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There is an interesting paradox that employees in hybrid work environments are experiencing that is keeping leaders up at night. Seventy-three percent of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, AND, 67 percent are craving more in-person time with their teams. This is what Microsoft refers to as the ‘hybrid paradox’ and I’m willing to bet that your organisation hasn’t nailed the balancing act of this yet.

Not to be put off by a slightly academic term and the seemingly unsolvable nature of a paradox, leaders have jumped into writing up their flexible work policies and rolling out their new ways of working, ‘hybrid-style’. I imagine this happening with the same gusto as a Marie Kondo enthusiast who’s found a winter wardrobe that hasn’t seen the words “spring” or “clean” in a decade.

And so they turn to the other side of the paradox: connection. This one feels more daunting….

How do we create a great culture, build connection and camaraderie when we aren’t always working within the same four walls anymore?

This is the question we posed to Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab at Inventium’s recent Workplaces of the Future Virtual Event. His answer does not disappoint.

Murph starts by flipping our question: How can we greatly enhance our culture now that we are not beholden to four walls and a roof? At the heart of this question is a shift in mindset – a shift away from scarcity (‘We can only build culture if we are working together in the same location’’) to opportunity (‘How can we enhance culture now that we have the entire world at our disposal?’).

As Murph points out, intentionally designing spaces to foster informal communication and build connection is not new and the same requirement exists for the virtual world. I recall when moving from a traditional cubicled office to a new open-plan office. There was a significant (financial, people and time) investment that went into designing spaces for people to bump into each other, converse and connect – the expansive kitchenettes oriented around family-style breakfast bars, the bustling internal cafe and the internal staircase. And while in the past we have hired architects to design our physical work spaces, Murph suggests the next generation of workplaces will need to invest instead in ‘virtual architects’ to design spaces that optimise culture.

So, what investment has your organisation made into designing your virtual working environment to structure informal communication and create camaraderie? And are you exploring the opportunity of building culture by leveraging the spaces outside of a traditional office?

Here are two examples of culture-building rituals from Gitlab and Inventium (two remote organisations) that invite the exploration of the world outside of a traditional office:

  1. Repurpose Happy Hour: Instead of gathering hoards of people together at the same time for a virtual happy hour, Murph shared how Gitlab instead invites people to don their company swag and at any time in the week, go out into their community and do something that is meaningful to them and moves their community forward – for example, volunteer at the community garden or read at the local library. The only ask is that they take a selfie while doing the activity and share it. As a result, leaders not only have a collection of content to use at the next team day to share, but have also created a sense of belonging by helping people connect to their colleagues and what matters to them in their local community, despite never coming together physically.

  2. Asynchronous Connection: In the last five weeks of 2021, Inventium got on board the “Big for Small” campaign. The premise was to support and invest in small local businesses hit hard by the pandemic and various lockdowns across Australia. As a BCorp, we look for any opportunity to ‘do good’, whether that is through the services we offer, the way we treat our employees or the way we impact our community. Each employee was able to use their company credit card and, each week, spend $50 at a small local business. We were then invited to post a photo and shout out to the local business in our social WhatsApp group. All up we spent $2095 at local candle makers, family-run restaurants and nail salons. In the process, we learnt about our team members’ local communities – from our latest recruit up in Brisbane, to our CEO in Port Macquarie, while experiencing a new opportunity to live up to our organisational values of doing good each day.

Both of these initiatives are built off of the premise that team members are not physically co-located, and this is an opportunity to be taken advantage of. They provide opportunities for employees to connect in ways that are unique to them and the space they now work in while also connecting people to the values of their shared organisation.

As we continue to hear about the ‘great reshuffle’ here in Australia, Murph hypothesised that “The most progressive organisations will empower company culture to largely be built outside of work” and those that embrace this early on will be able to attract great talent. So, how will you embrace the opportunity of many four walls to build a culture of connection and camaraderie?