10-step guide to better workplace culture for remote and hybrid teams

workplace culture
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Then Somehow is a culture change consultancy, we develop practical ways to instigate tangible organisational change and write about work and workplace culture. This post is a summary of what we’ve shared over the last twelve months, a period when work moved from in-person to remote to hybrid and now back to the office (for some).

Full of information and tips, this is the ultimate guide to help you decide what to do to regenerate your culture post-pandemic – come back to it at any time, it’s the perfect resource to share with your team.

In this 10-step guide to better culture in your workplace we cover:

1. How to work smarter not harder
2. How to avoid burnout
3. How to be better at project management
4. How to return to the office in the right way – a charter
5. How to get feedback that makes a difference
6. How to focus when you’re working from home (WFH)
7. How to trust your team when they’re working remotely
8. How to have better conversations with your team
9. How to be a better listener
10. How to overcome dysfunctions in your team

Read more below


1. Work smarter

If you work hard, but often find it hard to focus, or if you are expected to do more in less time (and often run out of time), or feel overwhelmed by competing demands and a tidal wave of email and other communications, it’s time you learned to work smarter.

Working smarter is the key to greater productivity, not working harder or longer. Working smarter boosts your effectiveness, your creativity, and saves you energy for the things that really matter like your friends and family.

We spent much of the last year creating online courses – including how to apply Inbox Zero, how to make space for your important projects, and how to prioritise – where you can learn simple yet powerful techniques that will help you change the way you work and become more productive.

Try out our free course for managers on Empowering Your Team with Circles of Influence, it could be particularly useful to help your team maintain a sense of control and agency at this most ambiguous time. See it here.

Our aim is that your way of working will never be the same again.

Interested in this? Read more on our courses page here

2. Avoid burnout

As workplaces become increasingly demanding and fast-paced, burnout – the complete mental, emotional, and often physical exhaustion brought on by long term work related stress – is a more serious and widespread issue than you might realise. Nearly seven in ten people experience burnout because of work at least some of the time.

One of the 5 key factors that correlate with burnout is lack of manager support. Employees who feel supported by their manager are about 70% less likely to experience burnout.

So as a manager what can you do about it? It may be that you’ll need to have a difficult conversation with a colleague, or work on resolving some dysfunctional culture together.

It may be that you’ll need to adopt new behaviours and processes.

Here’s 3 behaviour changes that can help your team deal with burnout:

  • Getting clear about their priorities
  • Helping them say no and set boundaries
  • Changing and reframing mindsets

Interested in this? Read more on our post on burnout here.


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3. Get better at Project Management

Project management is hard. From brutal deadlines to constrained budgets, with the need to take care of many things at the same time, it is no surprise that getting a project completed on time and on budget is a challenge.

In fact, it turns out that only 2.5% of companies successfully complete 100% of their projects.

Why is this? Mainly because unexpected obstacles or events pop-up to derail and hamper the progress of the overall project. But also because good project managers don’t always have team members who understand how and why everything fits together – so project steps get missed or communication goes awry.

So how best to do it? We recommend thinking about this in 3 stages:

i. Before you start:

  • ensure you have a common language and work to get everyone on the same page
  • work out the plan and allocate roles together

ii. During the project:

  • Consider being Agile
  • Review and feedback on the go
  • Going off track? Use the GROW method

iii. After the project has finished:
All too often teams just crash from one project to the next without learning anything. If you don’t learn anything, next time people will perform in the same way, you’ll encounter the same frustrations, and you’ll get the same results.

Instead, if you pause at the end of a project to do an End of Project Wash Up and a Retrospective, you can ask your team: what did we learn?

It turns out that doing this makes a team great.

Interested in this? Read our post on project management here.

4. Return to work charter

Working remotely during lockdown was hard. But as we start to return to our workplaces, we have a chance for a big reset.

Many organisations are blending remote and back-in-the-office working, but it is not yet clear how to best make this work in practice, which could be a concern for people when they are looking to bosses and managers for guidance.

The questions to think about include:
1. What should you be doing when you’re remote and what should you be doing in the office?
2. How do meetings work if some people are in and some out?
3. How do you manage projects?
4. How often do people come into the office?
5. Just how important is it?

We’ve come up with 10 design principles to make dynamic and blended working better.

Interested in this? Read our post on returning to work here.

5. Get to the feedback that makes a difference

Obtaining employee feedback can be challenging but it is key to people’s development. Performance reviews may only represent one person’s point of view, so many organisations use 360 reviews to gather all round feedback.

The trouble with standard 360 reviews is that they’re usually based on number scores, but numbers reduce something complex and nuanced to something that seems definite and objective when it’s not.

And most of the dimensions explored in standard 360’s don’t actually reveal anything about a colleague’s true competencies or what it is like to work with them.

However, 360’s done well can be very powerful. The trick is to use narrative and not numbers, then you get really considered 360 reports that really help people develop themselves.

