Your Culture Has Left The Building
5 Keys to Cultivating Culture Anywhere
Gift-wrapping a colleague’s cubicle on their birthday. Presenting an official key on the first day of work. Touching a sculpture in the lobby for good luck.
These are all examples of office-based traditions that employees – and leaders – often confuse with culture. I’ve defined culture in a previous article as the shared beliefs, practices and values that set the context for everything that happens or should happen within an enterprise. The tangible examples of “how we do things” are expressions of culture, but culture itself is far more.
I’ve been hearing from leaders in all industries bemoan the rise of the hybrid work environment as the death knell of culture. “If we’re not in the office together, we’re losing our sense of who we are as an organization,” one said to me.
The fervor of some companies to bring people back together in person is rooted in the fear of permanent loss of connection. But two years into a pandemic world, it seems evident that some fashion of remote work is here to stay, in industries where that is possible. The truth is remote work isn’t costing you as much cultural capital as you might think.
When I coach these leaders, I encourage them to understand fully what drives their culture, and how they can help cultivate it, no matter where their teams are working.
- Set Interactive Intention. A leader and their direct report may have had desks close together in their traditional workspace. Perhaps that led to more on-the-fly discussions in passing. Or perhaps it didn’t. In either case, the fact that you must plan to see or speak to a colleague makes the interaction more intentional. Use that for the benefit of both of you. Give the interaction some advance thought. What do you hope to get out of a conversation? What should you discuss? Remember, when it comes to colleague interaction, quality is more important than proximity.
- Innovate, don’t stagnate. Everyone loved the monthly staff meetings in the office because (fill in the blank.) But no one liked (fill in the blank) about them. If you haven’t already learned about the pros and cons of the way you used to do things, make it a priority. Expend the energy to figure out how to be more innovative in meetings and interactions and accelerate finding new norms and popular elements of hybrid meetings and touch base times. There is no shortage of ideas for hybrid meeting success.
- Instill Value and Values. Everyone’s time is valuable. Make sure that the time you ask colleagues and team members to engage with one another meets a need or advances a goal. And in everything you do, make your organizational values central.
- Employ humility, candor and grace. Extend trust to get trust. Allow others to make mistakes, and then grant the space to correct and learn from those mistakes. Handle challenges with grace and understanding. Creating an environment that allows everyone to breathe, rather than holding their breath or hyperventilating, provides an environment that is desirable, supportive and encourages growth.
- Keep Communication Transparent. A recent article about winning in culture during COVID-19 reveals the most important marker of cultural success was how leaders communicated. Data collected in the MIT SMR/Glassdoor Culture 500, an annual index and research project that uses over 1.4 million employee reviews to analyze culture in leading companies, showed that employees cited high-quality communication as a corollary to high culture satisfaction. This tracks with other studies conducted about culture and values. But this most recent study’s timing shows that transparent communication, especially during times of uncertainty, holds great importance for employees.
What do these keys have in common? They have nothing to do with being in an office. While we are all social creatures with a need or desire to connect with others, we can seed and grow our culture no matter where our work environment takes us.