Lauren Parmar, head of culture and studio operations at The Mill, offers her perspective on one of the biggest questions in culture today: to hybridize or not to hybridize?
Since the initial pandemic shutdowns and subsequent reopenings, every industry has seen shifts in “traditional” work culture; there has been a seismic shift in the way companies need to fundamentally (re)think about in-person versus remote work. Covid working conditions have sparked conversations about the boundaries between work and play, office and home, burnout and sustainability, mental health and accessibility, and many more. Engaging in these conversations and analyzing current practices is essential for organizations that want to positively impact their respective industries.
One of the hottest topics of our time is the argument of remote work versus office work. Over the past two years, many organizations have advocated for a return to the office and a traditional way of working. But employees want something different and according to a study conducted by Gartner, 75% of knowledge workers say their expectations of flexible working have increased. Much of the conversation has focused on where we work, but progressive organizations have shifted their focus and started thinking not just about where we work, but how we work.
Can a hybrid approach benefit DE&I?
Since the start of the pandemic, millions of office workers around the world have benefited from the transformative effects of remote working. People saw better work/life balance, more time with family, better mental and physical health, and less time (and money) spent commuting as some of the top benefits of a remote work setup. remote or hybrid. Additionally, remote work has created a fairer work environment for everyone by leveling the playing field for people with family responsibilities and supporting a variety of different lifestyles and personal needs, making the workplace more accessible than ever. This adds to evidence that members of the LGBT+ community and ethnic minority employees report experiencing fewer microaggressions when working remotely. Needless to say, flexible work arrangements are intrinsically linked to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
The impact on corporate culture
But despite all the benefits and strides we’ve made to achieve a better balance between our work and personal lives, we have to ask ourselves if remote and hybrid working have an impact on team cohesion. As the workforce disperses, is the corporate culture diluted? With fewer people in the office on a daily basis, maintaining the corporate culture and sense of community within our teams has never been more important.
We need to assess not just when we use the office, but how we can make our studio visits meaningful. Whether it’s pitching, launching a new project, meeting clients, mentoring new team members, attending a training workshop, or meeting for lunch as a team, it is up to us to create the spaces and opportunities for connection to take place.
The importance of social life at work cannot be underestimated because a strong sense of belonging is forged during moments of conviviality. It’s been reported that 95% of Americans feel happier having just one friend at work, and 92% say that friendships at work impact their willingness to stay with the company. Teams with strong connections produce better work and have more accountability. But how do you maintain a collaborative culture of inclusion and a sense of community when your teams are spread out?
A clear articulation of culture brings values and behaviors to life. Leadership sets the tone for the organization, and progressive companies will know that cultivating a strong sense of psychological safety is key to instilling trust, confidence, and ultimately success.
Simon Sinek expresses this sentiment more clearly than I ever could: “Truly human leadership protects an organization from the internal rivalries that can shatter a culture. When we have to protect each other, the whole organization suffers. But when trust and cooperation thrive internally, we stick together and the organization grows stronger as a result.
Not having your employees on your side can cause irreparable damage, not only to employee morale, but also to the future success of the business. Instead, giving employees a platform to share their ideas and opinions is a great way to engage teams and create a sense of belonging. Articulation should be felt as an act of co-creation and company values should be felt as an expression of the team. When everyone in the organization can clearly communicate the company’s mission and culture, your values are more likely to live and breathe, no matter where your teams work or how often they visit the company. studio.
As we look to the future, technology adoption will be critical to evolution and growth. Creating a multitude of experiences for teams and our customers, across physical and digital environments, will help create a culture that is both fair and conducive to doing our best. Before the pandemic, the gravitational pull of the office was driven not only by the desire for collaboration, but also by the practical necessity of having to be in the same place as certain hardware.
As the world adapted to the pace of global lockdown measures, businesses were forced to innovate and leverage technology to ensure seamless service continuity and work delivery. These developments led to a democratization of technology that forever influenced the way we work. With advances in Web3 technology and the growth of new online communities, we should think about developing a compelling ecosystem of experiences to engage and inspire teams in new and exciting ways. A distributed workforce offers a wealth of opportunities for new talent, previously inaccessible due to geographic separation. As the metaverse grows, we have the opportunity to design experiences and immersive worlds that have accessibility and inclusion in mind. It is our responsibility to create future workplaces that allow company culture to thrive in both physical and digital landscapes. A future we all want to be part of.
The Challenges of Sustaining a Hybrid Work Model
But the hybrid’s future is not without its challenges. With huge economic challenges ahead, recent reports predict that commercial real estate will see a 40% drop in value over the next seven years (in addition to a 45% drop in 2020). Not to mention the potential impact vacant offices could have on the greatest challenge of our time; the climate emergency.
While hybrid working reduces emissions by reducing time spent commuting, the reality is that a half-empty office needs just as much heating and cooling to provide comfortable conditions for employees. This, coupled with the fact that employees working from home will also be using energy, has the potential to mitigate any benefits that reduced travel could have on the environment. But challenges are giving way to opportunities and companies can look for ways to reduce their emissions, for example by switching to renewable energy, which is how we power The Mill’s London studio.
In addition, there are opportunities to make better use of the real estate we have in innovative ways. While Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday continue to be the most popular days to work in the studio, can we offer our spaces to non-profit organizations, students or people from underrepresented backgrounds or socio-economically disadvantaged people to use as a hub of creativity, collaboration and connection, on days when the office is less busy?
We are living in a unique moment in history and the pandemic has forever changed the way we work. In the future, we will see two types of organizations, those that innovate and embrace change, and those that fall behind because they stand still. We may not have all the answers right now, but keeping an open mind, embracing experimentation and having the humility to admit when we’re making mistakes and adjusting our course will be key drivers of hit. We are fortunate to have the necessary tools at our fingertips to create cultures that thrive in both the physical and virtual worlds. It’s how we choose to use them that will count.
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