How to solve a problem like company culture with hybrid working

By Suzana Lay, Head of Brand Team and Planning Director, The Grove Media

Before the pandemic, we had a way of working that was pretty much accepted by everybody. We were in the office five days a week, with the occasional day of working from home when it was absolutely necessary. Everybody knew each other, talked face to face, and we had an ongoing schedule of activities to drive our company culture.

Covid changed all that and showed us a different way. While many of us weren’t well set up for working from home, we adapted, got used to video meetings and discovered that we could be surprisingly efficient at getting through workloads and managing personal life in a better way – all at the same time.

All good. Until it wasn’t.

After a while, many of us became fed up of being at home and motivation dropped. Not everybody had a great experience of working from home – particularly young renters in shared flats – and people missed being with their colleagues. They started to lose touch with what was going on. And we realised just how important networking – with media owners, partners etc – is in our industry. It’s all about relationships and those were being affected.

And now we’re back in the office…and working from home.  It’s all about hybrid working. And we’re not going back to the old world, at least not any time soon. Hybrid working offers real flexibility – the best of the both worlds, if we can get it right.

Yes, getting it right. It’s the challenge that’s facing all of us. How do you get the balance right between office and home? And is our office of the ‘old world’ right for our new ways of working? We’re also asking ourselves: how do we ensure everyone knows what’s going on all the time? And crucially, how do we maintain team-building and embrace our real-world culture when we’re not always together?

Frankly, we don’t have all the answers right now. We’re still learning. Hybrid working is a new world, with no clear rules.

But in this time of uncertainty, one thing we are very clear about is that we want to do what’s right for everybody, now and in the future. We want to do what’s right for a growing small business. And we want to do what’s right for our clients.

So, like many businesses, we took action. Until now, we’ve only mandated that all staff must work one day a week in the office, but we encourage two. We may increase this, but travel times for some are quite long, so a softer approach and use of other Workspaces is what’s right, right now.

In Q4 2020, between lockdowns, we moved offices. With our lease coming to an endand the way things were goingwe realised that our office was no longer fit for purpose. We moved to a smaller and cheaper space, and set ourselves up for hot-desking as we transitioned out of the pandemic. The office was initially an ad hoc base for everyone, then we started rotating team days in the office once a week.

But nearly three years in, we’ve expanded, the world’s changed, we’ve changed. And our office simply isn’t right for our current – and future – needs. So we need to move again. We’ve looked at where every member of staff lives, noted current commute times and are looking for a new office that reduces everybody’s commute times. We must make it easier for staff to come in and a better experience to be in the office. And that means looking at an office location that is also good for lunchtimes and after work.

In the meantime, we’ve brought back in-person quarterly business update meetings, where we share information about our performance, our clients, our new business. Regular, ‘open sharing’ is very much part of culture, and arguably is even more essential with hybrid working.

And we’ve added a social element to these updates. We have our meeting at noon and then it’s off to the pub. Might seem like the old days of media, but for us it’s very much back to the future. We also have a new social committee to look at the things we can do to drive collaboration, boost team spirit and have fun in a new a hybrid world. Our last day out involved team scavenger hunts across London, followed by lunch and drinks on a canalboat, and then more food and drinks at a bar.

Having come out of a pandemic and straight into a cost-of-living crisis, having fun takes on a far a greater significance. Last year we celebrated the company’s 50th anniversary with a night away at a country hotel. We organised a variety of activities that enabled people to mingle and catch up. Staff could properly let their hair down and non-Londoners didn’t have to worry about getting home.

We’ve also introduced monthly planning meetings, which are a hybrid of in-person and online participation. Similar to our business updates, we’re sharing news about media, clients, campaigns, new business, teams and so on. We also invite media owners to present in these sessions as a way of getting them in front of all our planners.   

All of these activities are helping us to drive company culture as we make hybrid working work. Company culture shapes how we behave and perform as business. It means happy, motivated staff and more people wanting to work for us. And it enables us to do great work for our clients and attract new ones.