Podcast (EB&Flow)

Maintaining Company Culture with the New Hybrid Workplace

January 24, 2022

The pandemic has taught many businesses that they can be just as efficient with employees working remotely as they can with all of them in a traditional office setting. Many workers also learned they liked the flexibility of being remote and not tied to an office space.

As a result, many businesses are looking at creating a hybrid workplace, one where employees split time between being in the office and working remotely. But how do you keep the company culture and continue to build the informal mentorship and other relationships that happened when workers shared the same space every day? Eide Bailly’s Chief Human Resources Officer Lisa Fitzgerald joins the EB & Flow podcast to talk about creating a successful hybrid workplace and why this could be a permanent change in the workforce.

There's several things that you can do to maintain your company culture with the new hybrid workplace. Keep communicating – a lot of communication and transparency. Have regular check ins with people to see how they're doing and to talk about the vision of the organization is really important. Survey your organization to see where people are at and try to figure out where gaps are and how you can help people stay engaged. Through some of those survey questions, have in person gatherings where it's appropriate and safe to do so are important.

– Lisa Fitzgerald

Contact us if you have any questions about the topic of this episode or to inquire about any business challenges you are experiencing.

Clinton LarsonHOST

Clinton Laron
Media Relations Manager 
Eide Bailly


Lisa Fitzgerald, SPHR
Chief Human Resources Officer
Eide Bailly

Show Notes and Resources

The Transcript

Clinton Larson: Welcome to EB & Flow, I'm your host, Clinton Larson, and today's topic is going to be about the hybrid workplace. And joining me to talk about that is once again the chief human resources officer at Eide Bailly, Lisa Fitzgerald. Thanks for coming back to the podcast, Lisa.

Lisa Fitzgerald: Thanks for having me, Clinton.

Clinton Larson: And I would like to start with a very pointed question. You and I used to see each other every day, pretty much on a daily basis. And so I'm going to ask you, if you can remember, when was the last time that you and I saw each other face to face?

Lisa Fitzgerald: Oh my goodness, Clinton, I would guess maybe February of '19.

Clinton Larson: I actually don't have an answer to that question because I don't know myself. But the reason I bring that up is because I feel like given our topic and what our listeners are probably going through too, you know, they, I'm sure, have similar stories, right people that they saw every day that they now have not seen in a very long time because there's been a fundamental shift, obviously in how we work and how we interact with our coworkers because of the pandemic, you know the office dynamic that we're all used to, it vanished virtually overnight.

Lisa Fitzgerald: It did. And let me say, Clinton, I do miss seeing you in the office. I'm back some days, though, feel free to stop by and see me. So yeah, I, you're right. I think we're fundamentally changed. And there's very. I'm an old HR person, so there's a few points in history that I can think of where our workforce has fundamentally been changed and this is certainly one of them. I think that we will continue to work in a more blended way going forward. Most businesses, most organizations that are able to do so will work differently in the future.

Clinton Larson: And that's one of the things we learned from the pandemic. We had to go remote virtually overnight and, you know, but we figured it out, right? And now we're seeing many organizations want to get back to that traditional office setting because we all see the light at the end of the tunnel. We want to say, OK, maybe we can go back to something that resembles normal. But I think a lot of employees are saying, Well, wait a minute, I kind of like this remote work. I kind of like some of the things that are happening right now. How can we come to an agreement on what that means? And that, I think brings us right to our topic of the hybrid workplace and what that exactly means. So maybe we should just start from the beginning and say and define what does a hybrid workplace mean?

Lisa Fitzgerald: Hybrid workplace means really a blended model of where I work. So I may work in the office some, but I may work from home or another designation or another location of my choosing. The other part of my normal work week. So it's really a blended model of in-office and working from where I want to work the rest of those days.

Clinton Larson: And I know you've done some work with clients aside from just your role of an HR at Eide Bailly. So have you seen a lot of organizations moving to this kind of idea? Have they been discussing it? What's sort of the feeling you get from a lot of organizations now as they get out of the pandemic?

Lisa Fitzgerald: Many, many, many organizations are moving to a hybrid workplace, and I think the larger conversations I've been having around that aren't around should I do it as an organization, they're around how do I do it as an organization? So how do I evaluate what positions might really need to be in an office? And I challenge that. I really do, because I think we've there are several roles that we've said traditionally have to be in an office, and I ask our clients to think differently about that.

So why do they need to be in the office? What are they doing that requires them to be there? And certainly there are some roles and certain businesses that it makes much more sense for people to be in the office. But I think it's important to challenge yourself to think about why does that person need to really be in the office? Is there a different way to do that work that we've done in the past that would allow someone that same flexibility to work hybrid or even remote most of their time?

