I have worked at many companies both large as small as well as a few of my own. What that has offered me is the opportunity to experience culture in a variety of settings. Large companies used to pride themselves on fully stocked vending machines complete with an unlimited supply of Diet Mountain Dew. Early-stage startups offered daily luncheons and offices filled with nerf guns. The key question that I think many have been asking themselves, as I know I have, if we continue in a remote-first or remote-only environment, how do we maintain the “culture” of the company.
If you want to answer that question, I think you need to first ask yourself, what does culture at your company really mean anyway. Is your company culture really ping-pong tables and foosball? Is it the daily luncheons or are those just gimmicks designed to keep employees in the office longer? Employees are people and while those things look cool on an office tour, was that ping-pong table installed in an effort to create a culture or was the ping-pong table a result of it. You can’t force it, it has to be a result of how you interact with your colleagues each and every day. Employees are people, smart people, who while they may appreciate the fact that there is an arcade in the kitchen, that appreciation is surface-level, there is something much more meaningful that people want to feel and in my opinion is really where culture starts. If done right, where everyone is located is less important.
Finding your company culture starts with the employees, colleagues, co-workers etc at the company. They’re the ones who need to feel it; so start with them. Make time for those people no matter how busy you are. Listen to them. I mean really listen especially when on video chat. Don’t pretend like you’re looking at the camera when you’re actually reading your email. Actually stop what you are doing and listen to them. Reach out to people via phone, text, chat, email to check in. Ask them about their personal lives. Hold group happy hours. We have this amazing opportunity to see into people’s personal lives that we previously didn’t have access to. Take advantage of that.
At the end of the day people want to be valued. They want to be heard . We want to know that while work is important, family is even more important. Employees aren’t resources on a spreadsheet. They are humans with personal victories and struggles. This is true whether we all work out of the same office or we never work in the same physical office again. This kind of effort takes time, but this is what culture is all about. Not ping-pong tables and unlimited soda vending machines.
So as you think about your company’s future and how that may impact your culture. I would encourage you to instead look at this as an opportunity to remove the distractions of what we used to think it was and instead focus on what actually is and by doing so you may end up building something stronger.