What is Culture?
While there are many definitions of what culture can be, I think of it as
the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.
I would like to stress upon the word behaviour here. Behaviour is an action while the other words (ideas, customs) more to do with the belief.
an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.
What is Work Culture?
Work culture is about how a group behaves at work in different situations.
How do I own it?
Your behaviour at work is what forms the work culture of your organisation. Your behaviour is also responsible for setting up the belief of how your work culture is. (Look at the above definition of belief again and focus on the words highlighted in bold.)
Why am I writing this?
I wanted to share my experience of different work cultures and my takeaways and hope you can also take something from this post (if you are atleast as old as me, may be nostalgia). This is very opinionated (Why should only development frameworks be opinionated - If you understand what I mean 😜). For some work place practices, I would not provide my opinion, rather just record the fact that those practices were there. (Do not want the post to be controversial by my opinion). To be honest, I really want you to own your work culture.
I have been working in the IT industry for a little over a decade now. In my professional journey, I have worked with all sorts of organisations including IT Consulting Services, Captives, startups (at least what everyone was made to believe that we are working in a startup). Fortunately for me, I have worked with a lot of people from across the globe including Asia Pacific, Europe and the US.
Let’s start with communication, get-togethers, followed by WFH practices. Finally a few uncommon practices!
The Communication Policy
There has been various mediums used for communication in the last decade. Some of them do not exist anymore, while some are still relevant. This is how the communication culture looked like in some of the organisations I worked for.
One extreme was where people would write an email, even though your colleague sits right next to you. They would respond to emails ASAP. The good part is every communication is recorded. The bad part is you don’t make human connections (It’s all digital now-a-days anyways).
There was another extreme, where emails were completely ignored (completely acceptable in that work place).When you send an email you also need to let the person know over an IM that you have sent an email (do you see frustrations). Well that was the culture!
When email was the preferred way of communication, everyone would just send an email even for jokes 😜, and you would get periodic reminders from the HR department that one should not be sending jokes or forwarding unofficial content on official emails 😂. Do not spread Malware!
Jokes are important. They tend to spread as quick as news (may be a bit faster). If email is not supposed to be used for jokes, then we use IM 😂.
At some work places, people would always reach out over an IM. I mean official IM: think Slack/Lync/Teams/Skype for Business etc). Yes, there was Sametime too. It was quicker to get the attention of the people you want a response from. This is also a recorded form of communication minus the ceremony of professional emails.
There used to be a time, when every employee would get a desk phone assigned to them (whenever they join a new organisation/project) for making official calls. Some of the desk phones were high-tech in their era. They would come with a built-in video camera for making video calls. When you need to move your desk (may be to sit closer with your team), you need to move the desk phone as well (raise IT Helpdesk tickets 🔔). It was an art to add people to conference calls 😂.
Some people would always put their desk phones on speaker (not in a meeting room. Even though they can use a headset. May be that was authority. May be that was my work is important than yours. Yet, that was acceptable. Part of the culture!). The modern way is to not put yourself in mute and keep typing!
With the popularity of mobile phones, some organisations started giving a mobile phone (usually a BlackBerry) with an official number. It was good in a way, that it allowed people to be connected while they were on the move (Not tied to their desk phones). Only a few organisations would give a mobile phone and generally not for everyone (only executives). Then came the era of dual sim mobiles. You are lucky, if you get an official SIM now-a-days.
As long as the official calls are during the office hours, mobile phones are good. The smart phones come with a do not disturb mode. If you do not have separate numbers for personal and professional purpose or you tend to get calls to personal numbers during non-office numbers, you should Block/Allow specific callers during office/non-office hours.
With calls over the internet becoming the norm, you might get a headset. Yes, you might, because everyone tend to have their own. Plug the headset into your machine (if not wireless) and you are good to go.
Unofficial Channels (a strict no-no):
Yes, at some work places, you get calls to personal number or unofficial IM (personal WhatsApp/Skype etc) for official purposes. With Covid, this has become a norm in some parts of the world 😞. I had the unpleasant experience of this pre-covid as well (part of the culture). Generally the calls would start from a personal catch up and then get into work (well that’s the trick!). I strongly recommend to stick to a strict work-hours and do not entertain official calls in your personal time. (Unless the entire world is going to stop, if you don’t fix something immediately. Often it is easier to ask people to write emails and/or create tickets for their requests rather than accepting tasks over calls during non-working hours.).
