The modern workplace has evolved. More employees now expect the freedom to work from home or the office — and that includes employees at manufacturing companies.
The reality is that business leaders find themselves struggling to adapt. Their office staff expects more flexibility and managers are scrambling to find new ways to manage people who are no longer in a fixed location.
But while most people naturally gravitate towards technology as the solution to these challenges, they will eventually realize that technology by itself isn’t the answer. Technology is an enabler.
Every business should begin with a healthy hybrid culture to unlock the full potential of their people, then look to a strong technology strategy to enable the cultural shift.
Companies that successfully execute on enabling hybrid workplace and culture will lead their markets into the future. That’s a fact. Successful hybrid workplace execution will drive employee satisfaction and better results in the long run.
What is a Hybrid Culture?
Every workplace has a “culture” that is the combination of all the written and unwritten rules of the organization blended together with management’s expectations and values.
By its nature, it is hard to define, and yet everyone knows it when they experience it. For in-person office spaces, this culture was built around a central location and physically present people.
Hybrid workplaces and remote environments must develop a culture, too.
A hybrid culture is about allowing your employees the flexibility and autonomy to work in a way that makes them feel most productive.
The danger lies where this is left to grow in a leadership vacuum when the executive team makes all the decisions based on assumptions about their employees’ work styles and thoughts on being in or out of the office.
Once you learn to recognize what beneficial culture looks like to you and your employees, you can shape it, turning it into an asset that unlocks your people’s (and your business’) full potential. That’s what a hybrid culture is all about.
Why Shaping Your Culture is Key
Glassdoor released a study that ranked a number of factors that matter to employees. Culture and values came out on top, followed closely by “senior leadership.”
Taken together, this shows that if leadership leads by creating a culture that is collaborative, supportive, and works for both management and employees, the benefits to the business are significant.
A recent study by O.C. Tanner demonstrated that a positive hybrid culture could have extremely positive effects.
Businesses that embraced flexibility realized much higher employee engagement and retention. Those who successfully created a culture that allowed for connection and recognition also saw increases in productivity.
Clearly, a healthy hybrid culture is important. Without guardrails established by leadership, however, your business will be hard-pressed to deliver on its mission.
The 5 Essential Elements to a Healthy Hybrid Culture
There are five characteristics that make up the hybrid culture found in any workplace. How your leadership shapes and defines each one will determine the bedrock of your business's unique culture.
1. Flexibility & Freedom (within a framework)
Your employees need to have a common understanding of what’s expected of them, in a general sense, and what core guidelines should drive their decisions. The “framework.”
Armed with a framework for decision-making, they should feel that they are free to create in their own way. Whether it's in-person or primarily remote, or an equal combination of both, the freedom and autonomy of WHERE they create can truly impact the quality and creativity of WHAT they produce.
But how do we achieve this when employees are oft separated – Some in the office, some not in the office?
The key is to adopt a “virtual first” mindset.
This means that everything that happens does so with an eye to making sure it is communicated effectively over your digital channels. Any information generated in a face-to-face meeting should be “streamed” into an effective collaboration system so it can be used by anyone, from anywhere, at any time.
Holding in-person/virtual combined meetings, and streaming the meeting content into a collaboration system, such as Microsoft Teams, enables just this.
You and your employees are used to personal check-ins. Managers used to be able to stop by workspaces and talk over essential instructions and guidelines. You can still do that virtually!
Collaboration software allows everyone to be involved in the workflow that needs to participate. Not only that, it allows for later reference for either the employee or the manager without requirement of being onsite.
Employees want feedback and guidance to produce what they need. Today's tools give managers an unprecedented opportunity to lead and teach, regardless of location.
Siloed employees are rarely effective. Using collaboration tools will allow your people to mix and work together no matter where they are.
One of the most effective ways to ensure collaboration is to work towards reducing a bias toward being present. Rarely is the location of work as important as access to data and team members. Adopting the aforementioned “virtual first” approach eliminates this limitation.
In a hybrid work model, everyone has ready access to their projects, information, and team members regardless of role and location.
This one is a double-edged sword. Working remotely gives your employees the ability to work when they are at their peak. It allows them to easily work around family and other life issues that crop up.
Instead of being at work worried and anxious about things outside of the 9 to 5, they can focus and produce. However, the downside is that people also feel as if they are “on-call” 24-7.
Cultivating an environment where people know they can choose whether to respond “after hours” is vital. Some of your people will work all the time, for others, their downtime is essential for productivity.
This is where faith in the people you have hired comes in. They interviewed and you hired them for a reason. Trust is a key component of a healthy and effective hybrid workplace.
A successful hybrid culture allows your people to meet the goals and deadlines you set in their own way. If what is important to you is high-quality work being completed by the deadline, trust your people to get the job done.
When your employees feel autonomy over their work, in most cases they are intrinsically motivated to work harder. Feeling trusted is powerful.
How a Hybrid Culture can Work in Manufacturing
The hybrid culture that you develop can even be applied to the shop floor in a manufacturing setting. Staff that works remotely will still need the same access to data that they had when they could simply walk out onto the shop floor and get it. This provides an opportunity to evaluate, automate and take the shop floor data collection and tracking procedures into the digital space.
Integrating your production force into the development of these new processes will give them a sense of ownership and inclusion while increasing the opportunities for innovative and more efficient ways of doing things.
Leadership, along with engineering, logistics, sales, and marketing will all have more efficient access to data and a better view of what is happening on the shop floor.
While production work cannot generally be done virtually, some of the workflows, training, and onboarding processes that go into it can be.
The reality for shop workers, however, is that their work location won’t change. Yet, you can still engage your employees no matter where they are and bring the best parts of hybrid culture to the shop floor.
We see hybrid workplaces leveraging collaboration tools to enable shop workers to stay connected to everything else going on in the business, despite being physically disconnected from the “front office” activities.
Shop workers have valuable insights that should be taken into account, they should be offered a simple way to share their values with others.
Why Companies that Only Think of Technology Fail to Thrive
Technology is an enabler that too many businesses have thought was the key to transitioning into a hybrid work environment. But the culture shift required to effectively execute on a hybrid workplace is actually a business issue.
The future of work is hybrid. Creating a hybrid culture that is flexible and works for both management and employees will never get in the way of your mission and vision. It will only enhance the ability to deliver on them.
The leading companies are following this simple formula:
- Establish and communicate your mission, values, and organizational goals - set the framework for aligned decision-making
- Clearly define expectations and measurables for each department and employee
- Implement the collaboration technology that can enable a “virtual first” approach
This is a highly simplified approach, but it covers the essence of the overall effort.
As an IT company, we have been privileged to see businesses decide what they want their new culture to look and feel like first, and then give their people the tools to be successful within that framework.
By taking this approach, experience and data have shown that you will attract better talent, retain the best talent, and create an overall healthy workplace well into the future.
The definition of mission, values, goals, and overall culture is largely up to each business leadership team. We would encourage you to seek outside help from a business success-focused technology partner to implement the complementary collaboration solutions to properly adopt a collaboration solution.
Getting started is easier than you might think.