You can’t spell hybrid without HR: company culture in the new age of work

HR professionals share ideas for keeping culture alive no matter where employees are.

By Pamela DeLoatch — December 9, 2021

When Carli Malone started her new job in October 2021, she also entered a new style of employment: hybrid work. The global cybersecurity company she joined, Tanium, is based on the West Coast but has an office near Malone’s home in Raleigh, North Carolina. Although many Tanium employees worked remotely even before the pandemic, Malone’s role as a workplace coordinator requires her to be in the office at least some of the time to support the local staff. 

During Malone’s first week on the job, her manager flew from Los Angeles to Raleigh for a three-day in-person onboarding to help make her feel welcome and supported, and she also heard from new colleagues near and far. “Employees have reached out to meet in person, and those that may not be in the office called to meet on Zoom,” she says.

According to a recent McKinsey survey, as companies reopen their offices, nine out of 10 will be combining remote and onsite work in a hybrid model, giving employees like Malone flexibility to spend some of their time in the office and some of their time working from home. As companies navigate the logistics of who’s in the office when and for how long, human resources professionals and managers face a crucial challenge: How to maintain a strong, cohesive company culture when employees aren’t in the same physical space at any given time.

“As we’re reopening many of our offices, we have to realize that everyone is going to be in a different place and understand the challenges of each employee,” says Nicolina Marzicola, global head of HR, Commercial Organization and HR Operations.

When people work together in-person day in and day out, they build relationships just by sitting next to each other at all-company meetings or joining co-workers for a walk to get coffee. Those bonds help solidify a company’s culture — a key advantage in a competitive job market — and they’re a lot more difficult to form from a distance. 

Adapting to these changes, while also uniting a diverse, dispersed workforce behind a shared purpose requires new strategies and a thoughtful approach. Here are some insights from human resources professionals working through these challenges now.

Explain and reinforce the desired culture throughout the organization

Even without effort, a workplace culture will develop on its own. But it might not be a positive one or one that supports an organization’s broader goals — particularly when it’s developing across disparate teams who aren’t all in the same place at the same time.

David Friedman, ​​founder and CEO of CultureWise, which advises companies on how to build high-performing cultures, says that in order to create a strong culture that benefits employees, the organization, customers, and other stakeholders, leaders must know and clearly articulate the company’s culture to employees. But this isn’t just listing a set of values — they need to define the behaviors that show what culture looks like in practice.

Women working from home and man working from the office.


Adapting to the world of hybrid, while also uniting a diverse, dispersed workforce behind a shared purpose, requires new strategies and a thoughtful approach.

“Values are abstract,” he says. “Behaviors are actions people do, such as honor commitments, practice blameless problem solving, or be a fanatic about response time."

One way to help encourage culture-aligned behaviors is to create organizationwide rituals that infuse them into day-to-day work. "Take the fundamental behaviors that define your culture, then focus on one a week,” he suggests. “At every meeting that week, the first agenda item is that fundamental. If it's delivering legendary service, then discuss, what does that mean?"

Make the office an attractive place to be

When employees come to the office in a hybrid arrangement, their purpose is different than it was when in-person was the norm, Marzicola says. For example, after getting used to a no-traffic commute from the bedroom to the home office desk, many employees no longer want to spend valuable time getting to and from the office only to sit at their desks and do work they could do at home.


RELATED: Make your next hybrid meeting more engaging for everyone — in the room and on screen.


Getting employees to value the in-office experience requires adapting it to offer benefits they can’t get remotely, including providing more dedicated space for collaboration and resources that make their work more productive and efficient, like high-powered PCs, office printers, and advanced conferencing technology. HP recently introduced HP Presence, a suite of conferencing and collaboration solutions to upgrade the hybrid meeting experience, as well as Room for Zoom, a collaboration that offers kits for modular video conferencing spaces designed to bridge the gap between in-person and remote employees. 

“You’re not coming to sit at a desk from nine to five and not interact with anyone,” Marzicola says. “We have to stop and think about the reason you would come into the office. Who do you need to meet with, and for how long? What technology or other resources onsite are required?" 

Answering these questions, she says, helps ensure that time spent at the office is meaningful and appealing to employees.

Offer a supportive, ongoing onboarding experience

Companies must make sure new employees feel they belong — something that may be hard to do when an employee has never met their manager in person or stepped inside the office. When new employees quickly feel part of an organization through a thorough onboarding program, they become proficient faster and are more likely to stay. In a hybrid environment, helping employees build that sense of belonging also means expanding the idea of “onboarding” beyond the first few days on the job. After Malone’s initial three-day in-person onboarding with her manager, for example, the two continue to have weekly one-on-ones to stay connected.

“When we were together, we could get away with not being intentional. When we are remote, we can’t.”

—David Friedman, ​​founder and CEO of CultureWise

Deb Balsano, director of people operations for Colonial Pipeline, says managers should consider touching base with new employees every day for the first two weeks. “This helps the new employee who doesn’t want to bother anyone but doesn’t know the resources for some of the basic parts of the job,” she says.

A daily check-in for 15 to 20 minutes gives a new employee a chance to ask those questions and get any updates they need to help them know they’re on the right path. While this is a good practice for any new hire, it’s critical for employees who don’t have easy access to other team members in an office and for younger employees who may be starting their careers in hybrid settings.

Create opportunities for connection

The hybrid model also requires more intention around helping employees interact and form connections with each other. “How do new people meet others? You have to plan Zoom calls. You have to force an activity to take place when you’re not physically together,” Friedman says. 

Since not all employees may have the same opportunities to bump into each other during the course of their day, managers should look for ways to bring them together. For new employees, managers could pair them with mentors from different parts of the organization to help employees feel connected beyond the teams they work with directly. In meetings, team leaders can make a point of asking remote attendees to weigh in on a discussion instead of waiting for them to speak up. 

“When we were together, we could get away with not being intentional,” Friedman says. “When we are remote, we can’t.”

For employees like Malone, that focus on being intentional and responsive to hybrid employees’ evolving needs makes a huge difference. After a little more than two months on the job, she says she feels at home in her hybrid role. She feels connected with her colleagues — virtual and on-site employees use Slack channels to communicate about everything from work projects to pets — and she enjoys the combination of autonomy plus easy access to her manager when needed.

“Hybrid work truly increases my productivity and improves my work-life balance,” she says. “I’ve had a great employee experience.”