The Get-togethers Policy
Usually there is some sort of get-togethers for team building activities.
Get-togethers and time:
Good organisations generally build their teams in the official working hours. Yes, at the end of the day, it is in the best interest of the organisation to build a strong team. You have the rights to say no, if your get-together is not happening in the official hours. Unfortunately in some cultures, people just can’t say no to their superiors.
Get-togethers and food:
You normally notice the diversity in get-togethers. People have different preferences for food, drinks etc. Now you start noticing the divide based on food choices like vegetarian, non-vegetarian, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. This divide is generally acceptable and one should not feel obliged to change themselves. Generally, people who drink together often have strong connections. Some times those strong connections can lead to bias (consciously/unconsciously). A good work culture is where you work consciously to keep this bias away.
The WFH policy
Pre-covid, WFH(Working From Home) was a luxury. In some of my previous work places, only very senior folks were allowed to WFH. See how time changes! With Covid, WFH has become the norm. With this, the line between personal and professional life has become very thin. While some organisations have tried their best to provide the best care to their employees and the family members of the employees. A few have certainly exploited this thin line between personal and professional life and expect employees to be always available, as home has become the new office.
The Donkey Policy (a strict no-no)
Often more hours spent at work is considered more work being done. They make a very strong assumption that, everyone is equally skilled and take the same amount of time to solve the same problem. Some organisations tend to bill their vendors on the hours worked and if they bill for more hours, it would mean more money. So long work hours is fine!
A few parts of the world, the labour laws are not very employee friendly or they are not applicable to certain industries (e.g. IT). Unfortunately people work unpaid for those extra hours. The more unfortunate part is, it is the work culture!
If you happen to be in such an organisation, you know your options 😉. Do not promote the donkey policy. (I really don’t want to insult the donkeys here!)
Finish it by EOD/COB Policy
At times you would be asked to finish things by End Of Day(EOD) or Close of Business (COB). While you are working, give your best to complete things as quickly as possible. But remember your official EOD. Work is a never ending process and there is always a tomorrow. Come back and work on it the next day, if you can’t complete the tasks on the same day. Best is to say, “I can try” if you are not confident about completing something within a stipulated time. There are always unplanned events happening around you and your priorities might change during the day as well.
The 24*7 Policy (Ok 24*5)
Some organisations, work around the clock with offices across the globe. Some employees in a few geographies would work during a normal shift 8am–5pm, while in a different geography the employees of the same organisation would need to be working late shifts (12pm-9pm e.g.). Again poor employee friendly labour laws to blame along with the culture!
The Good morning policy
It is really good to wish a good morning. Some of my teams in a different geography would wish back based on my timezone (I really liked working with those people who were aware and acknowledge the fact that we were in completely different timezones). Some of my teams would echo back a “Good morning” even though it’s 7pm my time (Never really felt like a team there!).
The Listen and Ignore policy
You have a problem and if you express it to the concerned people, they can listen to you and act on it if required. At some places, they just listen to you but they don’t act even after repeated expression of concerns. If you are in the capacity to act on those concerns please act. If you are the one raising those concerns and if you don’t see any actions, well fortunately the world is bigger than your current organisation 😉.
The I don’t care policy
At places, people don’t even bother to listen. This is the worst possible scenario. If you are someone not listening, please listen and act. If you are someone not being listened, the world is bigger.
The Delegation policy
Yes, there is an organisation, where delegation is the only way of work. Imagine you get a piece of work, and you ask someone to do it and then that person asks someone else to do it and so on till you actually have someone who can not further delegate the task 😂. Looks like a lot of collaboration and team work! At least some people would present it that way!
The Plagiarism policy
If you had a good idea, it was not yours. Someone else with more authority would claim it to be their idea. It happens all the time anyways 😞. I’m sure a lot of people would have experienced it. Not all organisations have a platform to register ideas. If yours doesn’t have one, create a platform to register and discuss ideas. Give credit to the original author of the idea.
The accent policy
Some organisations have a single accent. I love teams with diversity and which allows everyone to bring their true selves.
Be the change you want to see in your work culture. The least you should takeaway from this is
- Stick to Strict Work Hours (In practice, not by official policies on paper)
- Learn to Say No (politely of course!)