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Better together: why shared experiences are key to an inclusive hybrid workplace

By Rich Westman, CEO and founder of Kaido, a platform for building remote team culture…

“Always take some of the play, fun, freedom and wonder of the weekend into your week and your work,” life coach Rasheed Ogunlaru tells us. Great advice that’s hard to follow in an environment that’s increasingly divided.

Coronavirus has given rise to a new era of hybrid working. According to Microsoft, 87% of UK businesses have adapted to this a mix of home and office settings, and – latest guidance aside – staff come into the office on average between two to four days a week.

However, the transition isn’t as simple as it seems. With no firm blueprint to follow, many businesses are still operating by the parameters of a traditional, office-centric culture; even as they give people the choice to work from home.

In many places, this is leading to an unhealthy rupture between in-office and home workers, the latter of whom are being increasingly sidelined by issues such as loneliness and lack of career progression. All too often, out of sight still means out of mind for bosses, with remote employees typically taking on extra work without recognition for their efforts.

Worse still, this split is adversely affecting particular groups, e.g. mothers, who, disproportionately affected by the pandemic, are more likely to work from home due to issues such as childcare and disrupted schooling. Last month Bank of England policymaker Catherine Mann warned that women who work remotely could see their careers stall, amid the emergence of a “two track” approach for physical and virtual workers.

An awkward balancing act
The problem is no-one really knows how to navigate this new reality; a change so huge, it’s been dubbed the new industrial revolution. And, in the absence of any concrete strategy, a two-track culture may begin to alienate employees from one another.

Even if it’s subconscious, there’s a chance that mostly home versus mostly office workers will develop their own set of resentments. Homeworkers may believe their lack of visibility counts against them, while office-based employees can feel uncomfortably under the microscope.

If left unchecked, this ‘us-versus-them’ vibe can leave your team culture in tatters: not least because current measures in place to engender connection simply aren’t fit for purpose.

Two-third of employees who work from home feel disconnected from their colleagues, as employees across the board suffer record levels of stress. Add to this the fact that over 40% of global workers are thinking of quitting their jobs this year, and it’s clear that workplace satisfaction is on thin ice.

Why? I think teams, no matter where they are based, are in urgent need of shared experiences, of the kind that harness meaningful connections and long-lasting relationships. Faced with a complex hybrid structure, lots of employers simply opt to recreate physical “watercooler” moments online in the form of an online quiz, or regular Zoom catch-ups.

These events can feel short-lived and somewhat forced, however: and they don’t go far enough in ensuring that all team members are heard, and involved in the spirit of the moment. At the other end of the scale, more companies are offering their teams mental health or meditation app memberships to help deal with the fallout from the pandemic.

This idea, though commendable, doesn’t necessarily help to alleviate loneliness. It relies on an employee servicing their own individual needs, with appropriate levels of motivation and willpower. Instead, the onus is on the business to step up in being an agent for connection and change.

Creating a sense of belonging
A recent McKinsey report found that employees now value relationships and a sense of belonging above all else in a job, which means these two facets are vitally important in creating an inclusive and forward thinking culture.

Rather than naturally falling into a two-track structure of hybrid working, leaders should make deliberate and ongoing efforts to champion a one-team approach that includes everyone in the team, no matter where they’re based.

If workplace engagement doesn’t work for everyone then it simply doesn’t work. So managers should start by asking: how can we build more fulfilling and inclusive experiences that bring everyone together? The challenge in a hybrid age is not to simplify team activities, or let them run their course, but take charge with strategies that will make team experiences stronger and more creative than ever.

A specially curated digital team-building experience is a great way to start, allowing people in your company to unite for short bursts of activity each day, while also working towards a larger goal involving a series of wellbeing-related tasks.

Bonding activities could include anything from group mindfulness sessions to virtual bake-offs, woven in alongside a wider virtual challenge designed to boost team motivation and energy levels.

Rediscovering play
At Kaido, we work with clients including Google, the NHS and HSBC to implement this concept, unifying teams through fun and accessible interactions.

We believe it is essential that no-one is left out on their own: instead, companies choose a Challenge which employees can then tailor to match their personal health and wellbeing needs, providing the team with flexibility and ensuring there is something for everyone.

Every day, teams are given a new 15-minute task to complete, designed to shake up their routine and positively impact their physical and mental health – while also having fun together.

The challenges work to create a more intrinsic sense of belonging. But they’re also key to another element we often forget about in the modern age (particularly in times of Covid): play. As we get older, we tend to lose touch with our wired-in instinct to play; and yet researchers have found it’s a great means of reducing stress and boosting overall wellbeing.

Since play is a tendency we all have in common, a  great game or challenge has the effect of drawing people together into an experience, as players get fully immersed in the moment. With employees repeatedly naming camaraderie as the element of office life they miss most, play can reset the balance bringing an inherent sense of fun and joy.

Over two-thirds of Kaido clients feel more motivated after completing one of our challenges, and 66% report an increase in team interactions. These figures show just how influential curated experiences can be.

Overcoming hybrid divides is about being more mindful in how people in your workforce stay connected. It means deliberating laying the foundations of lasting, compelling team relationships in a way that appeals to all.