Clinton Larson: In terms of setting those boundaries and expectations around creating a hybrid workplace? What are some pieces of advice that you would have for businesses who are? Like you said, most businesses aren't really considering this anymore. It's one of those things that people are saying, OK, this is something we have to have. So how can they start the process of building those boundaries and expectations about what daily life is going to be like for their workers?

Lisa Fitzgerald: Right. I think there's a number of things you can do, but I think first of all, you've got to have individual conversations with your performers to decide what is best for them or what do they want, and then have a discussion about what makes sense mutually for them as an employee and you as the employer. And then very clear expectations for performance and when work gets done, perhaps so some jobs, we may be able to do the work at night, and that's just fine. I spend some time with my kids after they come home from school and I jump back online, but other roles need to be done during set hours, so definitely expectations around hours, when they're worked, number of hours worked.

How this impacts my career, if it does at all. So is there implications for me working remotely that will speed up my career and having really honest conversations about what that looks like. I think it's also really important to have conversations, crucial conversations in a timely manner. So it all goes back to being deliberate and intentional. So if there is a performance issue that comes up, those are things that need to be addressed immediately. Sometimes it's easier when somebody is out of sight, out of mind to think, Oh, OK, I'll deal with that issue with them next time I see him or whatever it may be, and I think we can't put off having those good performance conversations.

But I also think in the end, what kind of governs how you go forward as the organization is a good policy in this in this space. So what are the expectations? Who gets to work in these different models? When might something like this be pulled back in terms of, you know, maybe a hybrid model isn't going well for you and your individual performance. So when might those conversations happen? And I also think just even clearly defining what your organization means by hybrid model or what your organization means by working remotely and just having some standard definition around that. So when you're talking about these things in your everyday work life, you're all talking about the same thing.

Clinton Larson: So as businesses begin to communicate what their hybrid workplace is going to look like. Once they get into some of the nuts and bolts of those conversations that you're talking about, you know, with understanding what their employees want and what they need, and then also trying to translate that into a policy that then they can refer back to, what are some of the tips you could give businesses and organizations on communicating their hybrid workplace policy to their employees to make sure that everyone feels heard, and also that the organization is establishing something that they can rely on to be consistent going forward?

Lisa Fitzgerald: Right. I would say I would start way before policy. I do think policy is important and of course I'm an HR person, so I'm going to say policy is important, but I think it's really before that, right? So it's communicating where you're headed conceptually and again being very transparent. So talking about, hey, we're looking at this hybrid work model as our model going forward, for example, and starting to sketch out what that means again, so that you're all talking about the same thing and using the same terminology. So you're having discussions about what hybrid work is. You're having discussions with your staff about when you think that those types of arrangements will be rolled out. You're talking with staff about what this means for their career, how this impacts them.

But I think those are those are individual conversations, certainly. But as an organization, having these conversations in town hall meetings or written communication or your newsletters or whatever, whatever means you use to communicate with a large population of your workforce, you should be starting that before you ever roll out a policy. Right. So we're talking about all the things that go into hybrid work and the policies shouldn't be a surprise. Then it's all the things you've been talking about for weeks or months rolled into one document that outlines expectations.

So the policy is definitely the piece of the puzzle. Policy is the part that's going to live in and breathe and guide going forward. But certainly, when we're talking about change management, these are discussions that need to be happening before a policy comes out. So people understand why your organization is moving to this type of model or why you've chosen not to maybe in some cases, or why certain positions are not going to be able to work in a hybrid model, for example. So all of those things should come first and then the policy should be in a nice bow on top, but it shouldn't contain really any surprises. The discussion should have already happened, either in large groups or individually by the time a policy ever comes to be.

Clinton Larson: And what are you seeing from other businesses and other organizations in terms of how many people want to go into the office every day? How many people want this hybrid model that we've been discussing and how many people are just saying, like, No, I like this remote work. I want to stay here. Have you have you seen trends there in any way?

Lisa Fitzgerald: What I've seen in our organization, but also what I've seen play out in clients that are saying they're going to offer hybrid work is about 20 percent of staff or employees say, Nope, I'm that person that prefers to go in every single day. And about 20 percent are saying, I don't really ever care to come back into the office. And then there's about 60 percent in the middle that are more like I'd like a few days in and a few days out. And I'd like really I'd like a lot of flexibility with what my days in and out are. And maybe it's three days in the office one week, but the next week is two. But overall, I'm coming in, you know, 50 percent of the time, but it's about 20 on either side, 20 percent all in the office, 20 percent, 100 percent remote and about 60 percent that are wanting to come back into an office.

