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Together Apart: Creating a hybrid culture that works for everyone

Despite huge employee demand, hybrid working is dividing opinion with some business leaders. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook has said: “Video conference calling has narrowed the distance between us, to be sure, but there are things it simply cannot replicate.”

But are the points that the naysayers are making entirely valid? Of course there are certain elements that remote working cannot replicate, but is creating culture really an issue with hybrid working?

So, we decided to speak to some optimistic businesses to find out how they are making the most of the hybrid working opportunity.

Please feel free to jump straight to whichever section is of interest to you using the links below.

Creating culture in a hybrid working structure

Company culture can be hard to define, but it has huge value.

A strong culture not only means your people are happier and more productive, it’s good for recruitment, retention and reputation too.

It supports collaboration, creativity, keeps people motivated and aligned with the company’s goals.

But it can be harder to maintain that sense of camaraderie and belonging with a hybrid working model, where colleagues can feel less connected.

“Even if your employees work efficiently when left to their own devices, you should check in regularly to let your team know you’re there for them.”

Gareth Hoyle, managing director of Manchester-based agency Marketing Signals, said: “Even if your employees work efficiently when left to their own devices, you should check in regularly to let your team know you’re there for them.

“Make sure you’re having dedicated check-ins with employees. This could take the form of a one-on-one video call or simply be a monthly review with smaller groups.

“This helps to create a workplace culture built on openness and collaboration, which is essential for hybrid working.

“While regular contact and close communication is vital, it’s also important that employees feel trusted to work independently and that you have confidence in their ability and commitment.”

A woman holding a mug, looking contemplative while stood in front of her desk in a home office environment

Under the microscope

That’s a view echoed by Brother UK managing director, Phil Jones, who says micro-managing is counterproductive.

“With hybrid working, there is a psychological contract of trust between you and your employee,” says Phil.

“You must give them the flexibility to achieve the right work/life balance for them, as long as they deliver the agreed results.

“By micromanaging employees, it shows a lack of trust that can genuinely drive people to resign.”

“With hybrid working, there is a psychological contract of trust between you and your employee.”

Of course, hybrid working means balancing remote working with time in the office.

Organisations must have the technological infrastructure in place so colleagues aren’t ‘digitally downgraded' when away from the workplace.

A good hybrid structure will facilitate equivalent experiences whether someone is in the office, out and about or at home.

At the same time, there’s lots of research being done into how office design can enhance company culture, which makes for interesting reading.

And the pandemic has prompted many businesses to rethink their physical work environment to make it a more inspiring and productive place to work.

There’s evidence that everything from the colour you paint the walls, to the amount of natural light and even the presence of house plants can positively impact productivity.

A woman sat working on a notebook computer at a table next to a window in a home environment with her pet dog on a chair by her side

Space and time

Open spaces where colleagues, managers and leaders work together allow for greater inclusivity, encouraging people to share ideas openly without regard for rank.

It supports collaboration too, encouraging those happy accidents where impromptu interactions lead to inspiring ideas.

A mixture of less formal workspaces where colleagues can chat openly, alongside quiet areas where they can focus on a task without distractions are also useful.

“In this new era you’ve got to make coming to work worth the effort.”

Louise Campbell is managing director of Robert Walters Ireland, a specialist professional recruitment consultancy in Dublin.

She said: “The purpose of coming to the workplace will be re-evaluated, and we will see rapid progress in creating workplaces that focus on promoting collaboration and increasing a sense of belonging.”

It’s something Brother UK has worked hard to achieve.

Phil Jones said: “In this new era you’ve got to make coming to work worth the effort.

“We’ve created a collaboration café with lots of social seating to encourage human interaction and creativity. We’ve also brought in hotdesking everywhere so people can work wherever they want in the office.

“But understanding what colleagues need from their working environments also extends to providing private spaces for individuals to work independently or have private calls with colleagues who may not be in the same location.”

But company culture doesn’t just come from working together.

Social occasions help build even stronger personal connections, so create opportunities to interact without any work agenda.

Gareth Hoyle said: “I think it’s important for my team to feel like they know each other outside of the workplace.

“Encouraging your team to chat with one another outside of work hours can boost morale, whether they’re based in the office or remotely.

“If your employees are spread far and wide, video calls can pave the way for future socialisation, whether it’s a virtual quiz or a video call with some drinks, but teams who live locally can consider in-person get-togethers.”

Recruiting and retaining talent for hybrid working

One area where more flexible employment policies can have an immediate impact is recruitment.

That’s particularly important at a time when the UK is experiencing labour shortages across all parts of the economy and a tighter jobs market than at any time in at least 50 years1.

The number of job vacancies was almost 1.3 million in April to June 20222, prompting employers to push up pay and benefits to attract new recruits.

