Culture Will Determine RTO or WFH

hybrid on site work

We often use terms like “culture” when talking about companies, and often associate this with whether a place is a good place to work or not. To really understand culture and how it affects the workplace we first need to understand the definition of culture. Culture is the shared values, attitudes and behaviors that define a company and its environment. Culture is bigger than a single person or the way that a single person works. If you have a boss that is a micromanager, it does not mean the culture of the business is bad. It means one person is doing something you don’t like. If you are in a job that you’re unhappy with, you may have a cultural mismatch.

Many companies in the AV world participate in DEI initiatives, community volunteering and/or promote an increase in the representation of women in our industry. If your company is a believer in community support, it may take a few days each year to volunteer in local schools doing maintenance on the AV systems. Perhaps the company volunteers in community colleges to talk about the AV trade. Over time there is a “culture” that is developed in that company that its employees learn. Those employees may then develop their own ideas for community engagement and it takes a life of its own.

In fact, culture becomes so well known that potential employees will often hear of the culture, and the culture will come out during interviews. So, if you are a person who enjoys being alone and does not enjoy doing community-engaged public work, then you would not be interested in being employed at a company that highly values that behavior. Other companies (think Steve Jobs’s Apple) may have a culture of long workweeks, direct (possibly abrupt) conversations with employees and a demand for excellence. If you are a more creative worker or one with a young family that you want to spend time with, this culture likely does not fit you, and again, you would not be happy there. These are things you need to learn before joining a company, so you know the environment that you are joining.

What does this have to do with the greater AV industry? As we think about the current chasm between companies telling people to come back to work and employees saying they want to work from home, it is the culture that will eventually decide what happens. We have several people in our industry who are demanding that “everyone can work from home” and that “the employees will make this choice.” I think that such comments blatantly ignore the culture of the workplace.

If I take my experiences as an illustration, they provide good examples. Those employees who prefer to work from home — and whose supervisors approve them do so — are able to work from home. Despite that, over the past year, we have seen a steady increase in employees returning to in-person work. I believe that this is because of the culture of our organization. Before the pandemic, we often talked about ourselves as a family. We had barbecues, dinners, lunches and various events for the entire family. A large part of the success of the institution was — and is — the relationships among employees. We know one another, we like one another and we are able to work directly with one another, even during difficult conversations because of this. This is our culture.

Interestingly, the culture is not and has never been forced by any leadership. Most people are just coming back to the office because they want to and they feel more productive. An AV salesperson could come in and make all kinds of promises about hybrid meetings, water cooler environments and other technology. But, in the end, it is the culture that won.

You could also have very different experiences in other businesses. Companies with a national or global presence are likely already used to remote and hybrid work. They may already have a culture that rewards independence and employees who are willing to work alone. If you are a person who needs colleagues close and likes to talk through issues face to face, this culture likely won’t fit you.

The overall point here is that as technology experts, we have to avoid the mind trap that we have a solution (or four solutions) that solves every problem. Every culture is unique and every company has its own quirks. Getting into an argument where we as “experts” have the technology to make sure any company can have remote or hybrid employees is a mistake. We need to go into a business and observe its culture, listen to the employees and help develop solutions. In the current environment where companies are trying to determine what to do about remote workers, we should be assisting that conversation — not driving it. I would even recommend using articles, white papers and the like about this issue.

In order to be trusted partners, we must be honest and provide a company with what it needs, not what we want to sell it. We also have to understand that our experiences are not necessarily the same experiences that other people have. We must respect those and encourage solutions (or no solutions) that solve problems, not create new ones.