You Don’t Need An Office To Build A Culture

Last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk penned a letter to all employees saying, “Return to the office 40 hours a week, or consider working elsewhere.” Like Musk, many CEOs still believe company culture is only achieved when people are together, but evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

When done correctly, remote work increases productivity and work enjoyment. In addition, many people have experienced growth both professionally and personally. And many employees are not ready to go back to the office. Almost 50% say they would rather quit their current job than lose the option to work remotely.

Given the results, why do so many leaders resist remote work and force employees to return to the office? To answer these questions, I reached out to Gustavo Razzetti, the founder of Fearless Culture and author of the new book, Remote Not Distant.

Razzetti shared, “I’ve spent a lot of time interviewing senior executives about this over the last few months. The recurring theme is that most CEOs believe their workplace culture has suffered during the pandemic, and they fear that it’s impossible to keep it alive remotely. Senior leaders still believe that culture only happens in the office, requiring employees to see each other and have impromptu interactions and casual conversations.” Razzetti believes that, although these elements are vital, they’re not enough to bring people back into the office full time.

Razzetti believes this unfounded resistance is based on cognitive biases. On one hand, the safety bias pushes executives to worry about the difficulties associated with remote work. On the other hand, the anchoring bias promotes a faulty tendency—executives stay anchored to their past experiences and information.

Razzetti suggests that most leaders use visibility as a key performance indicator (KPI)—preseneetism, working long hours, or being in back-to-back meetings equal productivity. He adds that many leaders feel powerless in a hybrid workplace, and they miss being in control. He shares, “It’s natural for CEOs to feel lost, but letting go of control is vital to discovering the upside of a hybrid workplace. Distance is not an obstacle but an opportunity to increase connection, collaboration, and agility.”

Hybrid is a spectrum, not one-size-fits-all

In his new book, Razzetti outlines the importance for leaders to understand

that,“hybrid” is a spectrum not one-size-fits-all. There are companies requiring people to show up three specific days a week and those that shut down all but one office location. He proposes that success starts by defining the model that best fits their teams or organization

There are five basic types of hybrid and remote work models:

• Remote-friendly or office-first

• Fixed hybrid or buckets

• Partly remote or collaboration days

• Flexible hybrid or flexible schedule

• Remote-first or virtual-first

He shares that each comes with pros and cons, but all remote and location-flexible decisions should be decided by teams to garner full buy-in. And, regardless of which option an organization adopts, it pays to keep team rules simple and flexible and include team members in writing their code of conduct.

Focus on impact, not visibility

Razzetti offers that, historically, organizations have rewarded input—visibility, effort, presenteeism, etc.—over the outcome. Employees who work late, send a lot of emails, or are always in meetings are perceived as hard-working, committed team players.

He suggests that organizations can benefit enormously by shifting their focus away from these traditional input measures and focusing on impact. “Don’t reward presenteeism or long hours. Evaluate people based on goals and results, not on how late they stay in the office or how many Zoom calls they attend.”

Razzetti recommends that having a team purpose helps people focus on the most significant outcome—the impact you want to create in the world. “People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to create a legacy. Having a purpose matters more than ever.” Research by Humu shows that people who don’t feel their work contributes to their company’s purpose are six times more likely to quit their jobs than peers who do.

If you want engaged and productive employees, focus on the impact you want to create and they will follow.

Regardless of where you are working, building culture takes work

Whether the organization is remote-first or remote-friendly, building and maintaining culture takes work. It requires prioritizing defining a clear mission, outlining values, and helping every employee understand how their work contributes to this world. As Razzetti shares, “You don’t need an office to feel like you’re part of a team.”

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