Hybrid Workplace Success Requires the Right Culture

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Communication, coordination and connection are key to employees thriving away from the office.

In the spring of 2020, AMN Healthcare, the nation’s largest total talent solutions company for healthcare, went from nearly 3,000 corporate team members working in about two dozen offices around the country to almost everybody working from home in just two weeks. We weren’t alone, of course — companies everywhere were doing the same thing. Our tens of thousands of healthcare professionals working at hospitals and other healthcare organizations became the most precious workforce in our country. It became essential for us to engineer a flawless transition to working from home because we were responsible for getting healthcare heroes where they were needed most.  

Technology and teamwork made this revolution in the way we work possible. But what happened after we all began working from home was revolutionary in its own way. We became more connected than ever. And this was based not so much on technology but rather on company culture. 

While hard at work in our pajamas with our laptops at our kitchen tables, we soon began to think about what would happen after the pandemic. Would everybody troop back into the office, would we all stay at home, or would some type of hybrid workplace evolve instead that embraced the best of home and office? The hybrid model is winning, but culture will determine its long-term success.

Hybrid Workplace, Hybrid Success

Conventional wisdom holds that businesses perform best when teams work together in close physical proximity at least some of the time. Many business leaders and pundits wrestle with the idea that the loss of face-to-face communication will stifle business success, individual development and team engagement. Humans are intensely social beings, and the relationships upon which business depends should be face-to-face, shouldn’t they? 

Well, yes and no. I love working closely with my fellow team members, and with our clients and associations, and I believe we can be uniquely creative and productive when we put our heads together in the same room. Still, like many of AMN’s team members, I also appreciate working from home some of the time. 

Clearly, creating a successful hybrid workplace is a work in progress. You can read business articles, attend webinars and hire consultants to design and implement a system for your workplace. You can have lengthy conversations with colleagues and board members about it. But, in truth, an effective hybrid workplace is not yet defined. It’s too new and too revolutionary, and we haven’t had enough time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Instead of focusing on how many people will be in the office, AMN is dedicated to building the best possible collaborative, connected and supportive workplace culture using the available array of technology tools.
A recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that the goals of creating an effective hybrid workplace are the same as those for any geographically distributed team — or perhaps any team at all. Those goals or objectives are known as the 5C challenges: 

  • Communication
  • Coordination
  • Connection
  • Creativity
  • Culture

At AMN, we have been working at developing strengths to meet these challenges for years, long before anyone had heard of COVID-19. In particular, we have made communication, coordination and connection foundational to our culture, which helped us immensely when the virtual workplace became a necessity, and will continue to support our hybrid workplace as it evolves.

Communication: Robust and Fun

AMN is a national company with team members in multiple states, many of whom are in turn working with healthcare professionals serving in all 50 states. Some aspects of AMN’s work have always been virtual, especially communication among team members and with healthcare professionals. For many of our business functions, going entirely virtual was not a leap into the dark. We expanded upon our existing virtual business communications and began organizing more frequent small-team meetings along with larger unit- or department-level meetings and gatherings. 

Meetings became more casual and fun, with banter in the chat function occasionally overwhelming the business conversation. We found this does not harm productivity; it probably helps it. Groups started having virtual lunches and happy hours together, with some people in conference rooms joined by remote team members dispersed at their homes or on the road around the country.

Coordination: Keeping Everybody Involved 

Coordination has always been a strength in the AMN Healthcare workplace, one that proved to be critical in the days of working from home and now in the hybrid era. We’ve always worked hard to keep everybody fully involved and invested in projects because we’ve always had many people working remotely and in different locations. Decision-making usually involved people in different locations. But, also, ours is a fast-paced environment where people can find themselves in the middle of a significant project just a couple weeks after they’re hired or become involved in multiple major projects at once. Because coordination is pretty much the norm at AMN whether you are in the next cubicle or across the country, it was not too much of a stretch to bump it up through our expanded virtual communication to ensure inclusion for team members.

Connection: Closer Together Though Farther Apart

Connection, which has been a fundamental part of AMN’s culture, really blossomed in the remote workplace. Connection includes our professional relationships and, more importantly, our personal and social connections — which are vital to engagement and fulfillment at work and in the rest of our lives. Personal and social connections also are important for creating and maintaining a sense of inclusion and for enhancing psychological well-being.
Connection in the virtual workplace can be as simple as a virtual baby shower for a colleague, or it can be as significant as bringing people together for community support and social justice causes. AMN Healthcare now has 10 employee resource groups (ERGs) with one quarter of our 4,000 team members participating, including groups focused on LGBTQ+ and Black women populations, as well as on mental health advocacy and body image positivity. Our ERGs and other team efforts to support the communities where we live and work became supercharged during the pandemic as we sought to strengthen connections in the face of isolation. It has brought our inclusive culture to a whole new level and is one of the bright spots of the pandemic era for our company.

Creativity Abounds Everywhere

Creativity poses its own unique challenges in the pursuit of success in a work-from-home or hybrid workplace, particularly collective creativity. Yet creativity doesn’t have to suffer in the virtual workplace. I have seen tremendous creativity as people come together on projects and daily work through business communications platforms. Whether virtual or in person, creating diverse teams and encouraging each person to share their unique perspectives is the best way to enhance the creativity of the company.

Culture Comes First 

Culture holds the key to success, whether you are in a traditional workplace, a virtual workplace or a hybrid workplace. A strong culture embeds communication, coordination and connection into its foundations to achieve business goals while also supporting all team members in their personal and professional lives. All business leaders probably have a vision of what a hybrid workplace should look like. But the reality of what a successful hybrid workplace eventually looks like may be very different from our vision — and it will vary from one company to another. However, if we ensure robust communication, coordination and connection in our strategic and daily work, and in the engagement of our entire team, then whatever hybrid workplace finally emerges will be a success for your business. 

Susan Salka is retired president, CEO and director of AMN Healthcare. She is also a member of the board at McKesson.

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