The Evolution of Company Culture: What it Takes to Create a Remarkable Culture in a Hybrid World

HubSpot
5 min readFeb 17, 2021

By Eimear Marrinan, Director of Culture at HubSpot

As our co-founder Dharmesh Shah notes in our Culture Code we’re building two products at HubSpot — one for our customers, one for our employees. When the global pandemic first hit and we moved fully remote, we spent a lot of time thinking about the impact this transition might have on our culture, and how to translate our culture into a virtual world. We had to ensure our culture and values still held true in this new environment, and that our culture would act as an enabler for change and not a blocker. Recognizing that you couldn’t just recreate an office experience online, we had to be intentional in ensuring we engaged and connected our employees in a meaningful way.

This week at HubSpot, we‘re hosting HEART week, which s dedicated to celebrating our values — Humble, Empathetic, Adaptable, Remarkable and Transparent (HEART). And for the first time HEART week is being held 100% online. As we approached this week, I reflected a lot on our journey to get here; what we did to transition our experiences online but more importantly what worked to translate our culture into this virtual world.

While this journey is definitely not over — late last year we announced our plans to transition to a fully hybrid model in 2021 — I wanted to share some of what we considered and kept top of mind. Hopefully this will help you as you think through your culture strategy and your future of work model.

Culture does not need four walls to thrive.

There’s a misconception that’s been built that culture is linked to the physical office environment. Culture has become synonymous with smoothie bars, ping pong tables and fun events. Truthfully, we’ve done a disservice to culture, especially in the tech world. While all of these things help activate a company culture and engage employees, the reality is that they are more benefits and perks, they don’t define a company’s culture. Culture is a company’s collective personality. It is a set of shared values, beliefs and practices. Instead of over indexing on what you are missing from the office and how to recreate an office environment, spend time up front evaluating your culture. Ask yourself are your values showing up in the way you expect them to and if not, how should you consider adapting and evolving your culture and values so they enable you to successfully transition your work model.

Create experiences that activate your culture.

Too often, companies fall into the trap of creating experiences that don’t support their culture — and they ultimately don’t have a meaningful impact. As my team put together programming for HEART week, we were intentional about connecting the why back to the values we admire. For example, we’ve invited our charity partners as part of our HubSpot Helps program to share virtual volunteer opportunities — a perfect example of celebrating humility. We’re also hosting a HubTalk with Bozoma Saint John, the CMO from Netflix, who will share with us her remarkable career journey. Last but not least, we’re encouraging managers to have transparent conversations with their teams about our values and how they are brought through in their every day work. Let your culture guide your experiences, not the other way around.

What happens in the office, stays in the office.

Recreating an in office experience online by adding a Zoom link is quickly becoming my worst nightmare. As you think about ways to activate and celebrate your culture in a virtual environment, you have to be more thoughtful and intentional than ever. Build moments that encourage team engagement and interaction, and work to ensure people are getting the intended result from these interactions. Not everything has to be centered around a live Zoom event. In fact, if you ask your employees (which we did), you’ll find that people are searching for ways to connect and engage in company culture without having to log into yet another virtual event. This year, we have created a Slack channel dedicated to HEART Week and are encouraging employees to share stories of how employees, managers & customers have displayed HEART. A simple but really effective way to connect and engage team members, and remind everybody what our culture really is all about (hint: it’s all about the people).

Lead with inclusion.

No matter where or how you work, your experience and sense of inclusion should feel the same. And this sense of inclusion extends far beyond your place of work. Building a diverse company and one that our grandkids would be proud of is a core priority of HubSpot, and so recognizing and celebrating diversity as we transitioned online was non-negotiable. But, we also had to consider timing — scheduling a live Zoom event at a time when parents need to be with their kids goes against everything we stand for. Instead, consider asynchronous communication and self paced programming. Offering ways for everyone to get involved, regardless of time zones really sets the tone for inclusion and employee engagement.

Solve for the long term.

Laurel Farrel, CEO & Founder of Distribute Consulting recently wrote about Sustainable Remote Work Practices and this quote really resonated with me — “companies that are embracing a work model shift, are still operating on an emergency bandage plan. And for complete healing, a thorough treatment plan is needed.” Recognizing that we’re still in the thick of a global pandemic and not a fully functioning hybrid company yet, we’re using experiences like HEART week as our treatment plan, testing out what resonates with employees and what we need to pivot as we think about the future. And HEART week is just one example. We held our first virtual Pride 5k run back in June, asking employees to share pictures and donate to a charity of choice. We asked for feedback post this event and learned this form of celebration is a firm favorite. You won’t get it right the first time and we certainly didn’t, but by asking for feedback, and acting on that feedback you will learn the best way to keep your employees engaged and scale your culture for the long term.

There is temptation to wait for the pandemic to pass to start thinking about culture, but don’t leave your company culture to chance. If 2020 taught me anything, it‘s to be proactive and spend this time learning, listening and iterating. Whether you have decided to shift fully remote or are leaning into a hybrid work model, take time to assess your culture and values. Make sure these values are still relevant and align with your company’s evolution. Be intentional about how you celebrate your values and engage your employees. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’m excited to listen and learn from my mistakes along the way. And speaking of learning, I would love to learn from you about your best practices as you consider the evolution of your culture strategy!

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