You’re proud of your company culture. You frequently plan events for employees, pay for lunch one day a week, promote collaboration through open office seating, and encourage the team to connect as often as possible. It might sound great, but something feels off.
This kind of culture caters to some employees: the ones who can focus in a loud room, enjoy frequent chats with co-workers, and aren’t afraid to share ideas in front of a crowd. However, it may not be conducive to others, and the opposite might be true for a workplace ruled by cubicles and private offices.
Why does a balanced workplace matter?
Having an unbalanced workplace culture prohibits employees from playing to their strengths. For example, in the earlier scenario, individuals who don’t like speaking up in meetings or need a quiet space to focus would be placed squarely outside the dominant coalition.
What do we mean by “dominant coalition”?
Meredith Hunt, an expert at Forte Foundation, explains that a dominant coalition “is a fancy term for a demographic pattern that predominates within an organizational culture: for example, gender, ethnicity, and/or nationality.” In many organizations, the dominant coalition is made up of employees who thrive in an open, extroverted, and interruption-heavy environment.
Hunt continues, “People who are outside the dominant coalition have needs that must be met in order to feel part of the fabric of the organization … In short, they want to feel part of the team without sacrificing who they are or changing themselves.”
In this kind of unbalanced culture, employees may feel like they can’t be themselves, meaning they won’t feel psychologically safe. They may be afraid to ask for what they want—less group time, more individual time—or worry about sharing their ideas for fear of judgement.
When this happens, your employees can struggle to connect. Some of them may be confident in this kind of environment, while others may be nervous or decrease in productivity because the environment isn’t supporting their needs.
How can you foster a balanced culture?
With a balanced culture, every employee can feel psychologically safe, meaning they feel comfortable being themselves, sharing ideas, and feeling part of the culture. “Practically speaking, this might look like a team where members are more likely to discuss mistakes, share ideas, ask for and receive feedback and experiment,” according to Science for Work. That’s the kind of culture you want, right?
So how do you foster a balanced culture, a workplace that’s inclusive, providing every employee with what they need to succeed—whether that’s a quiet room or group brainstorming session?
Allow flexible working schedules
Some employees do their best work when they’re alone, and a flexible working schedule is a simple way to create a more balanced culture. A flexible working schedule could allow employees to come in late and leave late, work from home one day a week, or pick and choose when they want to be in the office.
There are a few ways to facilitate a schedule like this, depending on how your company functions. Consider the following ideas:
WFH one day each week: Each week, the office (or individual team) has the option to work from home. Many companies do this mid-week, giving employees some productive time at home between the beginning and end of the week.
Flexible office hours: Instead of requiring employees to be in the office from 9-5, offer flexible office hours, where all employees must be present at the same time, from 10am-12pm for example, but can come in early and leave early or come in late and leave late.
Total flexibility: In this case, all employees can choose when they want to come into the office and when they don’t. You may not have a specific day or set of days, and it’s on the employees to decide when they want to work from home.
Read more about flexible working schedules in the article The Dos and Don'ts of a Flexible Work Schedule.
Understand employees' strengths
A great, well-balanced company culture allows every employee to play to their strengths. "People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job,” according to Gallup.
If you need to gain a better understanding of your employees strengths, start by encouraging team leaders and managers to make more time for one-on-one meetings—and make them effective by being on time, heading out of the office every once in a while, and getting them on the calendar in the first place. The more time they spend with their team, the more they’ll begin to understand what makes them tick.
Another way to get to know your employees strengths is with a test like StrengthsFinder (now CliftonStrengths) or Myers Briggs. These personality-type tests have been used in workplaces for many years to identify the qualities that each employee brings to the organization.
Knowing this information creates a balanced culture in two ways. Not only are you able play to employees strengths, but you can better create teams by understanding dynamics and personalities: “Imagine a team full of people who are highly analytical with no one who thrives on action. Or imagine a team full of people who want to act immediately with no one to dig deeper into details. Teams need a balance of personalities to be successful,” according to Zapier.
