In this world of hybrid work, how to build and maintain long-lasting and impactful relationships at your company can be a head-scratcher of a question. The Culture Kit hosts, Jenny Chatman and Sameer Srivastava, are here to help. On today’s episode, they answer a question from HubSpot CEO Yamini Rangan about how to keep employees connected whether they’re at home or in the office.

Do you have a vexing question about work that you want Jenny and Sameer to answer? Submit your “Fixit Ticket!” here.

The Culture Kit with Jenny & Sameer is a production of Haas School of Business and is produced by University FM.

Episode Notes

In this world of hybrid work, how to build and maintain long-lasting and impactful relationships at your company can be a head-scratcher of a question.

The Culture Kit hosts, Jenny Chatman and Sameer Srivastava, are here to help. On today’s episode, they’re answering a question from HubSpot CEO Yamini Rangan about how to keep employees connected whether they’re at home or in the office.

Jenny & Sameer’s 3 Main Takeaways:

  1. Engage – connect people to the broader culture through meaningful shared experiences.
  2. Expand – make those shared activities opportunities to broaden their networks within the organization.
  3. Experiment – be open to new ways of creating connection, while also being willing to drop bad ideas and adjust over time.

Show Links:

Do you have a vexing question about work that you want Jenny and Sameer to answer? Submit your “Fixit Ticket!”

You can learn more about the podcast and the Berkeley Center for Workplace Culture and Innovation at

*The Culture Kit with Jenny & Sameer is a production of Haas School of Business and is produced by University FM.*


[00:00:00] Jenny: Hi, I’m Jenny Chatman.

[00:00:04] Sameer: And I’m Sameer Srivastava.

[00:00:05] Jenny: We’re professors at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. And we’ve dedicated our careers to studying and advancing effective workplace cultures.

[00:00:15] Sameer: Jenny is a psychologist who helped create the field of organizational culture research.

[00:00:20] Jenny: And Sameer is a sociologist who’s pioneering new ways to use big data, AI, and deep learning to uncover insights about what happens inside organizations.

[00:00:33] Sameer: Together, we founded the Berkeley Center for Workplace Culture and Innovation to help business leaders create and cultivate healthy and effective workplace cultures.

[00:00:42] Jenny: In this podcast, we’ll tackle hard-to-fix issues that your organization is facing as we look to the future of work.

[00:00:50] Sameer: We’ll take your questions about culture and give you practical advice that you can put to work right away. Join us for The Culture Kit with Jenny & Sameer and start building your culture toolkit.

[00:01:00] Jenny: Hi, Sameer.

[00:01:01] Sameer: Hey, Jenny.

[00:01:06] Jenny: Well, I’m still buzzing from our Culture Connect Conference that we held in January here at the Haas School.

[00:01:11] Sameer: Yeah. This was our sixth year doing the conference. And I think it’s fair to say this was our biggest and best one yet.

[00:01:17] Jenny: Definitely.

[00:01:18] Sameer: Well, I’m really excited about this podcast because it really builds on one of the core themes of our conference, which is bringing together the worlds of academic research and industry practice. And here, we get to take a deeper dive into a specific problem raised by a specific leader and really workshop it together.

[00:01:37] Jenny: Yeah, let’s get to our first question.

[00:01:39] Yamini: Hey, Jenny and Sameer. This is Yamini Rangan, CEO of HubSpot. And here’s a question that’s on my mind on culture. We’ve shifted from in-office to hybrid over the past three years. Our version of hybrid work does not have any mandated days.

What that means is employees can choose to work from home all the time or they can come into the office two to three days a week or work in office all days. Well, we want to be even more connected as a hybrid company. So, what do you think works and what do you think does not work in building that connection with the mission, with the purpose, and even with colleagues outside of your day-to-day teams that you interact with? I would love to know.

[00:02:26] Sameer: So, Jenny, what do you think about Yamini’s question?

[00:02:28] Jenny: Well, it’s such a timely question. I think most organizations are struggling with exactly what Yamini raises here. And the good news is that we had the incredible Nick Bloom, professor from Stanford, come to the conference and talk through the work that he’s doing on work approaches. And I think he shared with us some pretty concrete findings.

The first one is, of course, that hybrid work is here to stay. Even though some companies wish that they could mandate people come back full-time every day, the labor force has really demanded that there be flexibility in work. So, it’s probably going to be impossible to require people to be in five days a week.

