Is company culture really dying as Malcolm Gladwell says?
Here at Inclusion in Progress, we believe that company culture is shifting, changing and evolving post-pandemic. With remote and hybrid work environments becoming more common for organizations, it can seem like leaders are struggling to adapt to the challenges of not having everyone working in the same physical environment.
Thought leaders like Malcolm Gladwell would argue that the shift to fully remote work has actually brought more challenges to connectivity, collaboration and communication for distributed team members – and is actually “killing” company culture.
But has the move to distributed work environments really made it harder for us to work effectively together and feel connected to our companies?
Listen to the episode to find out our thoughts on whether company culture is really dying in a post-Covid world.
Welcome to the Inclusion in Progress podcast where we give you the ideas, actions and insights to help you build more equity at your workplace and in the world at large. I'm your host, Kay Fabella, international expert on diversity, equity and inclusion, a Filipina American living in Spain and your guide in navigating this DEI journey. Having worked with teams at companies such as Philips, the IMF, Red Hat, PepsiCo and more, I know firsthand that the work of inclusion only works when everyone has a seat at the table. Regardless of your personal entrypoint into this conversation: your race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, or educational background, we all have a role to play in creating inclusion for all and it starts with us having conversations we need to create the change we wish to see. So let's dive into today's episode.
Hey there and thank you again for joining us on Inclusion in Progress. So again, I'm Kay Fabella, a DEI consultant for remote teams mainly in the tech space, but we work with folks from everywhere. I also lead a remote team and work with clients across EMEA, APAC in the Americas, and our global DEI consultancy - surprise, surprise -- is also called Inclusion in Progress. And on this show, our aim is to provide you a truly global perspective of how the future of work is evolving in real time.
Now, Inclusion in Progress - the podcast - is actually coming up on its 100th episode, and it's third year running! And this show, as I've said this before multiple times, is really a labor of love. And it really wouldn't be possible without the support of listeners like yourselves, we appreciate how many of you now tuning in from over 35 countries around the world continue to engage with our content on how the DEI or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conversation is evolving in workplaces. How the future of work is being shaped in our post pandemic world, and how cross cultural communication is now even more fundamental, as we witnessed demographic shifts across the globe.
So again, if you could do us a five minute favor, whether you are a longtime listener of the podcast, and you've been supporting us from the beginning, thank you. For you've just binged your first few episodes and you're diggin' what you're hearing, we would really appreciate you leaving us a review on your favorite podcast app. Every review, iTunes, Spotify, whatever you're listening to. It helps us reach those who gain value from these conversations. Whether the listener is a current or aspiring DEI leader, whether they're an ally, who's finding their way to support greater inclusion, or a manager who is leading a distributed multicultural team. Your review also helps more people leading Equity and Inclusion at work, whether in an official or unofficial capacity, have access to the discussions that we're having here.
Now, Hadi left a thorough review a few months ago that said, "I love DEI. And I can tell that Kay does too. This show brings together best of breed ideas and guests for important conversations. I've used a lot of what I've learned on this podcast to promote DEI at work. Kay is a great host, who is clearly well versed on the topic."
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So to kick off the discussion today, I want to dive into a topic or I guess if I'm being more specific, a person who sent my LinkedIn feed on fire a few months ago: Malcolm Gladwell. Now for those of you who don't know he is a journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of some of my favorite books, including ones like the tipping point, blink and outliers. now 20 years ago, when he was getting his career started, Gladwell was actually quoted as saying that he hated desks, and often wrote his best sellers, on sofas or in coffee shops. He even wrote the book Blink while he was traveling between London, New York and Rome, not a bad place to continue your writing, right? Yet, he was recently quoted as saying that company culture is dying, if you don't come into the office.
Now, as a DEI consultant who's worked with remote teams since before the pandemic, this conversation or will say more accurately, this soundbite really caught my attention. And of course, like all things with content, you have to really just listen to the entire piece, in this case, this interview to understand the entire context of what he was discussing. But, of course, as Gladwell hit on a nerve, that company culture is now a huge question for all of us in a post pandemic world. Many of our own client partners from the likes of Red Hat, Instagram, Philips, Jamf, Listrak, and many more, are all considering this question of what does company culture mean? Things like how do we reimagine our organizations for a world where our teams have little or no face to face interaction with each other? Or for leaders as they move away from physical workspaces? How can we design environments where we integrate new folks who are joining a company while building the types of bonds between people that establish a company culture that works, no matter where employees are?
