Building and maintaining a positive culture in a hybrid working environment with Rajit Kamal

By John Hodge Jr, Senior Consultant 

We are all exploring how to place culture at the heart of business and overcome challenges that have arisen as part of the hybrid working model. That culture is central to the success, or failure, of any organization is well established. Organizations approach understanding what a successful culture looks like for them in different ways, which can lead to confusing messaging and multiple strategies.

There are global challenges to working remotely in the same city let alone across borders, cultures and languages. Measuring and delivering the right cultural message is an intrinsic part of building a successful global team. Defining or measuring what workplace culture looks like in most organizations is vague, most easily described as being an organization’s “DNA”. Rajit Kamal, Worldwide President, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Reconstruction at Johnson & Johnson comments “There must be both objective and subjective ways to measure culture. Culture is the way of working; how information flows in an organization or how decisions are made, and what behavior gets rewarded, are examples. Doing a regular survey with key questions is a good way to understand the culture and identify any trends, but that needs to be complemented with subjective measures. Leaders should spend time in the field and with the team. Sense the team motivation, energy. Observe how people interact in meetings. Keep an eye on attrition and retention metrics and more importantly who is leaving and why. It is useful to have a key focus on retention for high potential and diverse talent in this process.”

Measuring and maintaining exemplary cultural hygiene in a remote working environment has its challenges, but in a hybrid working environment these are exacerbated as while some teammates enjoy face-to-face communication, others are less involved, dialling in remotely resulting in an unlevel playing field. Collaboration tools were adopted at an accelerated pace through 2020 in particular, but what about longer term? Kamal, again, “A lot can be done remotely and this will be the way of the future. I believe to maintain a strong culture, a hybrid work environment with flexibility around when and where people work with face-to-face interactions at some frequency will be important. It will vary from job to job. I believe, for a job that requires significant collaboration and working with a team, having regular face-to-face interactions will still be important.” Sustaining company culture still requires an element of in person work, says Kamal, “While technology has enabled a lot of what was done in person, I still think face-to-face at some frequency is important to create and sustain great culture. There is not a perfect substitute for looking people in the eye and being in the same physical space to drive meaningful human interaction. The human touch and feel goes a long way to create connection.”

At Johnson & Johnson, Kamal has been leveraging technology tools to improve team interactions: “We have been creating informal interactions with happy hours that have no agenda. I also make a point of calling or messaging team members to see how they are doing in an effort to replace ‘watercooler’ moments. From my own points of action, I make a real effort to ensure I respond to messages in a timely manner as people can’t just ask me questions in passing at the moment. I have also learned to be curious about people’s lives outside of work. Video calls have allowed me to learn more about my team as video calling means I have literally seen into their lives a little more, and I can be interested in that. This same thing has allowed me to be more open, authentic and vulnerable which has been a huge leveller.”

In sum, positive and high-performance culture can be established in a hybrid environment, and in fact such an environment may be beneficial to culture as employees’ preferences and expectations of their employer, evolve. That said, it’s critical to consider and take additional and tailored measures to mitigate the pitfalls that remote work can create with respect to culture. And finally, while hybrid working may be necessary and even beneficial in ways, total remote work is unlikely to be sustainable to create and reinforce high-performance culture amongst teams that are required to collaborate to be successful.


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