At the same time, Nick’s work also showed that fully remote work can be hard to manage. So, I think organizations are going to have to reckon with hybrid work and how to structure it in a way that, you know, doesn’t disadvantage the culture and really builds in some flexibility but still maintains a level of connection.

[00:03:33] Sameer: Yeah. And we’re definitely seeing examples of companies that are requiring or mandating that people come back into the office some number of days a week, in some cases, all five days. And you can understand where that instinct comes from.

We know, for example, we can remember back to the early days of the shift to remote work when the focus was on individual productivity. And the early data suggested that remote work did not have a big negative impact on productivity. And so, people were fine with it. But even early on, there were signs of unintended consequences of remote work.

There was a very famous study by Microsoft Research and one of our own colleagues here at Berkeley Haas, David Holtz, which showed that, as people were engaged in remote work, their workplace network started to become more siloed. And we know that the more siloed a person’s network is, the less information they are getting and the less resources they’re getting, like social emotional support or mentorship.

[00:04:29] Jenny: And perhaps an even bigger unintended consequence is that the culture can begin to fray.

[00:04:34] Sameer: What do you mean by that?

[00:04:36] Jenny: Well, I think people start to feel less connected to their organization and really less committed to it, so less motivated about doing the work that needs, needs to happen. I think many managers are struggling with just feeling disconnected from their work teams, and people feeling, kind of, uninspired and lacking that sense of, of collective effort that people really are inspired by within their organizations.

[00:05:07] Sameer: That totally makes sense, but where does that leave you with respect to these return to work mandates? Is that a good idea, you think?

[00:05:14] Jenny: Well, you know, I think one of the biggest problems that we’re facing now with all of these choices about work approaches is that workers feel that they have too much choice. There’s actually work from Sheena Iyengar, who’s a professor at Columbia University. Her early work showed that there were some supermarkets where there literally were too many choices of jams, and it made people unhappy.

I think we’re in, kind of, the same situation with work. There’s no routine anymore. So, every morning, you wake up and you have to answer the question, “Should I go to work today? And if I go to work, what will I do? And if I go to work, who will I see?” versus, “If I stay home, what would I do at home?”

So, I think, if you’re going to spend all the time, you know, getting dressed, packing your lunch, commuting to work, you want to know that it’s worthwhile to go into the office, that you’ll get something more there than working from home or some other remote location. So, I do think that we need to get workers out of this, kind of, abyss of uncertainty and give some guidelines for, for what needs to happen at work.

[00:06:33] Sameer: Yeah. So, I, I think I mostly agree with everything you said. One thing I would add is that it’s more than just about getting people to come back into the office and do work face-to-face. It’s also about helping them get the most out of being co-present. And one of the, I think, really useful ways to do so is by engaging in the so-called shared activity principle.

This is an idea in networks research that networks are often the byproduct of people doing things that they enjoy doing together, particularly when those activities involve some level of passion and interdependence. So, think about community service, or a lunch-and-learn series that are on specific topics, sports events, other kinds of things.

This is not just about a Friday happy hour. It’s about finding those things that people get really connected to and through which relationships form and endure. So, what are some other ways to create connection when people come together in the office, Jenny?

[00:07:27] Jenny: Well, first, I think we need to be careful about creating contrived situations where, you know, people are forced to socialize with co-workers as if they’re friends, which is not to say that that’s a problem, but what the research is showing is that these, kind of, contrived situations, you know, Friday beer blasts or, or things that aren’t really connected to the work itself aren’t necessarily helping people feel more committed and satisfied at work.

And so, I think we come back to what some folks have been thinking about all along ever since COVID hit, which is, when do people actually need to be together face to face? And when is it less important for them to be together face to face? So, think, think about brainstorming activities or complex decision-making involving people from disparate functions around an organization.

Those are clearly best done in person where you have access to all of the communication richness and immediacy that comes with being face to face. But, you know, if you need to work on an expense report, you could stay home to do that. That’s not going to be so important.

And some organizations and researchers, Microsoft, in particular, have been looking into creating a list of the tasks that are best accomplished in person versus those that can be best accomplished on your own. In particular, three moments that matter are onboarding, starting a new project, and activities to strengthen team cohesion.

[00:09:01] Sameer: But going beyond what the research says, I think this is also an important time for companies to be experimenting with new approaches.

[00:09:08] Jenny: I think that’s a really important theme. And at the conference, we heard the president of Lyft give a, kind of, case study on how they’ve experimented with work schedules. They actually developed a very elaborate work schedule approach where there was relatively little coordination. And they let it run for a while and found that it wasn’t working.