Minimize the number of mandatory meetings
Employees spend their days moving from one meeting to another, which can impede productivity. Not only can this environment decrease efficiency, it can create unnecessary stress, especially for those who are already anxious. This kind of culture may make it hard to share insights and feedback in front of a large group of people and discourage sharing among some participants.
In fact, 46% of people who struggle with anxiety say that meetings trigger their anxiety, and 43% say their anxiety causes them to avoid participating in meetings, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Fortunately, you don’t need to eliminate all meetings to create a balanced culture. Instead, consider three options to make meetings more enjoyable and productive:
- While some meetings are necessary, others can be eliminated. Do a meeting audit; which meetings are important, and which can be removed or reduced?
- Short meetings that stay on topic can be just as effective as long ones. Which meetings can you trim? Instead of 60 minutes, can some be 30 minutes? Better yet, 5 minutes? Some meetings can even be replaced by status updates.
- Not every employee or department member needs to be in every meeting. Focus on critical team members only. Set a general limit of attendees per meeting.
Want more tips? Check out How to Hold Productive and Enjoyable Meetings.
You can also try a one-on-one meeting or virtual brainstorming session instead of a large meeting. Not only does this create a more balanced culture, allowing everyone to participate more fully, but it also cuts down on the costs associated with meetings. Check out how expensive your meetings are with Harvard Business Review’s Meeting Cost Calculator.
Set boundaries—or create zones
Introverts can have an especially hard time in the modern office culture, which often celebrates collaboration and spending time together as a team. “One of the most common challenges introverts face today is that most workplaces are built to stimulate collaboration and somehow seem designed for extroverts. Starting from the large open spaces, up to the constant interruptions that shatter their focus at work,” says Elena Carstoiu, COO of Hubgets.
However, it’s not just introverts who struggle with this. I would classify myself as extroverted, and I remember being stuck next to the sales team at my very first job, which happened to be made up of a bunch of young guys in their early 20s. All day, every day, they were playing with nerf guns, and it drove me crazy. At the time I was a copywriter, and much of my work required me to be able to maintain focus. That was impossible when nerf bullets were buzzing by my ear or landing on my desk, even when I had my headphones on.
To create a balanced culture, leaders need to empower every employee to do their best work. Carstoiu suggests one way to do that: “Create a culture where ‘personal flow’ is respected.” This can be hard to do when your office operates with an open floor plan—when anyone can be interrupted at any moment, halting their train of thought or work flow.
What’s worse, an open floor plan may do the opposite of what you expect. This 2018 study found that employees spent 73% less time face-to-face in open office environments.
The good news is you don’t need to change offices or even your workplace layout to allow for better personal flow. Instead, try these ideas:
- Implement the “stop light” system. Every employee has a stoplight sign at their desk. When it’s on green, people can come talk to them. Yellow means they prefer not to be interrupted. Red means, “Come find me later, I’m in the zone.” You could achieve the same result with a headphones rule—”Whenever I have my headphones on, I’m not available.”
- Set up a room reserving system for employees to use so they can schedule their own personal, “heads down” time as needed.
- If you don’t have offices, use room separators to create a focus area where employees can go to get away from distractions. You can get simple dividers at Staples. Simple design changes like this can go a long way toward building more space for “personal flow” into your newly balanced culture.
For more ideas, check out How to Design Your Office for Improved Productivity and Purpose.
Create a balanced culture for everyone
Creating a balanced culture takes thought, especially if you have a strongly-established company culture. Survey your employees about their struggles with your current culture. Do this anonymously, preferably online, so everyone feels comfortable enough to participate. Use the data to understand: Do they need more space for personal flow? Do they feel they’re often interrupted? Are they missing chances to speak out in meetings?
This will give you a good idea of what needs to change. From there, you can implement the ideas you’ve just read about as needed. Whatever it takes, the goal is the same: create the culture that empowers your employees to do their best work, and then watch the business flourish.