Maintaining a positive company culture is important to any business. After all, happy employees mean more productive employees. But with so many people now working from home — at least part of the time — traditional methods no longer apply. KSL Jobs takes a look at how to sustain company culture in a hybrid work model. 

Human Connections

Like many Utah businesses, Deseret Digital Media closed its office doors when COVID arrived, sending its nearly 200 employees home to work. As did other companies across the U.S., DDM discovered people enjoyed working from home, some even preferring it. Today, it’s a modern hybrid culture example: Staff can choose whether to work from home, in the office or both. Keeping everyone connected, regardless of where they clock in, partly falls to Taylor Shepherd, DDM Events Manager. 

A 2022 survey by Twingate found that 44% of people newly working from home missed human contact the most, with 45% missing social connections in general. Shepherd tries to minimize that loss. In just one year, he organized some 50 activities to help employees feel unified.

“Post-pandemic, we’ve implemented a hybrid strategy: almost monthly in-person events and quarterly virtual events, or events that employees can do with coworkers, family or friends,” he said. 

Building Relationships

A hybrid culture can be challenging; Shepherd said making it work well is twofold. “First, you have to think about individual needs, not just the company as a whole,” he said. “And second, you can’t solely measure your success on in-person attendance. We now work for a dynamic workplace with so many variables.”

Shepherd admits not every effort has been a hit. “Luckily, most of our events are successful,” he said. “However, an event comes to mind where the venue was too large and the activities were too numerous for fostering connections between employees.”

That’s a huge part — and challenge — of developing a successful hybrid culture. “It’s definitely [about] establishing real connections, which has been especially hard post-pandemic. We are constantly striving to create an environment that is inviting and engaging, yet safe. We want people to feel comfortable connecting like they used to.”

Simply Fun

Shepherd’s favorite event to organize? A rooftop launch party in the south of France (for a different organization). For those without that kind of budget — i.e., the rest of us — go simple. His favorite event for DDM? “I would definitely say lawn games at the park. It’s such a simple event, but everybody has such a great time.”

There are activities he suggests you should definitely avoid. “Events outside of business hours. Potlucks. Going with the cheap caterer. Lines at wedding receptions. Too many ideas in one event. Overly expensive venues. Anything on black pavement in the summertime. Passive events where there’s no real connecting. There’s truly too many to count,” he laughs.

Bottom line: Successful team building events don’t need to be exotic. “Anything with food!” Shepherd said. “But really, people are drawn to big, exciting events where they can experience something new with their friends/coworkers.” 

What’s Up?

Besides the social interaction, employees still seek work-related feedback among their peers and management. One of the difficulties in creating a successful hybrid work culture is that most meetings and conversations are remote. In an office environment, employees could engage as they rode up the elevator, mingled in the lunchroom or discussed upcoming projects over the quintessential watercooler. 

Without those opportunities to connect, it can be challenging for employees to gauge their place within the company. It may also be difficult for employers to understand how people are feeling about their experiences.

Getting to Know You

One way to keep that hybrid culture thriving is to connect remotely for one-on-one meetings via Slack or Zoom. Supervisors can check in with individuals, have real conversations and hopefully get a sense of their well-being. 

At DDM, some departments conduct daily check-ins, giving employees a chance to associate with other team members, share experiences — akin to lunchroom chat — and report on their planned activities for the day. All things that may have been done in the office in the past. 

It seems to have paid off. In a 2022 survey of DDM employees, 90% said they clearly understood what was expected of them. In addition, 86% agreed they were receiving ongoing feedback from a supervisor, and 97% said they felt like their supervisor cared about them as a person.

In Sync

Despite being out of the office much of the time, DDM employees still feel like they are an integral part of the company. In that same survey, 82% of respondents said they felt like they belonged at the organization, and 89% said they could see a clear link between their team’s efforts and the success of the organization.

Even seemingly anonymous company-wide virtual meetings can build hybrid culture. Recently, DDM hosted a virtual salsa party. While employees tuned in for a bi-monthly meeting, they snacked on salsa and chips. Shepherd’s team had arranged for the snacks, made by a local business, to be delivered to everyone’s home. Many couldn’t resist tucking into the chips a bit early — because, c’mon, gourmet chips and salsa! — but there was a definite kinship as employees popped open their containers and settled in.

Happy Together

While building a positive hybrid work culture is key to a successful company today, there are far reaching benefits, as well. “Although our main goal is to strengthen company culture, we get to positively impact employees on a personal level,” Shepherd said. “I know that our yearly award banquet inspires people to work harder. Our fitness challenge improves mind, body and soul. And it’s great to see families come together at our Lagoon day. I truly believe that this creates happier people, and luckily, those happy people work at DDM.”

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