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Linked: Do You Want A Healthy Culture? Quit Worrying About Where People Work

The article below makes a lot of really good points, and I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I find a lot to agree with. Today, however, I want to talk a bit more about this particular statement as it relates to the culture around your team, and how working from home and everything else we’ve witnessed over the last year, is going to affect this:

“Spontaneous interactions may indeed pick up when employees return to a common physical facility. However the nature of these unplanned exchanges will depend on the quality of the relationships.”

There are a lot of people out there in management who will raise this point when considering whether the team works from the office, or something more flexible, let alone permanent remote work. It’s usually under the guise of creativity, collaboration, etc. The “magic” of people interacting in a shared space, if you will.

Look, I’m not trying to diminish that magic, if your team truly has that, but I’m willing to bet most teams don’t. (There are some, but I suspect there are a lot more companies claiming to have this sort of team than actually have this sort of team.)

I will fall back on one of my own experiences on teams to illustrate my point. I have argued for years, and still have not had any real-life situation where this hasn’t happened, that the quickest way to guarantee someone on your team will start looking for another job, is to hold some sort of team-building event. I have yet to attend a single one of these where someone didn’t leave within 6 months. I have theorized that what these forced interactions do is remind your team about the other members of the team that they really just don’t like. And, I can almost guarantee you that if your team has more than a handful of members, there is at least one who has a serious dislike for another member of the team. During the course of our normal day, we can work around that, limit interaction to emails, pop in some earbuds when they are talking too loudly, or whatever else we need to do to work with them, without spending much time dealing with them.

And then you decided to get everyone together to bond and forced them to interact. Let me refresh my resume…

Fast forward to 2021, and your team has managed to work from home reasonably successfully. They are collaborating via chat, email, and Teams. Zoom, and a variety of other tools, they’ve gotten quite used to having their own space, with no noisy coworkers, no commute, and best of all, all those coworkers who they don’t like, they only have to interact with electronically. No one is making comments about the amount of coffee they drink, talking over their cube wall while they try to work, or any of the million little ways that being in the same space is quite the opposite of “magic” for them.

I suspect that one of the unspoken, but very real, reasons why there are so many people willing to quit instead of coming back to work in the office, is related to an unwillingness to share the same space with people we simply don’t like. We’ve learned a lot about each other over the last year, and some of it, was not a good look. Again, it’s one thing to interact in a few chats, maybe attend the same conference call weekly, maybe even work on some project together at a distance, but it’s quite another to sit in the same room with people who do nothing but make us angry.

Let me say this clearly. Every single workplace that I have ever been employed in, had at least one person who I simply didn’t like and did not want to interact with more than necessary, and I’m 99% sure in each of those cases, there was probably someone there who felt the same way about me. On your team, those people may not have had to occupy the same space in over a year. Do not be surprised if they would prefer to keep it that way.

There are a lot of other reasons to reconsider where people work, but this is one of them. Don’t let all that talk about how great your company culture is blind you to the fact that to most of the people who work there, the culture is about how much I like, or dislike, the people I work with, and more of them dislike each other than you know.

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