Culture building in a hybrid workplace: A Q&A with Tracy Morris

For many, working from home has evolved from a requirement to a choice. Even as offices open their doors, a majority of workers who can work from home choose to do so all or most of the time. While there are clear benefits—more flexibility, less commuting—a recent Pew survey revealed that 60 percent of Americans say that working from home has made them feel less connected to their colleagues. And yet other research shows that these personal interactions and relationships are exactly what employees value the most (and what keeps them at their jobs).

How do companies strengthen community and culture when employees are no longer in the office? And how can leaders ensure that a hybrid working environment is inclusive for everyone? At Leff, we are continuing to experiment and innovate on these challenges—especially as we continue to grow our team and hire from around the world.

Leading our thinking on these topics is our people manager, Tracy Morris, who joined Leff in November 2021. I recently sat down with Tracy to discuss her role and how to create a hybrid workplace where all of our employees can thrive.

Tina: Can you share a bit about yourself and your path to Leff?

Tracy: The best way to describe me is as a “people person.” For me, everything starts with empathy. I always wanted to be in a role where I could directly help others. After earning my bachelor’s degree in communication, I went on to earn graduate degrees in HR and leadership. The more I learned, the more I knew this field was for me. It is the perfect encapsulation of my values and the skills that I bring to the table.

My HR background has mostly been in manufacturing, but at the same time, I have always loved writing. Joining Leff, a small but growing company, as a people manager was exciting because I felt I could pull together everything that I’ve learned throughout my career and really make a difference. I trusted my intuition, and it has been a wonderful decision.

Tina: What is your role in building culture, and how has that effort changed as a result of the shift to remote or hybrid work?

Tracy: In the past, my office was a revolving door. Traditionally, that’s how I built relationships. Now that we work remotely, people can’t just stop in. How do you let people know it’s OK to put five, ten minutes on someone’s calendar to have a quick connect? Leading by example is key. I have tried to put systems in place to let people know that I’m here to listen, even if it’s just water cooler talk. I have been scheduling one-on-ones with everyone just to get a sense for what’s going on in their lives and to share what’s going on with me. I want to be open and available so people know they can come to me. It’s about building a strong sense of trust even though we’re not in-person and can’t casually bump into each other in the office.

Part of that is attending our all-team meetings. Typically, HR doesn’t join those meetings because part of the job is to remain as neutral as possible. But with the shift toward hybrid and remote work, it’s important for me to be more visible and have my finger on the pulse of the organization. Partaking in these standard weekly meetings allows me to learn more about every employee at all levels of the organization, to get a sense for what people are thinking about and how they’re feeling. So as things come up, I can better understand where each person is coming from and empathize with them as they navigate their professional and personal lives.

Through these behaviors, a culture settles in, and we build trust. If people don’t trust HR and their role in the organization, we have a problem, and that can lead to bigger issues. Say someone is struggling with their manager but they don’t feel comfortable coming to me. They may talk to a coworker, which may or may not make things better. I want to be a sounding board for people. And if there’s something I can change to make things better for them, I do that. If it’s a problem I can’t fix, I at least try to find resources or tools to help alleviate issues.

Another part of building the culture we want is having psychological safety. We are working to build a more diverse workforce. And especially in a remote work environment, it’s more important than ever to create a place where our people feel they belong. You never want someone to feel like they’re on an island with no one to relate to or talk to.

Tina: What changes have you and the team made to support this new way of working?

Tracy: In addition to being visible and building trust, it’s important to make sure we are equipped to handle new situations that have emerged from the pandemic’s aftermath. Mental health, burnout, remote and hybrid work—these issues haven’t traditionally been at the forefront of HR. But they are now. I’m excited about developing the additional training and resources to help our leaders handle situations they may not have encountered before.

From a leadership perspective, we’re also working on adapting how we communicate. When people are not face to face, things often get taken out of context, and it becomes more difficult to pick up on social cues. We’re all learning how to adjust and relate to one another in new ways.

The team has also put a greater focus on sharing wins both at and outside of work. On our Monday all-team calls, we take time for people to share how they’ve been “winning off the field” recently—for example, I shared when my son chose a college and bought his first car. And we also do “put-ups,” where people show gratitude for their colleagues and recent work they’ve done, such as reprioritizing tasks last minute to ensure a client’s needs are not only being met but exceeded. This recognition shows people they’re valued, and it’s one of the ways we maintain and build on our culture on a frequent basis.

During conversations with the leadership team, I’ve given them kudos for having created a great company culture thus far and have expressed my gratitude for now having the honor to help maintain and build upon it. It’s a huge responsibility, and this is just the beginning—there is so much more to come. We’ll keep experimenting and innovating to make this new way of working the norm for everyone. I’m excited to keep digging in and learning to assist others in making this transition as smooth as possible. I expect there will be challenges ahead, but I’m confident we have established solid ground to build upon, and that is mainly due to the great people who work here at Leff. I am truly honored to be a part of this amazing, collaborative organization.

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