In 2020/21 we built a tool to do this. Called AdviceSheet it has been used by teams at The University of Oxford, Bristol City Council, Metricell and Breathe. Breathe loved it so much they also added it to their marketplace of HR tools.

AdviceSheet surveys are easy to use, though they do take a little effort to take part in. Good questions are not necessarily easy to answer. You can’t knock out your feedback in five minutes. This is really important stuff and deserves considered attention.

Interested in this? Read our post on feedback here.
Workplace culture

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6. Stay focussed when you’re working from home

One of the hot issues of the moment is how to manage your focus and attention when you’re working from home.

Some people prefer working on their own and love the freedom from distractions and the ability to focus that WFH provides. Meanwhile, others find remote working feels lonely and makes it harder to concentrate.

Whichever group you or your colleagues fall into, here’s a summary of our tips for staying focussed and positive whilst working from home to use and share with your team:

  1. Make sure your workspace is well defined
  2. Let go of what you can’t control
  3. If you’re distracted and can’t focus – try the Pomodoro Technique
  4. Use your calendar to structure your day
  5. Focus on what you can do

Interested in this? Read our post on working from home here.

7. Trust your team when they’re remote working

As the 2020/21 lockdowns went on, we heard leaders and managers telling us their team was communicating better than ever because they were making much more of a conscious and deliberate effort to talk to each other.

Partly this was because people had to get their heads around working differently with their colleagues. In many cases, it worked out fine and led to more trust in the team.

However, it could also have brought up tensions, when for example you trusted Jon to do the work, he didn’t do it and he stayed quiet in remote team meetings…

One thing that helps solve these kinds of issues is to combine regular team check-ins with using planning tools such as Trello, or Microsoft Planner (inside Teams), to visually capture the work that people have on.

They’re a great way to encourage people to share their ideas on how they will approach a task and invite input from their colleagues, and we’ve seen that they help to build and maintain trust.

But building trust in a team is not just about tasks. Practising connecting builds trust too. Deliberately creating a social space where it’s not about work helps with this, as well as having mechanisms in place to help people communicate when they’re harder to reach.

Interested in this? Read our post on trusting your remote team here.

8. Have better conversations with your team

Despite how much time you spend in meetings, or how many plans you make, it can still be really hard to reach a common understanding and make anything happen. However, there are tools that help facilitate better conversations with your team, that’ll help you get things done.

When so much depends on conversations, and when everyone interprets things differently, we recommend these four tools, they can really help – they’re all frameworks for the right kinds of conversations.

Team Canvas – a framework for a structured conversation that’s designed to bring everyone onto the same page. (Literally, because it’s done on a big sheet of paper.)

Expressive Drivers – a model that has four quadrants which identify four social styles: Analyticals, Drivers, Amiables, Expressives. Based on this, Expressive Drivers is a very simple profiling tool that gives you a colour to indicate your communication style.

Planning Poker – a quick and dirty tool for helping a group to reach agreement, especially if you can’t agree on something. It’s also fun.

Circles of Influence – created by Stephen Covey, it’s a great way to have conversations with your team as it helps people take responsibility, and thus be more proactive, productive and happier.

Interested in this? Read our post on tools for team conversations here.
team working

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9. Be a better listener and why it matters

Communication is a really important skill in the workplace. Pretty much everything you do – from initiating new projects to empowering staff, from sales calls to asking how team members are getting on – involves talking to someone else.

Of course, there’s never going to be 100% understanding of meaning – we’re all so different and each of us sees the world in such different ways – but we believe it’s worth striving for the best chance that someone else understands what you mean, or at least for that to emerge.

One way to do that is to focus on your listening skills.

By becoming a better listener, you can improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate.

We have an exercise to practice listening and help you be a better listener – Active Listening.

Interested in this? Read our post on better listening here.

10. Overcome the 5 basic dysfunctions in a team

One of the key things we look at when we go into any organisation is team dynamics.

Especially the dynamics and patterns in the leadership team. Because these patterns cascade down the organisation, causing all sorts of effects. If the leadership team is high performing, all well and good. But if they’re not, it can usually be traced back to the relationships between team members.

Business writer, Patrick Lencioni has a model that explains why relationship dynamics in leadership teams are so important.

It’s a model we refer to a lot.

According to Lencioni, there are five basic dysfunctions that teams commonly struggle with. These cause confusion, misunderstanding, negative morale and can impact entire organisations.

The dysfunctions are:

  1. Lack of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

If you can get better at developing skills to counter the dysfunctions, and change the patterns and the problems, you will build confidence and capability, become much more effective, better at collaborating, and your organisation will benefit.

It’s a slow process, but it’s worth the effort and can yield big results.

Interested in this? Read our post on overcoming team dysfunctions here.

If you need help with working on any of this – get in touch, at ThenSomehow we help you and your team build emotional literacy, increase empathy, and help you see the world differently, giving you practical tools to shift the stuff that’s stuck.

If you’d like to discuss how we can help your team, get in touch here.

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