“Culture” has always been an ambiguous but undeniably critical focus for business leaders. A strong company culture cannot be forced or manufactured; it must be built organically through genuine intentions and collective employee buy-in.
For managers, it’s been difficult enough to nail down a sturdy culture in scenarios where everyone is in the office each day. Now, with work becoming increasingly distributed and remote, the task is made all the more challenging. Numerous questions rise to the forefront:
- How do we foster tightly knit working relationships between teammates who might rarely (if ever) see one another in person?
- How can we maintain a sense of inclusivity and equality in hybrid settings where some employees are in-office, and others remote?
- What is the key to sticking together while our work, and outside factors, inevitably pull us in different directions?
There are no easy answers. But those companies that solve for them will surely be primed to succeed in a new era of work, driving superior productivity, profitability, retention, and talent acquisition.
To help business leaders tackle this crucial imperative, we reached out to two CEOs who specialize in employee engagement, corporate leadership, and adapting to the future of work. They narrowed the essence of company culture down to two key focal points: managing work instead of people, and recognizing the responsibility of connectedness.
Manage the Work, Not the People
Jody Thompson is the cofounder and CEO of CultureRx, a management consulting firm that emphasizes a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). We asked her about impediments that suppress an optimal company culture, and she articulated a key disconnect that managers must overcome:
Work culture has not advanced in 75 years. Now is our opportunity to move work cultures forward, rather than retrofit the status quo. Working from home (WFH) arrangements, flexwork policies and fancy workplace amenities do not advance work culture. Instead these Band Aid approaches reinforce a culture of entitlement, versus opportunity.
“Work culture has not advanced in 75 years. Now is our opportunity to move work cultures forward, rather than retrofit the status quo.”
The biggest and most important impediment that sabotages work culture today is the mindset around what it means to manage. Specifically, managers are still managing people, and not effectively managing the results of the work. In fact, it’s in our vernacular. How do we manage the mobile workforce? How do we manage people when we can’t see them? How do people managers create team cohesiveness?
Managers are still managing to time and location at the expense of getting crystal clear about measurable results with each person. It’s simply easier to make sure people are putting in time and are available during core working hours, than it is to do the hard work of holding people accountable to results, rather than the time clock.
If managers are not clear whether people are doing work when working remotely or working from home, then they were not clear with people while they were coming into the office every day. If they had been, then we wouldn’t be talking about how to get everyone back in the office where it looks like people are doing work.
In order to advance, the contemporary mantra is ‘manage the work, not the people.’ This also implies that work isn’t a place you go, it’s something you do. Ask yourself: am I holding people accountable to agreed-upon measurable results? Do I talk about the work or do I talk about when I want people available? Have I become a virtual hall monitor or am I coaching people to be more effective with what they are expected to deliver?
If we can overcome the idea of managing people, and instead effectively manage work, real change will happen. We’ll finally stop labeling workers who are not ‘in the office.’ People will do better work. Businesses and people will thrive. Managers will evolve from being permission-granters to performance-guiders. That’s what will create a contemporary culture of success for today’s workforce.
“If we can overcome the idea of managing people, and instead effectively manage work, real change will happen.”
The Responsibility of Connectedness
Susan LaMotte is the founder and CEO of exaqueo, an employer brand consulting firm centered on employee experience and employee engagement. These are her recommendations for retaining a tight, cohesive, unified company culture as work becomes more distributed:
Here at exaqueo we talk about the physicality of work as distributed work. No one is remote because we’re not far away. We’re connected by video, phone, project management tools, and the collaborative nature of our work. We’re 100% distributed and always have been. Pandemic or not, keeping our team connected and engaged has always been important.
First and foremost, our team knows that the responsibility of connectedness lies within all of us. We all have to make the effort and see it as core to our daily work habits. Many of our team members have regular virtual coffee chats, and we try hard to be focused on asking how everyone is doing—talking about our families and our lives in addition to work.
“First and foremost, our team knows that the responsibility of connectedness lies within all of us. We all have to make the effort and see it as core to our daily work habits.”
We have a number of company-wide efforts—and in times when we are able to travel we do a regular company retreat where we bring everyone together for several days. We spend a good portion of this time team-building and connecting with each other. We meet up for key brainstorm sessions or when clients require us to be on site.
During the pandemic, we have been more thoughtful about how to connect, including Friday happy lunch hours where team members rotate activities including playing live games, trivia contests, and learning more about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Working in this way requires constant reflection and re-evaluation to ensure we all stay connected!
Become a Champion of Company Culture in the New Era
At the end of the day, building a sturdy company culture in 2020 and beyond requires leaders to abandon outdated assumptions, facilitate seamless communication from anywhere, and rethink what “managing” really means.
We thank Jody and Susan for sharing their keen insights and advice on this vital topic. In your journey to cultivate a winning company culture, see if Sococo’s virtual office platform can play a role.
“As a fully distributed team, Sococo has become both a vital enabler of productivity and a fun part of our company culture.”
Shannon Ewan, Managing Director – ICAgile