Shaping Hybrid Work Culture with the Microsoft Ecosystem

In this article, learn how and why shaping your work culture can tremendously impact your company's work environment for the better.

Table of Content

    Providing opportunities for professional growth, offering mental health support, and promoting work-life balance are all crucial for building a positive company culture.

    When employees feel valued and supported, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated, regardless of their work environment.

    Which, seems, well,… obvious. It’s just that getting things right when it comes to hybrid culture is neither easy nor straightforward.

    Like, how, exactly, are you supposed to foster a sense of togetherness when people can’t all gather in one place? What about those magical “lightbulb” moments at the water cooler? Or the serendipitous breakthroughs that happen when two great minds just happen to collide in a hallway?

    Business Leaders Guide to the New Digital AgeBusiness Leaders Guide to the New Digital Age

    Technology can help us drive the human-centric interactions we’re looking for. But – it needs to be implemented strategically and with care. This chapter will look at what goes into building a healthy hybrid culture – and what tech, tools, and tactics you need in order to make that happen.

    Build Community on a New (and More Human) Foundation

    According to Gartner HR experts, employees experience culture differently in a hybrid environment. 76% of workers say organizational culture is important for them to be effective in their role.

    90% of HR leaders surveyed in the same report told researchers  they need to operate in a more “human” way moving forward in order to succeed in the future.

    Clearly, strengthening “cultural connectedness” is a top priority for any company pursuing hybrid enablement — in any capacity. 

    However, business leaders will need to update their workforce strategies in order to make that happen.

    Shaping Hybrid Work Culture with the Microsoft Ecosystem

    Gartner analysts identified three strategic approaches for building those connections:

     

    1. Work. Building connections through work involves making employees aware of the value they bring to the table, and how much that value hinges on them being attached to a particular location.

    Help employees discover what personal value might be gained from work. Then, give them the resources and support they need to design their experience and grow professionally.

    Audit work processes against company values/goals to ensure that they’re aligned.

     

    1. Emotional Proximity. Here, the goal is creating a sense of empathy for the org’s mission and values. Experts recommend focusing on the following areas to build that “emotional bond” among colleagues:
    • Identify which moments matter most. Like, when are people most likely to feel “seen” or appreciated by others in the org? For example, Microsoft found that meeting in-person has a significant impact during onboarding – helping new hires integrate with their new teams.
    • What can you do to recreate those kinds of  moments more intentionally? If we’re still talking about onboarding, that might mean connecting them with a “buddy” who can help them learn the ropes IRL. 
    • What’s in it for them? Make sure to also help your team understand which situations benefit most by being together in-person.

     

    1. Micro-Based Experiences. Gartner advises leaders to take a “minimalist approach” to enforcing the broader “macro-culture.”  Instead, it’s better to provide a loose framework for building smaller cultures among teams. 

    The macro-culture should act as a guide for achieving shared goals, aligning around shared values, and operating from a place of shared understanding re: how to support customers.    

    Gartner also notes that the “macro-culture” functions as a tool for identifying and correcting toxic behaviors and rewarding positive contributions and individual differences – not blind compliance with the “big brand.” 

    For the record, the 2022 Microsoft New Future of Work Survey identified five main attributes as “toxic:” disrespectful, non-inclusive, unethical, cutthroat, and abusive, 

    Shaping Hybrid Work Culture with the Microsoft Ecosystem

    Define Workplace Expectations 

    Anne Helen Petersen, co-author of Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home says people need to know what’s expected of them.

    In a Microsoft WorkLab roundup, she explained that new work environments require entirely new work cultures. For example, every organization has its own norms re: how to use different communication channels and for what purpose. 

    There’s a bit of a learning curve for new hires navigating any office setting. But – usually, those employees pick up most things through observation, and a veteran colleague will gently help them figure out the rest.

    With hybrid, we’ve all been thrown into uncharted waters. It’s hard to know how to behave in a virtual meeting or which emojis are deemed “professional” enough for company communications. 

    Create Guidelines for Different Channels & Tools

    For some people, not “knowing the rules” can be really disorienting. Petersen advises companies to develop a digital onboarding process to avoid this issue and win buy-in among skeptical employees.

    To do this, you’ll need to consider things like: 

    • How formal or casual should messages be when communicating with different audiences? 
    • What communication norms apply to each channel – i.e. email vs. Teams? 
    • Which tools should be used for what scenarios? Like, when is it appropriate to message a colleague on Teams versus sending them an email? 
    • What kind of rules apply to internal forums, news feeds, and support channels?
    • When do cameras need to be on versus off during meetings?

    According to Carolyn Norton, Director of Cloud at Velosio, there are practical reasons that a team might need guidelines for, say, when to use chat vs. email vs. video conferencing. 

    “I talk to my team all the time — but regardless of having chats and meetings, everyone still kind of defaults to email for communication. There’s nothing inherently wrong with email, but in our scenario, it’s not really the best option for asking a colleague a quick question or sending a doc.” 

