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Building a hybrid culture that thrives

One of the most popular sessions at big.bright.minds. was the continuing conversation around the future of work. Hint: it’s likely hybrid.


Many people think they have the answer to hybrid work. But not all of those people have actually done the necessary research to inform what would be the best decision for individual employees and for organizations as a whole.

On Day 1 of big.bright.minds., we welcomed back former Filene Fellow Sekou Bermiss, and workplace expert, Doug Leighton, to lead a discussion on the future of work and what credit unions should know as they begin, or continue, their journey with hybrid work strategies.

Hybrid work is here to stay.

Much like what the pandemic did to accelerate existing trends, remote work is not slowing down. Where there used to be a stigma against working from home, you now see it as a benefit on most job postings.

A recent study by the Atlanta Fed said that people that shop or switch jobs, can increase their hourly pay by 7%. Credit unions experimenting with any level of remote work have to find ways to engage their staff because they have monetary incentives to shop around and if they don’t have any level of engagement with your credit union, it makes it all that much easier for them leave. A true hybrid strategy has never been more important when it comes to engaging valued employees and attracting new ones.

A true hybrid strategy has never been more important when it comes to engaging valued employees and attracting new ones.

Start by simply defining hybrid. Hybrid means some remote, some in person. If you let that become more and more remote, you end up getting less and less attachment to your organization and ultimately higher levels of attrition. There is an effect. It’s important to figure out a way to bring people in.

In his work on the War for Talent, Sekou conducted research on attracting and retaining top talent. An effective hybrid strategy is going to be one part of the winning solution to attract and retain top talent.

There is still friction surrounding back-to-work strategies.

In true hybrid fashion, Doug Leighton joined us in-person while Sekou Bermiss joined us virtually for this session.

Many senior leaders worked in the office during the pandemic which influenced their perception around work from home. Universally frontline staff loved working from home leaving managers stuck in between the two preferences. While they like the flexibility of work from home, there needs to be a level of consistency.

Sekou Bermiss frames this best using the Bayesian statistics model, “one of the key things with Bayesian is to identify what are your priors. What is your prior understanding of what’s going on in the data? Then, let that inform where you start the discussion.” Sekou notes that they identified two different priors being used within credit unions when it came to workplace strategies. Leaders who never really started working from home – their prior is work is at the office. While many others went home and did not see the office at all – their prior is home is where work is.

Part of the solution has to take into account those priors with each side recognizing the others’ priors and then lean into a collaborative solution for everyone.

Don’t decay trust. Enhance it.

One of the more troubling discoveries from their interviews with credit unions was the degradation of trust across all levels within credit unions. Some leaders expressed concern that it feels as if employees were taking advantage of being remote and having more autonomy. On the flip side, some employees shared that their organizations are just bringing them in to justify costs that were already fixed. 

These kinds of conversations and pivotal moments often fall to the middle managers.

This is where communication is key. Without open and honest conversations on why decisions are being made, trust will continue to wane on both sides. A lot of these kinds of conversations and pivotal moments fall to the middle managers (see Sekou’s final comment below). Be courageous enough to open those conversations up, encourage your leadership to be vulnerable, and create space for employees to be vulnerable. You will begin to repair and maintain that trust.

The policies and metrics leaders put in place can be shaped in a way that enhances trust rather than decays it. Be clear in your expectations of why you’re asking employees to come in. And open up space for feedback and time to process and take action on that feedback. You will end up building a more holistic and comprehensive approach and that will be essential to maintaining a good, open and trusting culture in hybrid workplaces.

There is no right or wrong way to approach hybrid workplace strategies.

Ultimately it is up to the individual credit union to decide how they will approach this new hybrid workplace culture that fits best for them. Doug and Sekou shared two final vital take-aways to help leaders find the right approach for their team.

Doug Leighton: Roles versus rules.
“If you’re going down the path of a roles-based approach, take a look at the individual responsibilities and how those responsibilities overlap. Build your hybrid program reflective of that as opposed to just blanket approach of a couple days a week. There’s no playbook because each credit union is different and the way that your employees interact is different. But each credit union has the capacity to take that hard look and ask, can this job be done remotely? Should it be done in person? If yes, why should it be done in person?”

Sekou Bermiss: Training support for middle managers.
“Most of the credit unions we interviewed were developing internal training, but the content needs to be developed carefully. Take the time to identify the specific skills that middle managers feel they lack or that they’re not confident with. The most common skill we picked up on was how to have difficult conversations. We’re having more conversations about how home life is impacting work than ever before and a lot of managers are uncomfortable with that kind of conversation. Getting these very specialized sorts of training to the folks who are at the frontline is critical. I believe that middle managers are the linchpin in not only keeping the workforce going, but also these are going to be the leaders in 10-15 years. And so, providing them with those skills is not only going to be important now, but as credit unions move forward.”

Watch the full session now.

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