As work becomes more dispersed, the corporate culture of many organizations is waning. This article outlines some of the ways that intranet software can reconnect employees, strengthen connections, and boost corporate culture.
It’s hard to ignore that workplaces are undergoing a corporate culture crisis. Gartner’s recent poll of HR leaders found that the biggest challenge posed by hybrid working isn’t technological access or productivity but sustaining corporate culture.
According to the survey, three quarters of HR professionals feel that hybrid work disrupts employee connection to corporate culture. And, although 40% of those surveyed have increased their culture budget since the beginning of the pandemic, previous research has found that only one in four knowledge workers now feel connected to their organization’s culture.
Corporate culture in crisis
According to the director of Gartner’s HR practice, Alexia Cambon, “Hybrid and remote work hasn’t necessarily changed our culture, it’s changed the way we experience culture. While employers used to be able to frame their cultural values and hang them on the walls for employees to see, this no longer works today when hybrid and remote knowledge workers spend 65% less time in offices than before the pandemic.”
Employers must place careful consideration into how to create company values. Although the corporate culture crisis also exists because senior executives and HR leaders disagree over its value, the loss of culture – as experienced through physical proximity to branded spaces and people – is undoubtedly informed by the rise of remote work and the move away from physical communities.
The recent research highlights how organizations are finding it challenging to sustain corporate culture when physical infrastructure no longer reinforces high-level company values, mission, and vision. Crucially, it is the weakening relationships between team members that are missing from this conversation.
As people have drifted away from their desks, so too have they drifted from the water cooler and the cafeteria. This has resulted in a lack of personal relationships, chance conversations, and happy accidents of communication. People know less about one another because participating in video calls tends to be short and structured, limiting the opportunities to discover more.
While video conferencing and remote work can sufficiently maintain critical workflows and strong ties between immediate co-workers, the broader sense of company camaraderie is harder to emulate without a physical location.
What are strong and weak ties?
An organization needs a mix of strong and weak ties. Strong ties are the relationships between managers and direct reports or close colleagues within the same team. Because these people have work dependencies on one another (as well as a shared social history), they find it easier to connect and will regularly interact.
Weak ties, however, though ostensibly less important for business outcomes, are still important for employee wellbeing, innovation, and corporate culture.
Weak ties are reserved for occasional conversations with people in other teams. This is much easier when interacting with people in an office or other location, because physical proximity breeds small talk if nothing else.
Weak ties are more than passing the time in the elevator though. They can spark an interest in other areas of the business or inspire colleagues to collaborate on a future product direction, and they encourage people to operate outside of their usual siloes which can drive innovation.
Most importantly, weak ties can help to improve corporate culture because they foster connection at a more personal level.
Imagine yourself as a new starter. Work is important and you have a job to do, but if you don’t make any personal connections with the people on your remote team, you may feel immediately isolated. The lack of access to additional personalities in the company can result in feelings of disengagement and an inability to socialize for the long term.
Equally, you may feel alienated within an organization because your strong-tie community lacks diversity and makes it harder to be your authentic self.
As the Harvard Business Review pointed out, “Employees that work hybrid or remotely have fewer friends at work and thus weaker social and emotional connections with their coworkers. These weaker connections make it easier for employees to quit their job by reducing the social pressure that can encourage employees to stay longer.”
Even though hybrid work appears to be having a loosening effect on weak ties and corporate culture, effective internal communication can be used to reaffirm a sense of belonging.
Use technology to strengthen weak ties in your corporate culture
#1 Expand user profiles to include personal information
Intranet user profiles can be an underused resource for employees to connect with one another. By asking people to include details of their interests and expertise (either within an ‘About Me’ or in keyword tags), it’s possible to expand how rounded everyone appears to colleagues.
On Interact’s internal intranet, WorkLife, we can search for popular topics that we are interested in and find colleagues who share our passions. From there it’s just a short step to making an introduction and connecting with someone – in person or virtually – to discuss a favorite sports team or hobby. This information can be found via the enterprise search tool, but also by clicking on the keyword tag to find everyone in the company who has added that too.
#2 Boost serendipity to drive greater connection
Our ties to other people (both weak and strong) diminish when we see less of them and they become a little ‘out of sight, out of mind’. It stands to reason then that seeing updates, images, and blog posts about interesting topics and people can inspire us to stay engaged. Internal communications technology can assist this through personalization features that bring people much closer to the content that will most engage them.
Within Interact, employees can select the subjects they’re most interested in and dynamically fine-tune their homepage content. Every time there’s an update, they will be guaranteed to see it and never miss the issues that matter to them. Personalization goes one step further by using an AI-based recommendation engine to automatically suggest topics to help employees discover new content. This can broaden how much employees know about the corporate culture and strengthen relationships with co-workers.
#3 Encourage chance meetings
One challenge caused by hybrid and remote work is that they decrease those serendipitous encounters we have with colleagues we don’t know well. Chance meetings are one of the ways weak ties are made, so they can promote engagement and boost corporate culture.
Technology can help here too, and you can use employee matching tools such as Meetsy or Coffee Roulette to promote a culture of effective communication.
#4 Make content publication easier for more voices
Without a platform for diverse voices, many within your workforce may feel unrepresented because they don’t regularly see people they identify with. This can be especially true for remote and hybrid workers who only see people in set silos. By giving more potential content authors the tools to create engaging pages on your intranet, you can ensure that more voices are heard and a stronger corporate culture can be forged.
An advanced CMS intranet can enable anyone with editing permissions to create remarkable looking content regardless of their skill level. Interact’s editor has simple drag-and-drop functionality, allowing users to create rich content using a variety of text blocks, column blocks, image blocks, video blocks, and more. With the addition of an inclusivity checker for language, it’s easier than ever for more people to be present online, to create pages that engage co-workers, and to make vital internal connections.
#5 Create multichannel communications that reach everyone
Regardless of whether they’re hybrid, remote, or working on location, employees who lack access to communication channels (e.g., deskless workers without corporate email addresses) can live in a communications desert.
Without regular contact from the company or updates from colleagues, it’s easy to lose touch with new hires and old friends. This can further weaken already thinning ties and damage corporate culture.
One way to strengthen those relationships again is to have a varied internal communications plan, backed up by a multichannel approach. Covering multiple angles and representing many voices in your content is a great start but sending these comms via the channels that employees prefer can further encourage them to actively engage with them, making it more likely they’ll find something that reconnects them with your corporate culture.
We’ve provided five actionable ways to strengthen weak ties in a hybrid workplace, but there are many more! You could even give new starters access to your intranet during onboarding, or implement social features that encourage liking, sharing, and @mentioning. These are all tools we see companies putting into practice every day, with great results. However you choose to communicate, we hope it helps to answer the corporate culture challenges posed by hybrid and remote ways of working.