    She explains that, at Velosio, our teams work closely with clients. So, if our internal folks are sending too many emails, it potentially doubles the amount of emails passing through the inbox. So, it then becomes harder to keep up with client communications. 

    Ultimately, it’s about making sure people are working in the ways most effective for them – and their teammates. 

    Keep in mind, you’ll need a system for communicating and reinforcing tech-specific norms. If emailing back and forth is slowing people down, setting a “no emails” policy won’t work unless you give people a viable alternative. 

    Create Team Agreements – as a Team

    Employees and leaders should work together to establish how they’d like to work together moving forward. 

    Establish norms that work for everyone.Teams can decide what days they’d like to collaborate in person, when to hold recurring meetings, and what habits they’d adopt to ensure hybrid success. 

    Be sure you document and share team agreements once they’ve been finalized so everyone stays on the same page. 

    Find New Ways to Stick Together

    Building a strong company culture and fostering a sense of community is crucial for any organization. But, in a hybrid environment, employees have fewer built-in opportunities to connect “IRL”  – whether that’s for learning, collaboration, or even just a bit of fun. 

    When these elements disappear from everyday work, orgs need to work harder to facilitate that shared sense of community, belonging, and purpose. 

    Create Dedicated Interest Groups

    Internally, we’ve had a lot of success with affinity groups built around various interests. 

    There’s a virtual networking group for women at Velosio, which connects employees with other female-identifying colleagues – even if they haven’t yet met in person. 

    Another group that exists for the express purpose of exchanging cute photos of Velosio pets. On the surface, a pet affinity group might seem like a low-priority. 

    Building a dedicated pet chat might seem like an unlikely IT investment. But, Velosio Chief People Officer Liz Corey, says creating low-stakes opportunities to connect can actually create a good amount of business value. 

    Making room for light-hearted interactions helps build trust and nurture connections. And, since conversations are structured loosely around a single interest, shy employees may be more likely to join in. 

    On the company side, informal channels often reveal new information about employee interests and priorities. Liz says, “if HR sees a spike in activity in the pet channel, offering a benefits package that includes pet insurance is one way a company can align their strategy with employee priorities.”

    Develop Your Own Social Network

    One option is creating a personalized news stream or internal social network.You can do this by creating a team site in SharePoint to publish news, share approved content, and enable @mentions and DMs between colleagues.

    You can integrate that site with Viva Engage and Viva Connections, which work together to surface relevant learning content, news, and upcoming events, and engage with colleagues in a social context.

    Shaping Hybrid Work Culture with the Microsoft Ecosystem

    Liz says, “employees can use Viva at work the same way they might use Facebook to see updates from their friends, catch up on news, and chat with one another. With Viva, employees can share status updates on a project or introduce a new hire to their team.”

    Shaping Hybrid Work Culture with the Microsoft Ecosystem

    Security firm GardaWorld used Viva Connections to build an app called Teams-Connect, which solved the long-standing problem of connecting its distributed network of more than 120k security pros to the broader company culture.

    While it’s mostly a practical field enablement solution, the app is an all-in-one hub for communicating with on-site coworkers, sharing feedback, accessing resources, and engaging socially with far-off colleagues.

    While the GardaWorld IT team was able to build the app in just six months using reusable components and existing tools (i.e. Teams, MS 365), keeping the app topped up with fresh content is a major commitment.

    Inclusivity & Accessibility Must Become Top Priorities 

    Microsoft employee survey data from 2021 revealed that embracing differences in personality, work styles, preferences, and individual needs/accommodations is central to hybrid success. 

    That might mean making collaboration more accessible for disabled employees or arming neurodiverse workers with tools that help them better navigate interpersonal challenges. 

    Whatever the case, Teams includes a whole bunch of features that help make hybrid meetings more inclusive – be it supporting people with disabilities, giving neurodiverse employees the tools they need to succeed, or just making it easier for everyone to follow along. 

    Here’s what’s new:

    •  Captions & Transcriptions. Live-captions and transcriptions help employees who are hard of hearing follow along and participate in meetings. Transcriptions can benefit people with learning disabilities, giving them the ability to capture information in text, rather than audio only. It also provides participants with a record of what was discussed – allowing them to catch up on anything that was missed or reference that discussion later on.
    • Enhance Participation. Teams users can now contribute to discussions without speaking. They can enable Together Mode to focus on participants’ faces and body language, making it easier to interpret non-verbal cues. Participants can also raise their hands to notify presenters when they have a question or something to add – then enter their contribution via chat. There’s also the option to add praises like claps or thumbs up to encourage colleagues without interrupting the meeting or talking over anyone.
    •  Reduce distractions. Teams includes features that help neurodiverse employees control potential distractions in their environment – light, movement, etc. so they can better focus on speakers and engage more fully. 

    For more on creating accessible content in Teams and the rest of Microsoft 365, we recommend checking out the Accessibility fundamentals module in the MS Learning Center.

