I’ve heard this question many different ways in the last few weeks as people think about returning to the office. Some wonder if their culture shifted during the pandemic and if there is a need to shift culture again when they go in the office. Some wonder if the culture needs to be clarified if the organization considers staying with fully remote work or hybrid remote work (Hybrid remote work is when some are in the office and some are working outside the office at any point in time.)

Let’s think about what culture is first. I like Edgar Schein’s definition:

Organizational culture is defined as what people can discuss, how people treat each other, and what the organization rewards.

If you don’t know him, Edgar Schein deeply influenced the organizational development discipline and his books inspired many coaches and consultants.

picture of a spider web connected to the local environment
Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

But back to our question: Does culture change when working remote? Or, looking through the lens of Schein’s definition of culture: Have you seen any changes in what people in your organization can discuss, how they treat each other and what the organization rewards? I’ll come back to those first two aspects (what can you discuss and how people treat each other) in later newsletters, but let’s focus on rewards for now.

Rewards may not always be obvious. Rewards don’t have to be monetary. Maybe we share kudos for some people and not others. Maybe we provide something to one group and not others.

I recall have a small debate with the leadership in one company when I saw company-branded insulated mugs and nice company-branded pull-over jackets given to sales and marketing staff in the office, but the remote engineering group had to wrestle finance for t-shirts and stickers. Roughly the same number of people and engineering was asking for less. What kind of message does that send out to your existing remote staff?

And what about your remote new hires? Do they get company stickers, hats, shirts or other swag shipped to them when they join? Does it arrive on their first week, or (even better) their first day? I know several remote companies that do this. Yes, they also get equipment shipped to them, but the swag becomes equally important for both new hire and the companies too. The new employee feels welcome no matter where they are located. They don’t feel they are an afterthought. They become even more excited to work there and want to connect with their team members.

So you might be facing the situation where you could be heading back into the office and it may be some part-time arrangement following some hybrid-remote work approach. You might ask yourself some of the following questions:

- What can I discuss when I’m remote compared to when I’m in the office?

- How do people treat each other when they are remote versus when they are in the office?

- Do I see a difference in how people in the office are “rewarded” versus those who might choose to be remote on certain days?

Let me know how this works out for you and your organization. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.

Hope this helps.