That may change over time, Clinton, as we as more and more people have been working remotely for longer. But that's generally the benchmark that I've been seeing, and I think that's played out for most of the clients that I work with and then also for Eide Bailly.

Clinton Larson: That's interesting because that makes it definitely seem like this is not something that's just sort of a post-pandemic transition. This is something that's probably going to become a permanent part of the workplace going forward. Would you agree with that?

Lisa Fitzgerald: I would. I really would agree. I think this COVID has fundamentally changed our work landscape. And I don't anticipate it going back anytime soon. I do think there are some people that are craving more interaction or they're tired of working from their apartment or whatever it may be. And so I think it'll swing back some in terms of people realizing maybe as more people are able to gather that they're missing out on collaboration opportunities. So I think some more people come back into the office that maybe thought they weren't going to. But I but I don't think we're going to ever, at least in my working lifetime, see a model where in again in most organizations, see a model where everybody's back in the office all the time.

Clinton Larson: And so if people aren't in the office all the time and we have people who are fully remote who just prefer that way of working, how do we make sure that they are remaining engaged with each other and with the organization and its goals? How do you make sure that people still feel that company culture that we all got so used to in, you know, when we were all in the office together?

Lisa Fitzgerald: I think there's several things that you can do. One is keep communicating right. I think right, the name of the game has been here, lots of communication and lots of transparency. So we think having regular check ins with people again to see how they're doing, to talk about vision of the organization is really important. Doing some surveying to just see where people are at and try to figure out where gaps are and how you may help people stay engaged. So through some of those survey questions, in person gatherings where it's appropriate and safe to do so are important.

You know, a lot of my current team isn't in the office. We're not all together, but we're grabbing lunch once in a while. And I had someone say to me like, Oh, this is maybe really all I need is just to see each other's faces once in a while. So creating safe spaces to have small groups or groups of people get together is important. Ongoing communication from your leadership teams about the state of the organization and the vision of the organization going forward, the health of the organization, reinforcing culture, culture statements or any of those types of things that your organization may have already at play and weaving those in to discussions and continuing to talk about how culture is important and why we're great at what we do and how we serve our customers. I think is also really, really important.

Rerecruiting our existing staff. So having conversations about why they're there, what makes them stay, what would make them leave and addressing any concerns, I think, is also really, really important.

Clinton Larson: And there's another side of that, too, from a management perspective in terms of like, you know, how do I maintain the relationships I need to maintain to mentor people, to give people the opportunity to build their skill set, to grow their career, when I don't see them every day in the office. You know, there is very much, I think a face to face meeting with your manager was, you know, such a critical part of the office life, you know, before. So now when we're not when we don't have that option, or maybe that option just isn't as efficient as it used to be, how can how can we make sure that our people get the mentorship opportunities they need? How can we make sure that they're building their skill sets in ways? And how can we make sure that we're monitoring performance in a way that boosts everyone involved?

Lisa Fitzgerald: Right. I think one of the things that happens in organizations is really the informal mentoring and learning that happens right. The walk by a conference room, see people in, stop by. Pass in the hallway, ask a question. So informal development and learning is nonexistent in some cases, right? So how do you make up for that? And that's the hard part. But it really comes down to intention and being intentional and deliberate. I don't know how else to really say it. It's, I now recognize I didn't have that hallway conversation or I'm not having those anymore.

Therefore, I would have to schedule more time to have those conversations very deliberately weekly, daily, whatever it may be. But I think the role of the manager becomes more difficult, more challenging in this new world of work, because you're the conduit between how your employees perform and what the organization is expecting for performance and results.

But you've got to work really hard and be really deliberate about your interactions and about people's development overall. Some of it happened kinda through osmosis Clinton, like you were saying right before. And that just isn't going to happen in the same way. So we have to be deliberate and intentional and have really good conversations.

Clinton Larson: Yeah, I totally agree. I think this is going to be a monumental change for a lot of us in terms of the office dynamics that we're used to and where we go from here, it's really hard to tell. I think, like you said, it's going to be a permanent change. But what that change means in the long run is going to be really hard to say. We're all just going to have to kind of figure it out together, kind of like we did in the beginning of the pandemic, I guess.

Lisa Fitzgerald: Exactly. And I think that's important to tell your teams, right? We're trying this. We're figuring this out as we go too and just to be open and honest about, we may pivot, we may change, we may pull back, we may make a different decision. We're navigating this right along with you, and we'll just make sure we communicate well and upfront of any changes that we need to make as we navigate this new world of work.

Clinton Larson: Right? So, yeah, more to come. And this has been a really great topic, Lisa. And I appreciate you being on the podcast again, and I look forward to seeing you again in the office soon!

Lisa Fitzgerald: I hope so, Clinton! Thanks for having me today.