Company culture can be a business's secret sauce -- the elusive, sometimes hard to articulate feeling in an organization. When successful, culture can be a company's key differentiator. Companies with strong cultures can attract and retain better talent, build superior brands, and improve business performance. Yet, as many companies continue to operate in remote or hybrid settings, leaders are asking whether culture can sustain its positive impact on business. Culture as we've known it needs to change.

The realization that hybrid and remote work are now permanent has left many companies struggling with how to keep employees connected with one another in a new workforce model. Strong company culture, which in the past was rooted in common rituals and shared physical experiences, is still the glue that is holding teams together amidst continued change and disruption. But company culture will need to do even more to drive real connections among people who may never be together again in the same space.

How to convert to a culture of connections

Going forward, employee connectivity will be a top agenda item for leaders. CEOs will need to consider how company culture can evolve to support employee connection building in new ways. This will take conscious decision making on the part of leaders and deep understanding of employees' preferred work styles and work types.

In the new workplace, there are four predominant types of workers:

  1. Onsite workers, who must work in an office or facility, largely dependent on function and/or industry, such as manufacturing or health care
  2. Office workers, who prefer to be in an office with others largely for camaraderie and collaboration
  3. Hybrid workers, who are capable of working in the office or from home
  4. Fully remote workers, who do not work at their employers' office, facility or other place of business

Employers have to put on their "hybrid headset" to make conscious decisions that result in stronger relationship building among all four groups of workers through shared experiences -- even if these workers are never together in person.

Creating a new business infrastructure

Company leaders will also have to rethink many of their business processes, protocols, and standards that govern how employees interact and how business gets accomplished. For example, leaders will now need to define how meetings will be handled -- in person, over video, or both. There will be core office hours, regardless of where employees are located, to foster collaboration and connection. Office days when the majority of employees come in for meetings, collaborative sessions, and other opportunities to connect need to be established. Creating connections and shared experiences for workers who aren't physically together is essential.

For recruiting now, it is also imperative for companies to define their culture along with their working protocols -- such as flexibility and workplace expectations -- in advance. These are the criteria candidates are using to decide if they will work for a company. The talent war is being fought on a very different battlefield now, and companies have to consider what's in their arsenal to compete.

Performance management makeover

Performance management will need to change as well. In the past, employees were partially judged to be doing good work if they were physically at work. This performance model paid employees for their time -- not their actual performance. In the new model, attendance no longer equates to performance. Many companies will need to redefine how performance is measured and rewarded.

Accelerated disruption

These kinds of decisions are like none others that leaders have ever had to make. There is no blueprint for leading organizations and people today or in the future. To compound the difficulty, the current environment of "accelerated disruption" necessitates faster and faster decisions with fewer resources to rely on for guidance. It is exceedingly difficult to make decisions as everything constantly changes and the rate of change is rapid.

To combat "accelerated disruption," leaders need to identify stationary guideposts -- constants they can use to ground decision making and maintain direction. Purpose, mission, and vision can be those constants. These guideposts are also critical to maintaining culture -- even as it expands and evolves.

Chief culture officer

Many organizations are also creating specific roles or responsibilities, such as chief culture officer, to steward and nurture their cultures. These types of roles can help the CEO think purposefully about changes to culture and, more importantly, any consequences resulting from cultural change. 

No one is certain what will happen next, but companies can't afford to wait to meet employees' and candidates' changing needs. Placing focus and priority on culture is a sure bet for helping to strengthen connections between employees and building a stronger, more successful organization for the long term.