The trendy, hip environments often equated with tech companies are highlighted in the 2017 movie The Circle by showing a campus ripe with rock concerts, yoga, open desks and a wide variety of cool things that make people think, “Wow, I would love to work there!”
A lot of people, however, confuse environment with culture, and these are not the same thing.
Culture is the way we interact at work, notably in and how tasks and work effort planning is expressed. Culture is not how many toys and perks are in our environment, but rather it is how we incept, triage, and manage our work as well as how we resolve conflict–or essentially what our relationships look like with our teammates.
Environment, on the other hand, is the ecosystem of where we work. It can be a basement with shag carpet or a large corporate complex; it can include game consoles, ping-pong tables, unlimited snacks and soda and Taco Tuesdays. But none of this is culture.
I had the pleasure of working on the executive team at Kuali for a few years, and we strove to build a workplace where people just loved to work. We wanted a good culture, and at the same time we also addressed the environment, but the environment was always secondary, and I think this is a good thing — it shows that the Salt Lake Tribune awarded Kuali Top Utah Workplace for the second year in a row.
In contrast, I recently saw a different tech company's promotional video for their work culture, and it proceeded to show their office environment, games, kitchen and the company's CEO "just riding through the office" on a uniboard, implying this is a regular ocurrance, and isn't that cool!
Work culture is far more critical to our success than work environment, yet it is more often glossed over if not completely missed, as in the previously mentioned video, because it deals with the problematic interpersonal challenges that are never easy to resolve. Creating a "cool environment" – that is easy, just order a ping-pong table and a soda machine. But creating a great working culture – that is hard. It starts with paying attention to relationships and having empathy.
How does your own culture measure up? Consider these questions about you, your peers and each of your employees:
- I feel like I belong.
- I feel my contributions are valued.
- I feel a sense of ownership over my tasks, and I am satisfied with my work!
- I feel safe in being able to make suggestions or offer my opinion.
- I believe in my leadership!
The focus on cool environments may be losing sight of the more important thing, which is the culture. People can give or take a cool environment if the culture is amazing, and people feel like they belong.
Unfortunately, there is no simple formula to make this happen. Working in Tech is hardest when it is a creative endeavor, not just routine work, such as software engineering. This is where the inception, design, and management of work effort, as well as the ability to navigate through conflict, comes to play.
Suggested reading to further explore this challenge:
- The Agile Deceit - Quick read about project planning
- Why is Design So Hard? - Quick read about Design Thinking
- The Phoenix Project - Book: Why DevOps is about Culture, not automation
- The Anatomy of Peace - Book: Learn how we unwittingly perpetuate the very problems we think we are trying to solve
- Activator - Book: How Design Thinking helps you be successful in the Tech Industry
Image courtesy of Louis Amal