Hybrid work offers markedly positive improvements to culture

Study finds effects that hybrid working is having on business culture, with nearly half of study across the globe feel diversity and inclusion has improved during the pandemic.

A Cisco-commissioned study with MIT Sloan Management Review has highlighted the progress that is being made towards the future of work through hybrid models, but has also indicated an equal challenge ahead, namely building on its promise.

The 1,561 respondents to the Hybrid work pulse check: Insights into what employees are feeling survey ranged from corporate directors and C-level executives to supervisors, managers and individual contributors from a variety of industries spread across 12 countries.

Cisco stressed that the results revealed much about what’s going right – and what isn’t. Principally, 59% still considered the ability to work from a place of their choice to be a benefit, while only 36% believed it was a given. Working remotely also gave people a sense of not being “in the know”, however, while another 76% feared a pay gap between hybrid workers and their in-office counterparts.

The study also indicated that diversity and inclusion had improved in the era of hybrid work. Almost three-fifths (56%) of Generation Zs, 52% of millennials, 45% of Generation Xs and 35% of Baby Boomers said diversity and inclusion had improved with the advent of remote and hybrid working models.

The ability to express personal opinions freely was also seen to have improved significantly in various parts of the world, even in the most rigid societies. Some 44% of respondents from North America and Europe felt the ability to express personal opinions had increased. In India, 50% said so, and in South America, 53% said the ability to speak one’s mind had improved.

The research also found evidence to refute the idea that remote working was not destroying businesses or their cultures. However, employee sentiment on remote working, compensation and benefits appeared to be still aligned to in-office models. 

More than 60% of respondents agreed to a “great” or “considerable” extent that their organisations needed to have most employees working onsite to maintain the corporate culture. However, only a tiny percentage of respondents – often fewer than 5% – said remote or hybrid working was having a negative effect on corporate cultures.

Another clear positive was that remote and hybrid working environments promote and enable fairness, and company leaders were trying harder to avoid pitfalls that can damage or dampen morale. Being fair in assigning desirable projects was a prime example, and business leaders were said to be rising to the occasion. About 75% of respondents “strongly agree” or “agree” that their managers intentionally give top assignments to everyone, instead of just a select few.

Extroverts were found to be thriving in a hybrid environment as well, with 53% of people identifying as extrovert commenting that feelings of inclusion and diversity had improved, which is greater than introverts, 47% of whom responded the same.

Concluding, Cisco stressed that the ability of senior leadership to connect with employees easier than ever before enabled corporate values and culture to remain strong in the remote work environment, contrary to popular belief.

It noted that nearly half of respondents believed the alignment of company practices with values had improved, as opposed to staying the same or declining. The percentages among remote and hybrid workers were equally high, indicating that hybrid work models aren’t weakening this core aspect of the corporate culture.

“Today, we stand at an important crossroads. Hybrid work promises a more inclusive, flexible, and collaborative future. Yet I fear that in some ways we could regress, especially if work cultures fail to evolve at the pace of technology change and leaders don’t adapt to the evolving “mixed mode” – that is, some people in the office and others at home – or just about anywhere else they choose),” said Jeetu Patel, executive vice-president and general manager for security and collaboration at Cisco.

“For all of its challenges and tragedies, the pandemic revealed what’s possible with work. Much of the global workforce moved to remote work all but overnight. And despite fears to the contrary, we proved that we can be even more productive. But now comes an equally difficult part: building on the knowledge we’ve gained these past two years to build a future of work that’s great for everyone, no matter where they happen to be.”

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