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  • Writer's pictureLucas Bergmans

Don't f**k up the culture (Part 2)

Updated: Jan 4

It feels like a lifetime ago but 4 years ago, most of us worked in an office 5 days a week.

Not only that, we would see most of our colleagues in person when we got there. Not just those we worked most closely with, either. To an extent, navigating office etiquette and expectations was pretty straightforward.

The radical shift in working patterns as a result of the pandemic has shown significant benefits for staff and for business in combining remote working with time in the office, especially for working parents or carers, for example. But it’s also thrown up fresh challenges that many companies will be grappling with for months and years to come. How many days should your people be expected to come in the office? Should everyone be in at the same time? How should meetings work now? Why do we need an office at all?

As part of my chat with Alan Cairns on culture, we talked about how to navigate the world of hybrid working in a way that works for your business, your people and your culture.

Over the time you were at iTech Media, I think, and certainly the time I was at Cazoo, we had a global pandemic. There was a big shift in working patterns from everyone pretty much in the office every day, to then no one for a while and now it's something in between. What are your thoughts on how you maintain the culture in a hybrid working situation?

I think the first thing is to decide what you want and why you want it. If you think of a continuum. At one end, you've got all remote - and there are plenty of successful businesses built on that. They still meet infrequently but there are no headquarters or office or anything else. And, of course, at the other end, the one we've all seen pre-pandemic where you’re predominantly in the office. The interesting thing is hybrid, which is this massive space in the middle and it can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.


So the first thing is being really, really clear what the expectations are. For most companies that operate hybrid, they're going to want to see their people some of the time and it's not to check up on people but it's more about getting people together to collaborate, adding people to that osmosis that happens. That serendipity when you just get a group of people together and just this wild or crazy idea comes out. You want those moments of pure culture that you get when you get people together. Doesn't have to be in an office it can be in whatever location. I’ve done these in parks. I’ve done them all over the place. It’s important to write down what that expectation is. Some companies have said, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays we expect a majority of our people in the office. Others have said one day a week or two days a week or something like that, or even five days a month. Whatever it is, write that down and be clear about what that expectation is. What you'll end up with is some people who are truly working remotely because they're overseas and have to travel further, etc. Some people were in the office maybe a bit more and some people were in the office at this frequency that you've talked about. My learning is you have to cater for all of those people.


A really simple thing that we did when I was in iTech Media was what we called ‘room or Zoom.’ There's no halfway either. Every participant in the meeting is in the room. Or every participant is on Zoom. You get some nuances. I've had meetings where there are 12 people that are going to join a call and 10 of them are in the office. And pre-pandemic it would be the 10 would be in the office and then you'd hear this voice from the ceiling talking. Sometimes you'd be able to hear people clearly, sometimes not. The learning for me is that, even in a situation where there are 10 people in the office, each person should go separately on their own Zoom. And that makes a massive difference because what it does is that it levels the playing field completely, whether you're remote or whether you're in an office.


The other one is throughout the pandemic period well-being was definitely a big differentiator for iTech Media: we hired our own well-being consultant. We did lots and lots of tiny things about well-being. From setting people up the right way and giving people a ‘work from home’ budget. We did some interesting things like if your partner was made redundant, we'd give them an amount of money each month until they were back in work again. It didn't get used that much but for the people that used it that was life-changing for them because it took away the pain and the panic. There are lots and lots of ideas like that.


But the big learning for me is to walk in the shoes of your teams and think about what are the things that will impact them every single day. It might be “I'm in a tiny flat. It's the middle of summer. I have no air conditioning. To do a private zoom I have to go into my bedroom because the kitchen is the common area.” So think about situations like that. If you're asking that person to do eight one-hour zooms in the day back-to-back, and they're sat in this pretty small location in the bedroom or something, you're not going to have a great experience. And really, is that what your culture is about? So think about things like that. Can you do the meeting in a different way? I've done walking interviews, and I've done walking meetings. Does it have to be a video? You can make it a voice call, you could both go for a walk. We did lots of these during COVID both go for a walk: headset on in some way and just talk to each other for an hour. As long as you're making notes and there's lots of smart AI that you can use to record that and everything else then that will work.


The other thing is when you do get people together, make it purposeful. It's not “everyone's in on a Tuesday.” Why is everyone in on a Tuesday? Well, why not? It's got to be for a reason. And if you give people that purpose, it makes a massive difference to why people come together. For example, we're going to onboard 10 new people on Tuesday. We're doing a free lunch or we're doing drinks or something like that. There are some people we want to recognise and we're asking them all to come in so that we can recognise them. And then in the afternoon, we're doing a brainstorming or a collaboration session. Then you've suddenly got a purpose. I'm not coming in because you insist on me coming in or you'd like me to come. I'm coming in because there's something in it for me. The give and the get are now balanced.


Really helpful insights, thanks Alan.

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