How's that hybrid, WFH, Zoomy stuff working out for you?

Still loving it, or do you feel a strange sense of dislocation settling in, a nagging suspicion that important stuff is being decided elsewhere, by other people?

If so, you may not be alone. The ubiquitous McKinsey & Co recently found, in its Great Attrition Survey:

  • 51% of leavers in the past six months lacked a "sense of belonging".
  • 46% said they were leaving to work with people who "trust and care for each other".

Ouch. We used to call this "internal culture", and it's more important now than ever. It turns out people like a sense of belonging, not just higher salaries, discounted gym membership and limitless Acai smoothies.

The cohesion challenge

Leaders want to foster that sense of belonging, too. Half of companies want workers back in office five days a week, according to a Microsoft survey.

They are anxious about ensuring teams work well together, foster innovation and creativity, onboard new hires smoothly and, crucially, retain existing talent as well as attract new recruits.

But how do you ensure your culture doesn't get paralysed, forever stuck in 2020, when the office was vacated? It's difficult to evolve if everyone is, literally, all over the place.

Fostering community, cohesion and collaboration can't all be done from the top down.

Thankfully, some people are already good at this stuff...

Align rewards

Chris O'Donoghue, CEO of sports marketing agency, Mongoose, has people scattered worldwide activating major sporting campaigns.

But he and his team take care to ensure clear, open communication lines and regular check-ins, and place a huge emphasis on trust to both empower individuals and create a genuine sense of ownership.

Performance goals and rewards are directly linked to cultural values, reinforcing the "right" behaviours for everyone, even Chris himself. He says:

"Rewarding against the behaviours our culture values is a great way to reinforce who we are, what we do and how we do it.

"Publicly placing trust in people demonstrates we really believe in them."

For onboarding new recruits, one thing they have found useful is assigning a buddy, a peer at the same level but in a different team, to act as a guide to the cultural values.

Harmonise onboarding

This is an idea that has become even more important with remote working. It is something Kate Cox, CEO of Bray Leino, also uses for new joiners, along with a specially-designed welcome pack, coffee catchups with herself, new-joiner dinners and KPIs that link directly to the cultural values.

It forms part of a 12-week onboarding process, regardless of where joiners ultimately work from.

Kate's agency has clear cultural pillars (such as wellness, community, and green, amongst others) that each have a volunteer team working on initiatives to keep things fresh and relevant.

Each month, key behaviours are celebrated and individual "stars" are highlighted in an all-agency meeting that ensures everybody feels involved.

Soft benefits – like a meeting embargo around lunchtimes, Wellness Wednesdays and in-house exercise classes – help people feel part of something bigger. As Kate says:

"Our culture is wholly embedded in the business, experienced from before someone starts and daily thereafter.

"It's part of our interview process, so candidates can decide if we're a good 'fit' for them. As always, clear communication is key."

Together, apart

The cultural values of both agencies, which are part of our MISSION Group, are rooted in their mission and purpose and invite feedback – formal and informal – to provide regular checks on progress.

Importantly, both Kate and Chris personally embody the values they champion, as much part of the team as anyone else.

It's a reminder: culture isn't something you "do" to or for other people, it's something collectively shared.

In the current climate, you may not stop every person from leaving. But, as Kate says, "you can give them lots of reasons to stay".

Your cultural values may be the glue that helps your team stick together, even when they are physically far apart.