Culture is Defined by People, Not Space

Posted by Brooke Baker on Feb 4, 2016 12:54:19 PM
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Workplace culture is defined by people, not space

Moving offices? It's the people that move with you, not the space you move into, that shape your culture.

Organizations are defined by people, not a space or location. But when you think of an organization you often think of it by its phsyical environment. Your high school is that brick building nestled into the side of the hill, or your first office is the fluorescent, overheard lights, grey shag carpet, and weird buzzing of the radiator. While that location might have seemed special (or haunting!) it was actually the people who inhabited the space that made it feel that way.

When you’re trying to build your culture, think of the people. Space is just another tool your people will use to express themselves. When you are given an opportunity to adjust your space, don’t think of the drawers, desk, and windows, but instead the people who interact with them.

When an organization outgrows its old space, team members will often wax poetic about what made that location so special. For startups its the story of the mythical “garage.” The garage is tangible, the bedrock and perceived genesis of the company. Its story tells how the company grew, the challenges it overcame, and some of the key decisions made early on, before “norms” and “systems” were in place. Changes in space and/or location are inevitable, but the elements of those spaces that articulate your culture will stay with you wherever you go. When you leave the “garage” (or apartment, or just one office space) keep in mind what made it feel so special. Was it the open space? Was it being able to ride your bike right up to your desk? Was it the greenspace right outside the window? Or the “disc of knowledge” – the Frisbee you threw around until to inspire you when didn't know what to do.

All of this influences and sustains your culture, because open space isn't just a design element, it offers one way for team members to easily connect and collaborate. Riding your bike (and being able to easily store it) at the office isn't just about convenience, it reflects a value about how your team commutes. Greenspace outside your window isn't just an attractive backdrop for daydreaming. It's a way that people in your organization restore themselves. And the Frisbee? Well, that's just for fun, but it still reflects a kind of shared experience that represents your culture and its origins.

Though your “garage” or old conference room won’t move, the people will. When you move locations or are considering an office redesign, think of the space as a way for the people in your organization to express talents, collaborate, and communicate. These are the things that make your organization unique. Knock down a wall, add a bike rack, put a Frisbee in the large conference room. Space is important, but it's more important to consider the people who inhabit that space, and how they'll use it to reflect the values, culture, and impact of your company.

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Topics: Organizational Culture