Throughout the past few years, organizations have continued to evolve in response to shifting environments and priorities. Now, as insurance organizations are establishing more permanent plans for moving forward and operating in the long term, it’s important to explore how a corporate culture can best translate to the new working reality.

According to The Jacobson Group’s recent Q3 2022 Insurance Labor Market Study, conducted in partnership with Aon-Ward, 84 percent of insurance carriers are planning to continue offering hybrid work long-term. In today’s environment, team members commonly span across geographic locations and are primarily connecting via computer screens — with many never having met in person. To cultivate a culture that effectively unites employees at all organizational levels and locations, traditional tactics must be reviewed and re-evaluated.

Define how culture looks in your organization.

At its core, culture encompasses the values, beliefs, shared assumptions and norms of a group. It’s necessary that organizations review how these foundational elements are reinforced and woven into the current working environment. This starts by defining what culture looks like in your company or department and how it supports your organization’s larger vision and goals.

Depending on your organization, this exercise may include reviewing existing strategies, or it could mean starting with a blank slate. What does your company value? How has this been reflected in your work environment in the past? Is that approach still relevant in the current environment? Culture plays out in your company’s everyday operating principles, rules, organizational charts, employee perks, performance management plans and much more. Ensure you have a consistent North Star.

Look at traditional key factors through a new lens.

Once you have an understanding of your organization’s culture, explore how it is felt among employees and infused into their daily activities. Prior to the pandemic, many aspects of culture manifested in visual displays including company celebrations, dress codes, office environment and design, and more. Review traditional components of culture and examine ways they can be built and experienced in a more virtual world.

Leadership. Strong corporate culture starts with leadership. Ensure your team leaders and managers understand the role they play in propelling it forward.

This includes arming them with the tools, knowledge and development opportunities to drive your company’s culture in their everyday interactions and behaviors while clearly articulating corporate values to their employees. Invest in your leaders’ ability to effectively connect with employees and promote candid and ongoing two-way communication. If your company previously had an open-door policy, how can that be recreated virtually? Communication is key in a hybrid environment, and these individuals are a critical link between what your organization is aiming to accomplish and those who live and breathe the culture every day.

Work-life Balance. For most insurance organizations, the pandemic redefined parameters around work-life balance. Past norms no longer apply, as professionals have become accustomed to new routines and schedules. Whether your employees are in-person or remote, explore where you can offer flexibility and contribute to their personal fulfillment while also supporting your organizational and departmental goals. You may consider providing flex hours, letting individuals start their days earlier or later, or placing boundaries around contacting employees outside of their regular working hours.

Employee Recognition and Appreciation. While your organization likely had employee recognition programs in place prior to the pandemic, not all forms of recognition will successfully translate to the remote environment — especially those that were previously more visible rewards or public displays. Take the time to evaluate how your approach to employee appreciation can be most impactful across all work environments, rewarding behaviors that support your values and contribute to a positive and productive workplace.

In addition to recognition from leaders, consider how you can promote peer-to-peer recognition and provide all employees with the ability to formally give kudos to their colleagues. Complement formal programs by fostering an environment that encourages sharing wins and highlighting collaboration on a regular basis. Provide the space for managers to feature top performers from their teams in a way that is visible to other areas of the organization.

Community Building. Without shared break rooms, hallways and other communal spaces, impromptu relationship-building conversations happen much less frequently. However, a sense of belonging and community is as important as ever. Intentionally foster and facilitate these relationship-building conversations among your teams in a way that accommodates a hybrid environment. The opportunity to share creative ideas and knowledge with one another is easily lost in virtual settings. Dedicate time to fill this gap, inviting individuals to share what is going well and what could have gone better in various scenarios while exploring lessons learned and opening themselves up to advice, insight and informal mentoring from team members.

Depending on your team’s comfort level and geographic restrictions, meeting in person once a month or quarter can also greatly contribute to establishing strong working relationships. If this is not possible, consider how you can help individuals build their networks, both inside and outside of your team. This could be as simple as encouraging virtual lunches and coffee breaks, bringing in virtual guest speakers, celebrating milestones, or creating topic-specific team chats to ensure no one is unintentionally working in a silo.

Equitable Opportunities. Proactively identify and understand potential issues and concerns that may arise, working to find solutions that help everyone feel they are valued as equal parts of the team. For instance, how can you ensure those working remotely receive equal exposure to those who are physically in the office? What can they do to ensure they are not left at a disadvantage regarding career mobility? Approach professional development, social opportunities, meetings and other activities through a lens that accommodates dual working environments and encourages all individuals to actively participate.

A strong sense of corporate culture is vital for connecting employees and maintaining engagement at all levels. Spend the time to evaluate what is and is not working, seek out feedback from employees, and commit to continual improvement. As you establish long-term working arrangements, it’s essential to focus on creating a sense of belonging and shared purpose — even in physically disconnected environments.

*This article was originally published by Insurance Journal, CM’s sister publication.