Company Culture
6 March, 2024
Building a strong company culture in the age of hybrid work
Why is company culture important? What's the impact of hybrid working? How can office design help create a strong company culture? Let's explore.

One of the biggest concerns for employers when it comes to the impact of hybrid working is the consequences it may have on company culture, which in turn affects the quality of work, employee satisfaction, brand identity and productivity.

While fully remote working has dissipated somewhat, hybrid working has become the preferred variant for modern organisations, and with it has come a change of purpose for the workplace – the foundation for getting that right, is design.

What is company culture?

Company culture embodies a lot of different things, all culminating in the way people behave in an organisation and how their attitudes and beliefs inform those behaviours. Company culture is about the shared norms, values, attitudes, and practices that form the collective identity of your company.

employee wellbeing culture

Why is company culture important?

Sir Adrian Montague, former Chairman of Aviva plc, has been quoted saying: “Culture is the glue that binds an organisation together. It has a very significant impact on the firm’s effectiveness, ethics, and governance.”

In terms of company culture’s importance, we know that it can impact sales, profits, recruiting efforts and employee morale. Meanwhile, done well, it can:

  1. Improved employee morale and job satisfaction
  2. Reduced absenteeism and turnover rates
  3. Stronger team cohesion and collaboration
  4. Better communication and conflict resolution
  5. Higher levels of employee loyalty and advocacy
  6. Enhanced customer satisfaction and loyalty
  7. Improve employee wellbeing
  8. Attract and retain top talent
  9. Increase innovation and problem-solving
  10. Increase productivity and engagement
  11. Greater resilience and adaptability in times of change or challenge.
  12. Enhance competitive advantage

A study reported by Forbes found that “35% of American workers wouldn’t take a job that was a perfect fit if the organisational culture clashed with their values” and “91% of managers consider a candidate’s alignment with the company culture carries as much or more weight than their skills and experience.” Meanwhile, another study found that “if the culture deteriorates, 71% of employees would look for new opportunities elsewhere.”

Perhaps amongst the most sobering stats are those from a McKinsey report, which noted that: “healthy cultures have three times greater total returns to shareholders. We’ve also looked at causation and have seen a positive relationship, where health drives performance. And vice-versa: 70% of transformations fail, largely due to people- and culture-related challenges.”

If anything, company culture is more important than ever.

It’s pivotal for attracting and retaining talent in an environment where people are making choices not only based on their job title and salary, but company ethics and workplace experience as well. 

Millennials and Gen Z are more value driven than any other generation, interested in an organisation’s position on the environment, diversity, equity, and inclusion as much as their own work-life balance. That’s all wrapped up in company culture, and savvy employees know that these are not things that can be compartmentalised but run through every aspect of an organisation.

Who’s responsible for company culture?

An article in the Harvard Business Review, titled Company Culture Is Everyone’s Responsibility, makes a point that many will identify with – that every person in the team has a role to play in contributing to, influencing, creating and retaining a desirable workplace culture.  It reads:

“The new job of the CEO and senior management team is not to hand company culture down from on high but to prioritise it and allocate the resources to ensure it.”

In the past, company culture might have been led from the top down. Employee engagement surveys, reports, and culture-building to-do lists permeated the landscape, overseen by the CEO and HR.

While those features are still relevant, company culture in the world of digitisation is more democratic – it’s about daily experiences and while it might be company led, in many ways it is employee implemented. You must have the team buy-in to create a cohesive company culture.

Creating an environment where company culture thrives, is influenced by the attention, awareness and action of the CEO and the board. Their input is still pivotal for designing the best infrastructure for the values and behaviours they want to cultivate, particularly when it comes to enabling choices such as how to design the workplace.

Impact of hybrid working on company culture 

Hybrid work creates greater balance between personal flexibility and the requirements of one’s job. For example, a more flexible approach to how we work has afforded people more ability to say how they work best and has created more awareness amongst employers on how environment impacts wellbeing and productivity.

While some people thrive in busy environments, others need more peace and quiet. Knowing this information and having that balance has proven important for employee productivity, positivity and sustainability. That flexibility has led to reports which show a higher level of connectedness amongst employees. The consequence of that, according to a Gartner survey reported by the Harvard Business Review, is: “more-connected workers perform at a higher level than others (by as much as 37%) and are 36% more likely to stay with the organisation.”

