What’s organizational culture in the modern workplace?

Explore what organizational culture is, why it's important and the impact that the culture of your workplace can have on your business.

What’s organizational culture?

The values and behaviors of a workplace make up a company’s organizational culture. And it plays a bigger role than ever in the lives of workers and the productivity levels of a business. It’s 2020, and a new decade has arrived. So, if you’re still holding onto some outdated values or have to ask yourself “What’s workplace culture?”, it’s time to catch up.

The feeling you get walking through a hard-at-work office or the buzz from friendly colleagues in the breakout area. These things all define a happy and healthy company culture. The past couple decades are dramatically different from the rigidity, unapproachability and clear-cut hierarchy of the ‘80s and ‘90s “sea of cubicles” workplace. We’ve swapped cubicles for co-working desks, water coolers for organic coffee machines, and the office staff room for a ping pong area. And bosses? They sit alongside junior colleagues, not enclosed in the corner office.

So, what’s caused the corporate culture change?

The advent of the internet, the rise of the millennial, and the social media shareability of everyday life have all played a role in these changes. The world’s become digital, and businesses have gone the same way. You no longer need to go to work to be working. The digital nomad doesn’t need to be on the same continent, never mind the same floor, as their colleagues in order to collaborate. And for those employees who do work in-house, a whole new standard of workplace culture is being set.

Organizational culture examples

It’s no coincidence that some of the world’s most successful companies are also those which offer the best company culture. Don’t think that being unable to offer free breakfasts every morning, or not having an office decked out in slick interior design means that your company culture can’t flourish. Want to have little treats every now and again? Encourage your team to bring in delicious souvenirs from their vacations away. Want to make your workers connect and have something to look forward to? Crack open a few drinks at the end of every month and let your collective hair down. Such things aren’t about satisfying a sweet tooth or getting a complimentary drink, but about building team spirit and making your co-workers enjoy the time they spend together.

Everybody loves "perks," but they are just that—bonuses, independent of the core values of the team, and at the end of the day, that’s what truly matters, as proven even by these industry giants:

Google
Seen by many as the ultimate example of company culture, Google’s offerings to its employees are designed not just to attract the best, but to retain them for many years after. Colorful, modern offices are just the surface of Google’s organizational culture. The mission is to engage their employees in as many ways as possible, including rewarding failure.

In-office initiatives see employees being mentored by fellow "Googlers" in workplace tasks or shared hobbies. There is the opportunity to offer new ideas and get (positively) shot down for them in Google X Labs, where ridicule and embarrassment are banned. On-going training and development are at the heart of organizational structure. Above all this, however, Googlers are united by the clear purpose of making information on the web useful and clear. This shared drive and commitment to their end-users is what keeps Google consistently at the top of any "best company culture" list.

HubSpot
Similar to Google, HubSpot has the usual playful office design, and a calendar of social events to look forward to. And, just like Google, HubSpot recognizes the value of failure, saying “we’d rather be failing frequently than never trying”. The key to this company, which is also frequently at the top of organizational culture rankings, is its core values. These are defined as HEART: Humble, Empathetic, Adaptable, Remarkable, Transparent. HubSpot believes company culture is an organic inevitability of any workplace, and that it’s a company’s duty to make it a good one.

Mars Inc.
Proving that it’s not all about being in the fast-paced digital industry, the long-standing institution of Mars Inc. hasn’t let its company culture get stuck in the past. In fact, "Martians" don’t just get a mentor as a new employee. Older members of the team also get to try "reverse internships" where younger co-workers school them on modern marvels like social media. Add charitable initiatives, Mars’ commitment to playfulness, innovation, trust, and a shared belief that the customer is all. It’s clear that Mars Inc. has hit the sweet spot when it comes to employee motivation and overall culture.

Dropbox
Of course, we wanted to give ourselves a little credit. Dropbox has always striven to have an organizational culture that’s inspiring, diverse, informed, and joyful. That starts with letting team members take part in defining culture. Since 2011, we’ve put on an annual Hack Week, a full 7 days for Dropbox employees to step out of their usual workspaces and explore. By leaving daily work life behind, our global offices are able create, think bigger, and challenge our perceptions. We also unite ourselves by celebrating diversity. Every year during initiatives like Black History Month and Pride, we share stories about Dropboxer diversity. This highlights our different backgrounds and perspectives, which makes us stronger as a company.