And it’s a situation that looks likely to last, according to the Institute for Employment Studies, with many older people opting not to return to the world of work after the pandemic and more younger people pursuing further education3.

Resultantly, the labour market has shrunk by close to one million people, increasing the competition for top talent.

And it has made retaining staff tricky too: 994,000 people switched jobs between January and March 20224.

It’s not just better pay that’s luring them away, the pandemic prompted many to re-think their career priorities.

That often means seeking the flexibility to enjoy a better work/life balance, which hybrid working can support.

A young girl hugging her busy mother from behind, who is working in a home office loft space

Rethinking recruitment

Research by global specialist professional recruitment group Robert Walters found that 78% of professionals said they would be more likely to join an employer with hybrid working arrangements.

The benefits cut both ways.

“Employers are realising that, for certain roles, you can recruit from anywhere.”

Where colleagues aren’t required to work from a particular location every day, employers can recruit from a larger, more diverse pool of talent.

And it gives them access to skilled people who may not be able to commute because they have mobility issues, health conditions or caring commitments, therefore boosting diversity, with all the benefits that brings.

Tom Chambers, associate director at Robert Walters, said: “Employers are realising that, for certain roles, you can recruit from anywhere.

“Local skills shortages aren’t necessarily the barrier that they once were.

“In that sense, hybrid working opens up the world for employers and professionals.”

But that requires organisations to rethink their recruitment strategies, not just around who they recruit, but also how they recruit.

Onboarding and integrating

Recruitment advertising has now largely moved online and geographically driven recruitment has been replaced with global industry-specific platforms instead.

Of course, that means you are competing against even more potential employers, so you may have to reassess your Organisational Value Proposition (OVP), including the compensation you offer, as well as the benefits package and professional development opportunities.

“You should always aim to ‘over-communicate’ if there is a remote onboarding process.”

Once onboard, new colleagues will need extra support to integrate into the business.

Gareth Hoyle said: “You should always aim to ‘over-communicate’ if there is a remote onboarding process, and that means lots of virtual meetings and conversations.

“Your hybrid worker will need clear early objectives too. And you should aim to review progress regularly during the onboarding period.

“Assigning them a buddy or mentor is also another great way to ensure they stay engaged and adapt quickly to the company’s culture and hybrid ways of working.”

The wellbeing pros and cons of hybrid working

Many workers enjoy a raft of benefits from hybrid working – spending more time with their families and less time stuck in traffic to name just two.

But, at the same time, it can be a testing experience for some, leaving them isolated and stressed.

There are clear wellbeing challenges, as it can lead to a blurring of work/life boundaries and mean people struggle to switch off.

It’s even prompting legislation on the ‘right to disconnect’. In November, employers in Portugal were banned from contacting employees who were working remotely outside of their normal working hours, and fines were introduced if they did.

Car maker Volkswagen also banned work emails between 6.15pm and 7am in a move to prevent working hours encroaching on colleagues’ free time.

A man sat working at table in a softly lit home environment at night-time

Be clear

Colleagues need to know exactly what’s expected of them in the hybrid world of work, with clear boundaries on working hours and obligations.

Some companies are imposing a three day in the office/two day at home split.

Others are asking staff to come in on specific days for specific tasks.

Either way, the aim is to ensure that all colleagues are supported and productive, with no disruption to working practices.

Team schedules should be coordinated to include days for in-person meetings and collaboration to help colleagues connect with each other, while days working remotely can be reserved for individual tasks.

It’s a good idea to involve colleagues in schedule setting and the tasks they feel are best suited to the office or home settings.

Open communication

Working alone can put pressure on people’s mental health and is one of the main reasons many have found the pandemic a struggle.

So, encourage an open culture and make it easy for colleagues to regularly connect with each another, maybe by hosting team days in the office or social events.

“Managers must be proactive by upping their communication game and being deliberate about it.”

Stacey Kane, business development lead at builders’ merchant group EasyMerchant, said: “Managers must be proactive by upping their communication game and being deliberate about it.

"To build and sustain a positive remote work culture, you must be proactive in resolving issues.

“People have a proclivity to respond to ambiguity with negative behaviour, especially when problems go unanswered.”

When team members are in different locations, regular team calls help them stay in touch and informed.

Regular pulse surveys – quick digital staff surveys that repeat the same questions every time – can also help raise any looming issues or anxieties.

Shared weekly, monthly or quarterly, they should contain no more than 10 or 15 questions on things like communication, relationships and job satisfaction.

At the same time, everyone must be confident that they can raise any kind of personal concerns, so there should also be one-to-one check-ins where people can speak privately about sensitive issues.

The right skills

Managing people remotely requires different skills than managing people in the office, so it might be useful to give managers and team leaders extra training.

Read more about managing remote teams and supporting employee productivity here.

This can help them spot the signs that someone is struggling and give them the skills to support their wellbeing effectively.