But all of this to say, does this mean that company culture is dying as Gladwell says?
So in this episode, we're going to share our thoughts on that question, as well as some of the things that we've seen over the course of 2022. And the future of remote working in 2023 and beyond. Because these questions aren't going away. And I'll also be sharing my thoughts on whether company culture is dying. (Spoiler alert, it's not.) So let's dive into the episode.
Now back in episode IIP072, where we looked at what does company culture mean, today, we revisited this idea of culture... its bare bones definition: the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society. Now in a working environment, that translates to the feeling of connection that team members experience between themselves and with their employer, even while working at a distance. So be sure to check out episode IIP072 after this episode.
But as we know, pre-pandemic, company culture as we knew it was built and maintained through things like shared values, priorities, at work, attitudes, work styles, different worldviews or perspectives of whoever was present in the company. So that spirit, that tangible sense of identity and connection to a company culture was what actually got folks out of bed in the morning to continue working for an employer from their makeshift home offices when COVID-19 first hit in 2020. And it was reinforced in the day to day actions and behaviors of the people around you, the people who are leading you, and the people who were working alongside you for that same organization. That shared set of norms and behaviors, either reinforced the feeling of connection to your company, or they were the things that prompted you to consider leaving. Now as offices reopen, and organizations navigate either fully remote or hybrid work environments. company culture is being asked to evolve yet again. So to me, and to our team here at Inclusion in Progress, company culture isn't dying. What is dying, however, is our outdated idea of what a workplace should look like, and what work means.
And there's a few reasons for that. So here are a few of the things that we want to discuss today. First, connection doesn't have to happen in one building. In Episode IIP097, three hybrid workplace models that are working, we shared the example of Quora, which actually repurpose their Silicon Valley headquarters, where they originally had 950 employees working together at the start of the pandemic. But rather than reducing the size of their workforce, they actually expanded to where they recruited from, including nine non-US countries and 12 states where they had not been located before. Now Anthony Vitali, Quora's VP of people, operations and talent said the company has seen a rise in applications from around the world and outside the Bay Area where they were based since it went remote first in 2024, and now has workers from all time zones and is hiring in all 50 US states. So to meet the needs of their globally distributed workforce, they now offer a hybrid working model, but are also planning on renting local co-working spaces to allow employees to get in person time wherever they happen to be located. They've even converted their Silicon Valley headquarters into what will serve as primarily a co-working space for employees. So the savings that are going to be made for the company from going remote have allowed them to hire more people and grow their business, which is now evaluated at $2 billion. So the moral here is you don't have to hire co-working spaces or even meet in person to create connections within your remote teams. Creating spaces for conversation, including non work relationships, or outside of work relationships is possible as long as you're intentional about it.
So when it comes to adapting culture for effectively managing remote teams, bringing employees together at a distance, of course requires more intention, more structure, better multitasking skills, better communication tools, and a high level of transparency from everyone involved. It also takes mindfulness and a capacity to reimagine the traditional ways of how our employees will work together. You can look at things like walk and talk meetings, more opportunities for non-work dialogue, whether it's within a team or in a different division, incorporating your remote team members into meetings. While some of you are in the office, you can be creating a central hub for new employees to quickly onboard and understand your company's ethos and process, no matter what [type of workplace] you're choosing to implement.
First, the most important thing is to be willing to iterate and reiterate early and often to meet whatever your employees needs for connection are. As an organization, you're clearly aligned on your sense of values. And if your systems, policies and priorities are all designed to align with your values, that's ultimately where a company culture is most effective at retaining and recruiting future talent in our post-pandemic world.
There's another common misconception that giving more flexibility to people about how and when they work, and where they work from makes things harder, and slows things down. But more choice doesn't mean more complexity. Actually, having a more flexible workforce, whether it's across different time zones or countries and cultures, means that you can support your customers anywhere when you need it. Company culture, norms and beliefs are still being created and reinforced in organizations. The only difference is they're not just being guided by systems and routines that were established in a physical office space before. Now, company cultures are more open to change from new non-work factors that are present in employees day to day lives, which has encouraged if not forced leaders and teams and companies to be much more agile than before. It's also forced organizations to streamline their processes and protocols, to make it easier for employees working from anywhere in the world to
know what they're doing, when they're doing it. And how, essentially leaders have had to embrace the shift from this is how we do things here, too. We need to find ways for everyone to collaborate effectively from wherever they are.
