How many times have you heard someone moan the loss of water cooler chats as a result of COVID-enforced working from home, and the hybrid workplace?
But how many of these water cooler chats actually generate value? Do they foster connection, creativity or problem-solving? Sometimes. But the majority of time, the typical “water cooler chat” can be summarised in four words: Painfully. Obvious. Small talk.
Despite this, we mourn the loss of water cooler chats (either real or symbolic) because of a concern of what office culture will look like… without the office.
But ‘culture’ doesn’t disappear when your office does. Luckily, it is not the four walls of your office that make your culture. It is the shared set of values, beliefs, and attitudes that permeate your organisation, regardless of the physical space in which you may (or may not) meet.
So, we need to rethink how we create culture, without being constrained to the office, and the water cooler chats.
At Inventium, we’ve worked flexibly since 2007. In 2021, we formally transitioned to a remote workplace. We closed our offices, gave our team a home office set-up bonus and expanded our talent pool beyond our two home states.
But we didn’t just focus on logistics. We also focused on what the implications for going remote would be for how we work and our culture. We decided to tackle this challenge: How could we greatly enhance our culture, now that we were not beholden to four walls and a roof?
Here are three initiatives that we have been experimenting with to solve this challenge:
- Virtual Caves
It can be hard to focus working from home when you have temptations like the washing calling your name. It can also be lonely. Inspired by CaveDay, we run fortnightly Virtual Caves at Inventium. Team members have the option to attend a 2.5 hour virtual “meeting” where people work together, but on separate tasks. We split each cave into two sprints, with time for chat at the start, middle and end. The goal is to provide a mixture of accountability and connection by working together, but apart.
- Big Personal Goal (BPG)
Getting to know your colleagues can be hard when the only times you see each other are work-focused meetings. And if you do make time for virtual 1-on-1s, how do you make sure you are connecting over things that actually matter to your team?
Inspired by KidsCo, we set up the BPG initiative – an option for team members to set a 6-month personal goal and be rewarded with a $1000 bonus if they achieve it. We have regular BPG progress check-ins and share strategies to help people stay committed to their goal of behaviour change. We’ve had team members commit to learning an instrument, working out and speaking a new language. And so far, we’ve heard how fulfilling it is for our team members to be investing in learning a new skill and connecting with teammates over a common (but unique) goal.
- Big for Small
In December 2021, Inventium got on board the “Big for Small” campaign. The premise was to support and invest in small local businesses hit hard by the pandemic. Each employee could use their company credit card and, each week, spend $50 at a small local business. We were then invited to post a photo and shout out to the local business with the team. Through this process, we learnt about our team members’ local communities while also having the opportunity to live up to one of Inventium’s core values of ‘doing good’ each day.
These initiatives are not a silver bullet for building culture in a remote or hybrid environment. But they do symbolise what we can do when we reframe the loss of the office as a catalyst for re-thinking how we build organisational culture.
It’s clear that hybrid is here to stay, with traditional office culture in decline. With this in mind, what will you do to be part of creating the next generation of office cultures, without the office?
Written by Charlotte Rush.
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