So, they made a significant adjustment where they asked people to be in together on certain days so that they would really get the maximum benefit of bringing people together. But the key there is that you’ve got to be open to this. See what’s working in your organization. These are really different ways of working. And organizations need to be a little bit innovative and, you know, think about using trial and error to see what works.

[00:10:00] Sameer: Yeah. And I think some of this is also about pushing oneself and the rest of the organization out of the comfort zone. I had to push myself out of my own comfort zone not too long ago when I went to an event that our Center co-organized with a company called Late Nite Art, which was all about connecting through art.

And there I met some people from Google Quantum Computing and learned that this is a core part of what they’re doing in their organization. They even have an artist in residence program. And the fact that employees can engage with art at work is actually making work more fun and drawing people back in.

[00:10:38] Jenny: You just blew my mind.

[00:10:39] Sameer: I was pretty surprised that I would be working with other people doing watercoloring in the evening one night, but I did.

[00:10:47] Jenny: It’s hard for me to imagine that.

[00:10:51] Sameer: Another off-the-wall idea that comes to mind relates to a point that Nick Bloom made during his presentation, which is that given this what he describes as a more permanent shift to hybrid work, we’re actually seeing a shift in when people are engaging in leisure activities.

So, whereas, golf used to be primarily a weekend activity, now golf is being played throughout the week. And this is not having a negative impact on people’s productivity. So, what about a provocative idea? Rather than treating these leisure activities as somehow verboten, firms could actually help their employees coordinate so that they can play golf together every once in a while with colleagues rather than just with strangers.

[00:11:31] Jenny: There is really something to that connection. And if you don’t want to become the golf coordinator, some companies—like Visa—bring employees together to volunteer a few times a year, increasing their connections to one another while giving back.

This also reminds me of research by Dan Stein, who was a PhD student here at Haas, and Juliana Schroeder, one of colleagues. They conducted this really interesting study during the pandemic on how rituals held work teams together. It was a glue.

And so, let me define what I mean by rituals. I mean things like going for a regular coffee meetup on Tuesdays or starting every Zoom meeting with a group cheer. These were things that help people, kind of, instantly identify with their team and with the organization that they were working for. And they made a huge difference in keeping people connected, even at the height of the pandemic when people were, you know, having to adhere to shelter-in-place orders.

[00:12:29] Sameer: That sounds really powerful. The last thing that comes to mind to me is that a lot of the rituals that Jenny’s talking about and the other coordination we’ve been talking about need not happen manually. Increasingly, this can be mediated through technology.

So, there are tools now that integrate with communication platforms like Slack or Teams. And that help nudge people or even automate the process of building connections outside of your normal workflow.

So, with that, why don’t we wrap up? Jenny, how would you summarize the takeaways from today?

[00:13:01] Jenny: Yeah. Well, I’m thinking about three words that can summarize what we’ve talked about. The first is “engage.” So, when people come together at work, we need to help them connect to the broader culture through meaningful shared experiences. And this will help them identify with the organization.

The second one is “expand,” meaning that we should help people create connections via shared activities, whether it’s watercolors at night or golf games in the day, so that they can broaden their networks within the organization. And this is actually really effective in smoothing out the workflow. And then the third E is to experiment. Be open to new ways of creating connection, but also be willing to drop bad ideas and make adjustments over time.

[00:13:54] Sameer: Terrific. Thanks for that summary, Jenny. And I think it’s time now for our final E, which is to exit. We will see you next time.

[00:14:02] Jenny: See you, Sameer.

Thanks for listening to The Culture Kit with Jenny and Sameer. Do you have a vexing question about work that you want us to answer? Go to to submit your fix-it ticket today.

[00:14:17] Sameer: The Culture Kit Podcast is a production of the Berkeley Center for Workplace Culture and Innovation at the Haas School of Business, and is produced by University FM. If you enjoyed the show, be sure to hit that Subscribe button, leave us a review, and share this episode online so others who have workplace culture questions can find us, too.

[00:14:37] Jenny: I’m Jenny.

[00:14:38] Sameer: And I’m Sameer.

[00:14:39] Jenny: We’ll be back soon with more tools to help fix your work culture challenges.

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Previous Episode 1: The Key to Keeping a Culture Strong with WD-40 CEO Steve Brass Next Episode 3: How to Manage the Tricky World of Subcultures