Company culture is a term we're all familiar with and we usually place high importance on it. Before taking a new job, we're told we should make sure a company's culture aligns with our own priorities and values.
It's also on the minds of business leaders trying to decide how to move forward as the grips of COVID-19 on workplace distancing protocols continues to decline and disappear altogether. According to Forbes, strong company culture is the newest competitive advantage amid the United States' 'great resignation,' that's left companies with long-lasting staff shortages.
Despite all the buzz company culture is getting lately, we don't often take stock of what values we prioritize and expect from companies' cultures. More specifically, it seems to me that we're too narrow-minded when we define and strive to achieve optimal company culture.
Work environment isn't one-size-fits-all
Many business owners, leaders and employees feel remote work has destroyed company morale and is a major roadblock to fostering a healthy, authentic company culture. It's true that face-to-face interactions can indeed positively impact coworkers leading to more efficient collaboration, fostering feelings of belonging and more.
However, there is also evidence to support the harmful effects of working in an office. One in three people reported experiencing negative mental health symptoms after having to return to work in an office in a 2021 survey.
Tolls of commuting, being away from family, particularly children and even pets, often add stress to working Americans that overshadows any positive effects of in-person work environments.
In fact, this same survey showed that employees who felt anxious at work, rather than more connected, also reported declined productivity and investment in the quality of their work.
We know that each person has personality traits, preferences, strengths and weaknesses that make them unique. Yet, work environments have been ubiquitously uniform: one building with offices for important people and cubicles for everyone else. How can a workforce of (hopefully) diverse people with varying work styles and needs be shoved into a singular model?
Yes, there have been progressive companies that provide employees with in-office perks like ping pong tables, music rooms, couches, snacks, on-tap beer and cold brew and more. For some employees, those are perks that sufficiently meet their needs to work well.
However, a slew of others, including me, have unlocked a new workplace experience from the comfort of their home that fits better with their personality and lifestyle. Why should that be torn away? And why should a sick snack bar be torn away from others?
I recognize that budgets limit what companies are able to provide for employees. Having a fully furnished and decked out office in combination with supporting a mostly remote-based workforce is highly inefficient and likely impossible.
I also don't claim to have the solutions to the workplace debate. However, I do challenge our workforce to consider finding solutions to allow employees to have a say in how and where they do work. Perhaps, employees can be given the agency and opportunity to inform where and how they best work.
Far gone are the days when companies dictate to its employees what the quality of their life will be.