We know flexibility is important, but we also know that’s not limited to the binary nature of working from home or not working from home. It has much to do with how office space is used, the tasks, individual needs and so forth. Defining the best ways to use flexibility, and parameters around hybrid work, has been at the root of a lot of challenges for business leaders, many of which can be detrimental to company culture and the business goals.

Mckinsey reported that the period of almost total remote working post-pandemic: “posed very real concerns, particularly for new people who’ve never had the upside of in-person culture—as well as for some longer-tenure folks who’ve started to feel burned out.”

On hybrid working they noted: “What we’ve seen is that within your immediate team, communication and connectivity have gone up. But linkages across teams have gone down significantly. In a regular office, the rhythms of a workday offer lots of opportunities to collaborate outside your immediate team. This heightens the importance of managers making connections across teams because some of those connections are what’s most important for innovation and driving the future agenda.”

In short, hybrid work has meant that we need to take a much more thoughtful, considered approach to company culture in order to shape it in a way that best suits teams, companies and objectives.

Illustrating the point, our Design Director, Kasia, says: “Modern offices tend to have fewer desks and more open, agile spaces. I think after Covid more people are used to sitting on sofas than at a desk. The result is much more interesting spaces to be in.”

Hallmarks of a great company culture

Some of the recognised hallmarks of a great company culture include:

  • Communication
  • Individual sense of purpose
  • Unified purpose
  • A sense of community
  • How people work together
  • Identifiable core values
  • Effective leadership
  • A sense of belonging
  • Pride
  • Fairness
  • Respect
  • Credibility
  • Staff engagement
  • Staff satisfaction
  • Innovation
  • Stability
  • Identity
  • Attention to detail

How office design can help create a strong company culture

The changing role of the office has meant that design is more important than ever in guiding users to understand the purpose and benefit of coming into the workplace.

Creating an environment that people want to be in, and that really is the embodiment of company culture, has been a central focus. Businesses understand that people may feel better able to do certain tasks at home, so the workplace becomes a dedicated location for tasks that can’t be done from home such as in person collaboration or using specific equipment.

A central feature of that shift has been the move away from offices populated with rows upon rows of desks, and into a realm where we have more varied spaces such as hot desking, private phone booths, sofa seating, bleacher seating for town hall meetings, cafe areas for more relaxed conversations and booth seating.

As offices move away from having all teams present all the time, they are often able to opt for smaller spaces but maximise their usage through flexible and adaptable design.

Detailed space planning is essential to ensure the flow of the space is optimised to encourage specific behaviours desired such as collaboration, socialising, and problem solving.

In short, design becomes a central part of influencing behaviours, which in turn supports and contributes to company culture. What might be written into company policy is made real by a working environment that nurtures desired actions in the workplace.

Design for a strong company culture in action

Design Director, Jose, says: “Design flow influences the behaviour of the users and affects where you place adjacencies such as meeting rooms, social areas, open plan areas according to the interactions you want to encourage during the working day.”

See how we consider company culture in our designs:

Bringing boutique hotel vibes to financial services

Financial services company, Planet, wanted to develop a space that didn’t feel like coming to work, with a member’s club vibe and areas that replicated the comforts of home but with a destination style. The result was plush, sophisticated, comfortable furnishings and colours, lighting levels selected to support productivity, and technology that speak through its functionality. Design Director, Adam, described it as “a playground for people to work in”.

Creating space for spontaneity 

Contributing to a community feel between teams at international tobacco and e-cigarette manufacturer JTI, the ground floor of the building formed the hub of the company with a coffee area, dining space, soft seating, booths to eat or work at, and a quieter library at the back.  The space has a town hall atmosphere and is optimised for flexibility, and the intention was to make it the place where employees are encouraged to take meals and breaks together, nurturing a sense of community and communication.

Bringing teams together through a design narrative

Bringing together a collective of creative agencies, The MISSION Group had a particular challenge when it came to creating a cohesive company culture in the workplace that honoured brands’ individual identities, but also created connectivity. At their new office on Tottenham Court Road, each brand had a zone where the continuous design narrative is one of neutral walls, light woods, brought together with colourful soft furnishings for individuality. Glass walls allow for continuity and a sense of connectivity between spaces as well as teams.

Want to create a workplace that strengthens your company culture?

Speak to the team at Maris