Understanding Office Cultures

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We all know that different countries have different cultures. Most of us began learning about that in grade school. But did you realize that work environments also have their own cultures? If you are coming into a new work environment, either as an employee, a boss or a client, it is very beneficial to learn what the unique culture is of that workplace.

What is «culture?» You can certainly «Google» the word and find a number of definitions. In the workplace, culture is usually defined as a set of attitudes, goals and practices shared within that workplace.

Work environments are unique, and even when you are making a bilateral move to another position in a different office of the same organization you had been working for, it is essential that you take the time to learn how your new colleagues work together.

Some of the questions you will want to have in your head when you are learning about the new culture:

1. How do people interact? Does the office appear to be more informal, where there is easygoing give and take between people? Or is the office clearly one where each person maintains their own space and people request permission in some way to interact?

2. Who is interacting with whom? Do you notice that the organizational hierarchy is quite clear regarding interactions, or is there a general sense that everyone is on the same team?

3. How do people approach the scheduled workday? Do your colleagues arrive and leave at precisely the times that the office is supposed to be open, or is there a tendency for some people to arrive late or stay late?

4. What do people want to know when they are in staff meetings? Is this a time of give and take, or does one person dominate? Does it appear as if questions are welcomed, or not?

5. What is the relationship between the boss and the rest of the group? Does he/she have an open door policy, or are interactions done by appointment?

6. When you walk into the office, how does it feel? Is the environment welcoming, or is there a sensation of stress? If you notice stress, try to figure out what the cause is.

7. How does communication happen? Are people more likely to verbally communicate new information, or is it more likely to be done in a formal message — either written or formal meetings.

8. Are the long-term or short-term goals of the organization clear? Does everyone buy in?

9. How are breaks and lunch handled? Notice if there is already a routine set, and if so gauge when you take your breaks to embrace that routine.

Walking into a new work environment can be intimidating, and most of us want to make a great first impression. One of the best ways to do that is to make it clear that you are interested in learning how the office works. It will enhance your acceptance, and make your ability to do your particular job easier.



Barbara Caldwell