Kathy Miller Perkins, one of our Career Coaches, shared this insightful perspective in her Forbes.com column recently. 

David, a senior leader at a public transportation company, has struggled to meet his employees’ desires for work flexibility. Because half of his team works in the office on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other half comes in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, “we never see each other face-to-face,” he says. His organization is a public benefits corporation with a solid commitment to its stakeholders, including employees' customers, and communities. Fulfilling their responsibilities requires strong, trusting relationships and collaboration. David worries about how to maintain the culture they need.

Flexible work is great, but most companies are experiencing challenges with these new work arrangements. Leaders cannot afford to ignore the issues flexible work arrangements present.

A powerful purpose can go a long way in creating a solid foundation for building effective, flexible work models. Unite around a shared purpose to strengthen your culture for hybrid work.

Shared purpose strengthens bonds
Flexible work models usually offer employees choices about where and when to work. However, leaders fear these conditions will weaken the company and team cultures. These concerns aren't without merit.

The day-to-day rituals that formerly created cohesive and robust relationships can all but disappear in a hybrid work world.

Recent research shows people do feel less linked to their companies and coworkers as work becomes virtual. And when connections weaken, more than the culture is at risk. Employee engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty also suffer.

A report issued by McKinsey indicates lack of feeling valued and belonging may account for why people are leaving their jobs.

Of course, you can create opportunities for rituals and interactions even in a hybrid world. However, leaning into an inspiring purpose team members share and value produces a stronger glue.

A Harvard Business Review article claims, "Purpose is collaboration's most unacknowledged determinant." The authors suggest neither technologies nor training nor other events can bring a team together like meaningful challenges people are inspired to tackle together.

A common purpose is always a critical factor in creating unity within and across an organization. However, shared purpose is the most crucial basis for cohesiveness in a hybrid workplace.

Leaders must communicate why and how the purpose relates to every job and team throughout the organization. Likewise, team leaders should establish how their groups' goals and tasks contribute to their bigger picture and the greater good they serve.

Strong bonds and meaningful work create engagement
Leaders fear that employees who work remotely may not be as engaged with their work and their company as in the old days when everyone showed up at the office. Fair enough.

However, do not forget that engagement levels have not been uniformly high for many years, long before hybrid work models entered the scene. Nevertheless, flexible work arrangements contain pitfalls that could drive engagement even lower than in past years. Address the obstacles through solutions proven effective over time.

Among the most powerful levers for engagement are fulfilling relationships and meaningful work. A strong purpose addresses both levers.

Shared purpose binds people together. And when team members understand how their jobs contribute to the company's success and the greater good, they are likely to experience the work as meaningful.

An inspiring purpose prevents dysfunctional tribalism
Some leaders ponder what might happen as teams become more important to employees than the office. In an article on what company culture looks like without the centrality of the office, Jena McGregor says leaders are worried that team cultures may trump the overall company culture.

Leaders are concerned about how they can manage a multitude of mini cultures. After all, over the past months of virtual interactions, employees communicated primarily with their team members. Virtual work cuts down on the casual conversations and social events that strengthen the bonds of the overall company community.

However, mini cultures, often known as subcultures, are not new. And most often, strong and positive team cultures support the teams’ success. Therefore, you should not discourage these bonds.

The problems arise when values and norms within a team become disassociated from the bigger company picture. This disconnection may be more likely in the absence of a shared physical space.

To prevent detachment from the company culture, leaders at every level and position should constantly communicate and reinforce the stories that illustrate what the company stands for and the purpose it serves. Stories bring people together. Leaders must talk about the common thread that ties every team to the bigger organizational picture. And the most significant collective cord is company purpose.

Kathy Miller Perkins Career Coach Virginia Tech headshot

Kathy Miller Perkins is a psychologist and a leadership and career coach. In her role as the owner and CEO of a consulting firm, she has assisted leaders of global corporations and educational institutions. Kathy directs a research program exploring the culture and leadership characteristics of successful purpose-driven organizations. She authored the book, Leadership and Purpose: How to Create a Sustainable Culture, and writes regularly for Forbes.com. Kathy obtained her B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University and her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Kentucky. She is currently pursuing B Corps certification—a designation for businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.