earlier will see success sooner.—Vijay Anand Guntur, HCL Technologies

2) Foster a purpose-driven organization

In my experience as a business leader, the happiest employees are people whose individual purpose in life meshes with that of the organization. A higher purpose goes beyond economic gain. It reflects something more personal and aspirational. It helps the people involved with an organization feel like they are making a difference, giving them a sense of meaning and cementing their support.

What drives people personally and professionally can be complicated, but leaders are in a position to encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and explore how their purpose can be met at work. When both individual and organizational purpose meet in the middle, a workforce can experience positive outcomes such as retention, motivation, satisfaction, engagement, and productivity.

Leaders are in a position to encourage people to step out of their comfort zone and explore how their purpose can be met at work. —Vijay Anand Guntur, HCL Technologies

3) Support social capital

One of the main characteristics of strong organizational culture is the intricate web of social capital—the networks of people across the organization. Managers in the middle of these networks have a greater capacity to create social capital, according to Brokerage and closure: An introduction to Social Capital, a paper written by Ronald S. Burt. Why? Because information flows through these managers from multiple channels. They coordinate, cooperate, and advise to create an information advantage for the organization.

Managers in the middle see the best and worst of all worlds, have more clarity, and are therefore more adept at plugging holes in the network. In a world where organizations, markets, and society are trying to figuring out how to develop social capital, leveraging managers across the network will create a competitive advantage.

This is particularly important for hybrid work models, where there is a risk of two organizational cultures emerging: one with strong in-person collaboration and interaction, and another for employees who might feel isolated. The latter can reduce an employee’s sense of belonging and purpose within the organization.

To maintain positive cultures in hybrid working situations, leaders need to connect people across departments, providing cross-functional learning opportunities and creating time for people to have virtual coffee or networking discussions with colleagues from across the company. To prevent the erosion of social capital, managers must actively take measures to maintain an interactive atmosphere.

In a world where organizations, markets, and society are figuring out how to develop social capital, leveraging managers across the network will create a competitive advantage.—Vijay Anand Guntur, HCL Technologies

4) Create virtual alternatives to off-sites

Before the pandemic, off-site meetings provided an opportunity to strengthen an organization’s culture and bonds. They drove discussions that might not happen inside a regular office. Off-sites have taken a hit in the hybrid setup.

Though a virtual alternative cannot fully match an elaborate and physical off-site meeting, it can at least keep the spirit alive by using well-crafted agendas and including all stakeholders. The overarching idea should be to keep the employees engaged and help them work towards a productive output.

When we tried this at HCL Technologies during the pandemic, we found that a simple toolkit can ensure an effective virtual off-site meeting. It should focus on interactive sessions and discussion over presentations, using technology effectively to increase participation and engagement. When coupled with a proper feedback mechanism, these virtual off-sites can unleash culture innovation to support the hybrid work model.

5) Push boundaries

One of the biggest challenges for leaders of the hybrid work model might be the potential for loss of innovation at an individual level. Leaders facing this must shoulder the responsibility of fostering a culture of innovation instead. They need to incentivise people to work towards a specific purpose and understand the important role “people networks” play in influencing the culture and success of an organization. COVID, workers, well, health

What is the Forum doing about keeping workers well?

Keeping workers well. It is the united aim of a global community influencing how companies will keep employees safe. What is the role of COVID-19 testing? What is the value of contact tracing? How do organizations ensure health at work for all employees?

Members from a diverse range of industries – from healthcare to food, utilities, software and more – and from over 25 countries and 250 companies representing more than 1 million employees are involved in the COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative. Launched in July 2020, the project is a partnership between the World Economic Forum and Arizona State University with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

The COVID-19 Workplace Commons: Keeping Workers Well initiative leverages the Forum’s platforms, networks and global convening ability to collect, refine and share strategies and approaches for returning to the workplace safely as part of broader COVID-19 recovery strategies.

Companies can apply to share their learnings and participate in the initiative as a partner, by joining the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare.

Learn more about the impact.

Your organization reflects how your employees feel – and vice versa. Under the new hybrid working model, it is important to continue to talk about work culture and how leaders can help their teams push the envelope on innovation. Today, more than ever, there is a positive relationship between how employees feel and organizational growth. Implementing meaningful management practices and leveraging people networks will be the key differentiators for maintaining a healthy culture.

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