Traditionally, culture change in an organization used to take a lot of time and usually happen whenever there was a leadership shift. But now you have companies like Airbnb, where CEO Brian Chesky, announcing a work from anywhere policy that states that employees can work from anywhere in the world without a pay cut. Now, according to Chesky, he believes that this future of work is inevitable. And if we can't stop it, we may as well lean into it. He goes further to say, “companies will be at a significant disadvantage, if they limit their talent pool to a commuting radius around their offices. The best people live everywhere.”
The other thing I wanted to cover on today's episode is the fact that company culture isn't dying. It's getting richer, having a more diverse workforce. People who are actually based in the countries where you're doing business gives your company a competitive edge. You don't have to rely on surveys or reports alone. You actually get to tap into real market data and insights from your own people in house. Because your own team members better represent and understand your customers needs and wants and desires across a wider range of perspectives. It's a much more proactive rather than reactive approach to DEI.
So not too long ago, I heard an interview with author Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why and who created the concept of the Golden Circle. He talked about how in this interview, in the past, people had gathering spaces. They used to meet in gathering spaces like churches, or community groups, volunteer opportunities, sports teams, places where they could find connection and meaning with like minded people. Obviously, many of those spaces went away overnight during the pandemic. Now, when those types of gathering spaces may not be as available, or as frequented by people, workplaces, employers have actually had to step up and provide that connection and meaning to people to provide that sense of culture. And not only that, we're seeing that expectation, particularly in millennials and Gen Z professionals, who actively seek out meaningful work and a sense of connection to their employers and fellow team members. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, organizations went through much needed cultural changes when remote and then hybrid work forced us to innovate and find new ways of doing things. So we found things like trust, collaboration and empowerment among teams, which helped contribute to an evolving company culture post pandemic.
So again, when we were moving from this idea of this is how we've always done things around here that everything that determined company culture was top down to a growth focused, let's give everyone the space and grace to figure this out together. That mindset became essential to adapting company cultures to a new workplace, it meant new perspectives, it meant folding in new voices that maybe hadn't had a chance to contribute before. And continuing that is going to be critical not only in evolving company culture for the future of work, but also in keeping your best people, which will also help you to compete effectively in attracting even more great talent to your organization moving forward, and keeping your competitive edge and an ever changing world.
So there you have it. Our brief answer to the question is company culture dying because of remote work. I already gave you the spoiler, but now you have the more detailed answer! And while every organization is really genuinely doing the best they can to adapt to the changes in our structures and our expectations of work. At inclusion and progress, we see company culture evolving, and taking a necessary step forward in creating equity, and inclusion for all.
We know the DEI conversation might seem overwhelming for organizations, specifically how to make sure that no one gets left behind as we move to flexible or hybrid workplaces. So if you're listening to this as a forward thinking leader, you know, your job is to understand what your people need today, to keep them long enough to contribute their best ideas, and help recruit the best people tomorrow. So if you want someone to help you make hybrid work inclusive and efficient for your distributed teams, no matter where they are in the world, we can help. As a global DEI consultancy that specializes in supporting remote teams around the world. We partner with forward-thinking leaders like yourself through both data-driven and qualitative strategies, centering the well-being of your people, no matter where they come from, or where they choose to work. And one of the ways we can support you is through our Inclusive Virtual Work survey, which allows you to gather the data you need to immediately know what policy or strategy to implement that is tailored to meeting your global teams where they're at. And we'll share our insights from working with companies across EMEA, APAC and the Americas. So you can navigate the minefield of how to apply your inclusion strategy to untap the full potential of everyone in your distributed workforce.
So to learn more about our Inclusive Virtual Work Survey, and how we can start rolling it out to support your global DEI strategies direction in 2023, head to the link in the show notes to book a call to learn more. If you'd like to learn how we can support you email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a call and learn how we can help you gather the data that you need for an inclusive flexible work strategy that retains your best people and ideas.
As always, thank you for listening. Thank you for sharing these episodes with others. And we'll see you next time on Inclusion in Progress.