Additionally, we recognize that simple acts of kindness are essential to building strong connections. Though a thank you email is great, we created Gratitude Post—an internal postal service for Dropboxers to send hand-written messages of gratitude, sure to put an unexpected smile on the recipients face. Ensuring that everyone is able to be involved in our culture is of the upmost importance.

The key takeaways from these leading examples? The best company culture will ensure teams are united in their goal, not afraid to fail, and have the means to grow and better themselves. All of which are core values that stretch far beyond a physical location.

Strategies to improve company culture

With employees working from different coasts, countries, and time zones, bedding in-office and online teams into the same organizational culture and core values is critical.

Keep your digital toolkit updated

Once upon a time, keeping your team well equipped meant having enough paper in the supply closet. Today, it means providing a digital solution for every possibility and staying up to date with new products for a smart workplace.

Is some cross-departmental collaboration required? Members of the organization can connect by building meaningful relationships on Slack. Need to track and solve project pain points? Keep them logged in real-time on Trello. Require external professionals? Find instantly available resources on Upwork.

Dropbox has built the world’s first smart workspace to simplify workflows and optimize productivity. Tools like this promote an “adhocracy culture” that places value on flexibility and employee empowerment. In doing so, it generates confidence, ensures speedier decision making, and encourages creativity and risk-taking—ultimately shaping a team that gives any organization a competitive advantage.

Flatten your hierarchy culture

Organizational culture and leadership go hand in hand when it comes to creating a strong company culture. In today’s work environment, organizational structure has flattened. Core values are shared values, breaking down the old “them and us” dichotomy between senior, middle, and junior employees. Human Resources, managing directors, and new employees are often equally accessible, creating a workplace culture that values the thoughts and opinions of all.

You can make this happen by keeping communication channels like email, instant messaging, or message boards open. Employees can stay up to date with company news and corporate culture, share a joke, or just rave about the latest hit movie. By keeping your company culture open and encouraging friendly chatter, you can let your employees really be themselves. The result is a workplace environment filled with genuine people who can bounce ideas off each other.

Make sure team building includes remote workers

There’s a traditional belief that remote workers aren’t really bona fide members of the team. The cultural change that has taken place over the last few years has seen this idea be almost completely replaced by an “always-connected” way of working. Businesses are now more about the core values they have than the four walls they operate between.

Co-workers foster genuine friendships, encouraged by social events and meetings that are live-streamed to every organization member. Benefits like flexible working times improve employee motivation no matter what time zone they’re in. Monthly newsletters can keep everyone up to date on other offices, whether they’re manned by one employee or 100, and let team members know their efforts are appreciated. Everyone has horror stories about how a negative psychological environment of an organization affected the way people worked. So, make sure a positive, strong culture can be enjoyed by everyone in every part of your organizational structure.

Start from day one and make sure new employees are introduced to everyone by video link or email—extra points for fun questions like “What animal would you be and why?”. Also be sure to add them to the correct communication channel for the team they will be working with.

Ensure some face-to-face time

Digital is a wonderful thing, but a dose of good old fashioned in-person connection will go a long way too. This might be as simple as having enough meeting rooms to give employees somewhere to talk or ensuring everyone has laptops equipped with webcams so remote workers can do the same. A calendar of social events, like once-a-month breakfasts or annual Christmas parties, ensures that co-workers get to see the people behind the avatars. And if remote workers can’t attend, sending hand-written cards in the mail as tokens of appreciation will let them know they were missed.

Ban blame

Nothing kills creativity and risk-taking faster than fear. Make sure that if disaster does strike, it’s not about who’s to blame, but how to fix it. A great workplace should not only provide the tools to make employees’ jobs easier and have a safety net in place for when it all goes wrong. Modern equipment, file backups and backup power banks are smart additions to your workplace, helping eliminate these sources of fear.

Dropbox offline access helps solve the most dreaded issue of all—lost internet connection. Providing access to files when you’re offline, teams can enjoy a whole new way of working. Whether it’s on the commute, away from the office or just through an internet outage, being away from Wi-fi doesn’t mean they’re disconnected.

What’s organizational culture for me?

You don’t have to think far outside the box to create a modern organizational culture that encourages employee motivation and brings together in-house and remote teams. Just make sure that you, as a leader, are creating the best company culture for your workforce. It can be tasty treats, empowerment by letting all voices be heard, or encouraging employees to concentrate their passions on their job with our productivity tools. In doing so, you can generate an environment that fosters and attracts the best talent and produces the best work.