Seth Godin makes some important points and asks some good questions in the blog post below. He ends it with this:
“As knowledge work has shifted to a remote-first setting, organizations have generally done an astonishingly bad job of bringing any intent at all to how they will build a culture that they care about. Forcing people to show up so they can hide behind a screen in the office is lazy.
Yes, the old culture happened organically over the course of decades. No, it’s unlikely you’ll end up with a new culture you like if you simply pretend that nothing has changed.”
I think about this a lot. Every time I read another story about an organization forcing their people back into the office because they think it will be better for the culture and camaraderie of their team, I can’t help but wonder whether they changed anything over the last few years that would create a culture among their remote teams.
I don’t think many of these managers have done that. I don’t think many of them have even considered how you build a culture beyond the laziness of just throwing people into the same space and hoping it works out.
I was part of a remote team before the pandemic. It’s not the first remote team I’ve been a part of. There is a culture on those teams, and much like in-person teams, sometimes the culture is positive, and sometimes it isn’t. (Have you ever worked in an open office space with people you just don’t like? I cannot imagine that would somehow be a better choice than being remote, right?)
Being remote is different. You have to over-communicate to make sure that people are in the loop. You have to create collaboration opportunities and build camaraderie purposefully, and they can’t be team trust falls. You have to get creative about how you work together and interact.
Most of all, you have to be purposeful about it. You have to create opportunities for people to interact and allow them the freedom to create their own patterns and relationships. You have to learn how to work asynchronously so that you can have more meaningful meetings.
It’s not impossible. We have numerous examples of connection and culture growing out of online communities dating back to the BBS era. I’d be willing to bet your remote team has a culture that has grown up within and around it. If you didn’t do anything purposefully, that culture is just a coincidence of people working together as opposed to the kind of culture you might want to cultivate. The important question is, what are you doing to cultivate it?
In short, you have to work at it. As a manager, you have to create a culture that allows connectedness to grow. Simply throwing people back into the same space won’t cut it anymore. That’s not how many of your folks want to work. You’ll need a much better reason for them to ever come to the office, let alone full-time.
What is your company doing to create connection and culture when people are working from all over the place? Has it been successful? What would make it better? Or have they simply not done anything at all differently?