Organisations like the mental health charity Mind offer online training courses that teach how to incorporate mental health awareness and promote wellbeing.

That can include things like identifying triggers for anxiety, advice on building resilience and tips on talking about mental health.

The result can be a more open, supportive and inclusive work environment for everyone.

A businessman having a remote meeting with team members on a video call while sat at a desk in a home office environment


There’s a proven link between mental wellbeing and physical health.

Exercise reduces levels of stress hormones and boosts the chemicals in the brain that make us happier, so colleagues should be encouraged to make exercise part of their regular routine.

Even just getting up from your desk for a few minutes every hour helps. Colleagues should be encouraged to take a proper lunch break away from their screen, incorporating a walk outdoors or some other form of exercise if possible.

Exercise can be incorporated into teambuilding too, like online workouts or yoga sessions.

Whatever form of regular exercise you choose, you’ll find it boosts your mood and energy levels.

Supporting career development in hybrid working

When colleagues are working from different locations, they can worry that they are missing out on opportunities to progress their career, so managers must work to create a culture that nurtures their ambitions.

There is even a risk of allowing a culture of discrimination to creep in against those not always physically present. Those who regularly attend the office in person can be more visible and more readily selected for opportunities than those that work at home. This can have a number of damaging effects.

Firstly, many of the people who choose to work from home do so because of family commitments, and those making that choice are more likely to be women than men.

When asked to consider the benefits of having the option to work remotely, a survey of female workers by business consultant Gartner found the top answer was the ability to manage their childcare responsibilities, cited by 46%5.

So, giving preferential treatment to those working from the office – even if done unconsciously – can therefore create a gender bias in the opportunities available.

As well as this, if promotion decisions are made on the basis of anything but competence, there is a risk of overlooking the best candidate for any given position in favour of somebody who happens to be more immediately visible.

This links to a further negative effect – when ambitious people feel like their job isn’t going anywhere, they start to look for opportunities elsewhere, where they will be challenged, stimulated and encouraged.

This is particularly important for new recruits and people near the start of their careers.

For all of these reasons, it’s vital to provide equal support and opportunity to all colleagues, whether they mainly work in the office, at home or a combination of the two.

From the outset, it’s important that everyone has clear expectations.

Set out a bespoke training plan based on their ambitions and learning needs, as well as the skills your business needs to meet its strategic goals.

Define what you expect they will get out of their training and the timescales you are working to, including short and long-term goals to aim for.

Training is often provided through a combination of in-house and external providers and is increasingly delivered through online courses, webinars and live webcasts, which provide an affordable and practical solution to train multiple people at different locations.

Read more about nurturing employees and supporting professional develop in hybrid workplaces here.

Overhead shot of a business woman using a notebook computer and making notes while sat on a sofa in a home environment

Meetings and mentors

It can be useful for employees to be matched with a peer mentor, who can act as a coach, advocate and sounding board – someone they can turn to for advice and encouragement.

Regular meetings with a manger or HR can also help make sure all parties are still aligned: have their priorities changed, are they struggling in any areas or is there any way they can be better supported?

Formal and informal

If you already have training programmes worked out that you have been delivering in person, then these might need some tweaking.

It can be harder to keep people focused when they are watching on a screen, so consider splitting the training into smaller sections to make it easier to digest.

But remember that your colleagues may be working different hours to each other, so if you live-stream a training session, not everyone may be able to attend.

Make sure it is recorded and saved in a central resource so it can be accessed from anywhere, any time.

Create opportunities for on-the-job learning too, by assigning tasks that challenge colleagues to learn new skills, with the appropriate support.

“Hybrid working is not just about remote work – it includes office-based working too.”

One particular challenge is how to recreate the kind of informal learning that happens almost by accident when colleagues are working alongside each other in the office.

Habiba Khatoon, director at Robert Walters, said: “Hybrid working is not just about remote work – it includes office-based working too. It’s the ideal place for onboarding, coaching, learning, collaborating, socialising, and for those serendipitous moments that spark new ideas.”

This means scheduling days when entire teams will be in the office together and making the most of that time by creating opportunities to build friendships and share knowledge.

That can be by arranging social events, team chats and knowledge-sharing sessions, or inviting junior colleagues to shadow senior members to watch how they work.

Ultimately, every business and every colleague is different and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

However you do it, building a supportive community and strong work culture will always pay off.

Learn more about our hybrid working solutions and see how you can develop your own hybrid culture.


1. FE News: 'All change! Over TWO MILLION people started a new job this summer, still not enough to ease growing labour shortages'

2. Office for National Statistics: 'Vacancies and jobs in the UK'

3. BBC News: 'Workers call the shots as job vacancies boom'

4. Office for National Statistics: 'Job changers and stayers, understanding earnings, UK'

5. Gartner: 'What Women Want From a Hybrid Work Experience'

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