View Source: Kristy Campbell

Engaged employees are excited, enthusiastic, and involved not only in their direct responsibilities but in the success and direction of the entire company.

There isn’t a company alive today that hasn’t wrestled with extraordinary change and disruption over the last 18 months. Companies that successfully navigated through the complexities of keeping a business moving forward during a global pandemic are now facing new challenges. Supply chain disruptionEscalating pricesHiring. And on top of everything, figuring out the right balance of virtual versus in-person work.

Employees have spoken. Most want a hybrid environment. Some are even willing to take a pay cut to work from home. Deloitte reports that 68 percent of executives surveyed earlier this year are implementing a combination of physical workspaces and remote work–PwC has announced that its 40,000 client services employees can work remotely full-time from anywhere.

What does this new normal mean for the future of collaboration? The need to build cohesive and connected teams is greater than ever before. Here are six tips to developing a collaborative culture that keeps workforces motivated, connected, and creative no matter where employees do most of their work.

Talk the walk.

Give culture a voice. Resist leading with a casual explanation of collaborative culture; be deliberate. Give the company’s expression of collaborative culture the same priority and attention as the elevator pitch. Seek input from other CEOs, from mentors, and especially from employees.

Make the words that describe the company culture a mantra. Use the mantra with every audience– from employees, to customers, to investors, and the public. Put the firm’s cultural values front and center. The very process of hammering out repeatable language will help associates align with the culture and the actions required to achieve and sustain it.

Hybrid work environments demand expanded models of engagement.

Engagement is the bedrock of collaboration. People build connections by doing things together. Engaged employees are excited, enthusiastic, and involved not only in their direct responsibilities but in the success and direction of the entire company.

Prior to the pandemic, we were used to thinking about engagement as face-to-face. With hybrid work models set to be the new norm, collaborative cultures depend on new models of engagement.

Technology can be collaborative engagement’s new best friend. Invest in tools that will improve collaboration–faster internet, unrestricted video conferencing, larger high-resolution monitors, better headsets, and higher quality cameras. Is the organization optimizing tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Google Chat, or Zoom? Boost teamwork and productivity by giving employees the tools and the training they need to do their jobs in the office or at home.

When professionals talk about culture and collaboration, they tend to emphasize the isolating impacts of remote work; however, last spring when EY interviewed more than 16,000 employees in different industries across sixteen countries almost half of the respondents said their organization culture changed and improved during the pandemic.

Are there ways employees believe that working remotely has improved collaboration in the culture? Now is the time to find out and replicate.

Build an intentional and repeatable process that makes new hires ‘sticky.’

These are challenging times to find and hire the right talent. Competition is tough. Seek the best resources the business can find for the money it can pay. Be prepared to begin the onboarding process the moment a new hire says “yes.”

What can you do today to connect with the newest employees in your organization to make them part of the culture and part of the team? Start with the cultural conversation. Tell them what collaboration means at their new company. Create opportunities for new hires to share and discuss work with longer-term employees. Ensure that managers carry out their greater responsibility to coach.

Assign each person a mentor and make mentoring part of that mentor’s job. Encourage teams to come into the office on the same days. Help new hires understand where they fit into the organization and their work contributes tactically and strategically. Be honest with new and less experienced employees about the tradeoffs of in-office and remote.

If a person’s career goal is to develop into a general manager, to learn other aspects of the business, to progress into broader responsibilities or different types of projects, they can’t do that without getting to know co-workers, processes, and customers first hand.

Anticipate and prepare for visible and stealth roadblocks and speed-bumps.

A glide path to sustaining a collaborative culture doesn’t exist. In modern companies, specialized expertise is critical to every long-term strategy; however, functional silos are the “Death Star” when it comes to collaborating cross-functionally.

Collaborative cultures succeed when each employee, generalist or specialist, has some opportunity every day to do what they do best– and each employee recognizes the responsibility to work with other teams toward common goals. Leaders and managers have to be the ones to create the interfaces.

Appreciate that over the last 18 months individual’s personal circumstances and professional motivation may have changed. For many, health and safety may be top of mind. Families with children, and especially single parents, are dealing with challenges of schooling and childcare that are likely more stressful than two years ago. There may be friction among co-workers on issues that weren’t issues pre-pandemic.

Employees need clear definitions and steady encouragement to find common ground. They also need connections to work friends. In fact, Gallup research suggests that having friends at work is a foundational element to employee engagement and high performance.

Customers can be the rallying cry.

The best reason for collaboration is the customer– not customers in an abstract or even a collective sense, but humans with names, responsibilities, goals, and pain points. Pulling together to solve a problem for a particular customer with tangible action items can be a case study in collaboration among functional experts from different departments. Tackling a customer issue cross-functionally creates opportunities for new people to hear directly from the customer or from the sales or customer support team and about how to do things right or wrong.

Embrace failure as a cause for collaboration. Invite employees to join in fixing a problem they didn’t cause. Completing tasks together encourages collaboration and builds bonds.

Collaboration does not always equal compromise.

In a collaborative culture, meetings are conducted (in person or virtually) for the purpose of open and honest dialogue. Participants commit to listening and actively considering all points of view and then supporting the decision made on the information shared–whether it was their desired outcome or not. Every person in the organization impacts cultural collaboration.

Where are your culture-building skills the strongest? Your forte may be during growth spurts so intense that associates and systems can’t keep up. Or maybe you shine brightest when the collaborative task is to keep spirits up when too many things are going wrong.

Either way, be true to yourself to attract and keep talented employees and loyal customers who value the power and productivity of collaborative business relationships.