    Design for Flexibility

    Microsoft’s Future of Work survey found that nearly 75% of employees said flexibility was their number one priority when searching for a new job. 

    Hybrid environments often allow employees to choose where and how they work – sometimes even, during varying hours. So, the fact that employees prefer this arrangement to the rigid 9-5s of yesteryear, is maybe the least surprising stat we’ve ever heard.

    Still, critics of hybrid and remote models see flexibility as a threat to company culture.

    Yes, it’s harder to align around a shared sense of purpose when everyone has their own work style and preferences. But, Gartner researchers argue, flexibility can also strengthen employees’ connection to their company’s culture. 

    Microsoft experts agree, but say that flexibility is all about striking the right balance. Building a successful hybrid culture hinges on embracing what the company calls the “hybrid paradox.”  

    Basically, employees want the flexibility to set their own schedules and work from anywhere. But, at the same time, they crave more in-person connection. 

    Liz explains that people are demanding more flexibility in terms of their work schedule. 

    Meeting those demands, she says, “is about keeping communication channels open, respecting individual preferences, and helping all employees reach their full potential. But, really, a lot of this boils down to simpler things like effectively leveraging calendars and making sure you’re having effective meetings.”

    The point is, when you’re able to demonstrate that you’re not just hearing people, but actually responding to their needs, well-being improves – as do customer outcomes, process efficiencies, and of course, your profit margins.

    If you need help figuring this out, this Hybrid Work Flexibility guide digs into different flexibility scenarios – and what you’ll need to consider when making decisions about employee work arrangements.

    Use Data to Drive Better Mental Health & Well-Being Outcomes

    According to Microsoft, thriving employees are a competitive advantage in our current business environment. But – sadly, many are struggling.

    A 2022 Deloitte survey found that C-suite execs significantly underestimate how much employees are struggling. One in three employees and executives say they are “constantly struggling” with poor mental health and fatigue. 

    But, even those without a serious diagnosis may still be struggling. HR Dive reports that a recent survey found that workplace stress affects most workers. Top triggers were heavier workloads, increased pressure from managers, and concerns about job stability or security. 

    We already use data to improve efficiency and boost profits — why not leverage our business insights toward making people happier at work? 

    Use Workforce Insights to Improve Outcomes

    “Viva provides visibility into how and when work gets done. Managers can go in and set automated alerts reminding workers to take a break after X amount of hours. Or, they might use it to gently remind employees that they may want to hold off on sending that after hours email,” says Principal Cloud Architect Daryl Moll. 

    Viva Insights provides advanced insights that answer specific questions about your culture, uses built-in AI to surface potential actions you might take to build resilience, fight burnout, or provide more opportunities for connection.

    Microsoft Ecosystem Viva Insights

    Track Direct & Indirect Well-Being Signals

    Viva Glint captures direct and indirect employee feedback – tracking all the little signals that might contribute to overall well-being and performance. This gives managers the opportunity to capture feedback through quick polls as well as longer voice of the employee surveys. Glint aggregates data in a single interface, connecting the dots between behavioral insights and direct feedback.

    Pfizer built a global Teams app containing several tools aimed at improving employee well-being. One of those tools is a Daily Check-In feature that prompts users to anonymously answer one question about their mental health each day. 

    For users, it’s a useful way to track mental health changes over time – and the variables that influence things like mood, energy levels, productivity, and whether employees feel included or not. For Pfizer, it’s an opportunity to capture highly-specific feedback from over 800k employee users that they can use to drive targeted improvements. 

    Dive Deeper into the Hybrid Experience

    Power BI connects with Teams, Viva, and everything else in your stack — allowing you to understand your workplace on a deeper level. Analyze the Hybrid Workforce Experience across different dimensions to measure progress against well-being metrics like work-life balance, flexible schedules, and more.

    Microsoft Ecosystem Viva Insights hybrid workforce experience

    Power BI also unlocks additional Workplace Analytics reports that you can use to learn more about employee collaboration patterns. These insights can help you understand team dynamics in a hybrid environment – and take action if something’s not working.

    Reports analyze workforce data and employee feedback against predefined goals, MS 365 activity & usage reports, and other data sources. Then, they generate actionable advice for enabling efficiency, improving well-being, scheduling face-time with individual employees, and other specific actions.

    Reports include: 

    Final Thoughts

    Providing opportunities for professional growth, offering mental health support, and promoting work-life balance are all crucial for building a positive company culture. When employees feel valued and supported, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated, regardless of their work environment.

    Ultimately, it’s about talking to people, digging into the data, and staying updated on the latest tech — and using that insight to find new opportunities to empower and support your workforce.

    While the process isn’t exactly easy, Velosio’s business transformation experts can help. 

    We’ve been through many of these challenges ourselves – and have first-hand experience building community and culture across our own distributed workforce using tools like Teams and Viva. 

    But, more than that, we’ve also helped hundreds of clients do the same. Contact us today to learn more.

     

    Enabling the Modern Worker with the Microsoft PlatformEnabling the Modern Worker with the Microsoft Platform