Mystery for Business

What is a "hybrid" workplace and what does it mean for corporate culture?

The next "new normal" is within grasp: Many companies are setting dates for when their teams have to head back into the office, others are announcing they are permanently remote, and some are still figuring out what that looks like for them. What everyone can agree upon, though, is that with the number of vaccinated people growing and more businesses opening, we're getting closer. But, at least for the work "place," what is it we're getting closer to exactly? Enter the latest buzzword: hybrid work. There's a lot to unpack with what a hybrid (or flexible) work model means, but what we care about most at Mystery is its impact on corporate culture and team bonding.

What is hybrid work?

Where things stand now, most companies' plans to return to the office aren't a full stop switch back to five days a week. Hybrid work, or flex work,  is the new layout and everyone is trying to figure out what that will even look like. Large companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Uber have plans in place to get people back in the office and are betting on things being hybrid for a long time to come. This means a mixture of some fully remote employees, some fully in-person employees, and a lot of people falling somewhere in the middle.

Some employees have moved to different cities and states, capitalizing on an opportunity to chase more affordable living or a new adventure. Others have started completely new jobs or roles in the middle of the pandemic. Peoples work styles and preferences have also taken a shift. According to a report by Voodle, 70% of employees preferred work style is hybrid, compared to 32% preferring hybrid pre-pandemic. The point is, there's been a lot of change that has happened since March 2020 so work life in 2021 and beyond will need to be flexible.

Take me for example, I’m a 2020 college graduate who’s entered the corporate world during a global pandemic. I’ve never collaborated with my coworkers IRL or commuted in Seattle traffic since I started my role a year ago. Going back to the office actually won’t be going back at all, it will be going in for the first time! The feelings and experiences I will have heading back into the office will be completely different than that of someone who’s been at their company for 10+ years, or a new mom who entered motherhood amidst COVID. And that’s true for the millions of people who have switched or started new roles in the last 14 months. We can’t forget about them and their experience as we think about going back into the office.

What will hybrid company culture look like?

Transitioning into a hybrid work model won't be as simple as flipping a switch. With some employees staying fully remote forever, others ready and eager to jump back to five days a week in the office, and some who just want to experiment with one or two days a week for now, this hybrid workplace is going to be even more of a challenge to tackle culture-wise than when we were all collectively doing the remote thing last March. It feels like we all finally figured out solutions for really great virtual events and hit our stride with the remote adjustment and now we have to sort out a 50/50 model, 70/30 model, or whatever solution our businesses are deciding on. There's no cookie cutter solution.

How do we address this? How do we best prepare? When everyone's working in different places and making more decisions about their work life than ever before, how do we create a sense of unity and camaraderie? The simple answer is: It's complicated.

But, we're here to help, so here are a few things to consider when thinking through the implications of hybrid/flex work on corporate culture and your company's plan to get back to some form of in-person work.

It looks different for everyone

Empathy is key, understand your team and employees' situations (Will they be the only one staying fully remote? Are they a new hire who’s never met the team in person?). Understand that each employee's experience is unique, and figure out a plan to address each of their needs. This can be a stressful transition for many and it will look different for everyone. There simply won't be a "one size fit all" approach to moving back to the office (if at all).

What's right for one business, isn't right for every business

Similarly, how one company transitions back into the office (or doesn't) isn't necessarily the holy grail and answer for every organization. Expect your employees to see how their friends' and families' businesses switch gears and know they'll have opinions about it—and that's fine! This is a great opportunity to remind them about who you are as a company and draw a clear connection to how that influenced your back-in-office decision. And make sure you back that up with continuing to prioritize team bonding and corporate culture.

We're all shooting in the dark

Luckily, your company is not the only one trying to devise a perfect plan to make all their employees happy and healthy and do this whole "back to the office" thing right. We're all learning as we go. But the good news is there are companies (hint, hint: us) who already have and are improving upon solutions for flex work. The employees who often own culture building activities have a lot of other stuff on their plate, don't be afraid to use a solution like Mystery to streamline this transition as much as possible.

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