“Good culture” – I think it’s a myth.
The perfect culture for you might be a completely wrong one for me. If the global pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t do well in 100% remote work. But a remote working culture might be perfect for others. Company cultures are deeply personal.
So how do you know if you’ll excel in a company’s culture? Here are 3 things to consider:
1. Formality Level
There are many ways this plays out: dress code, level of small talk encouraged, how well team members know each other.
Dress code seems like a small thing, but it really isn’t. If you like to look your best and will dress nicely anyway, it may be a non-factor (though you also may feel like an outsider in an extremely casual culture). But if you are the most yourself in sneakers and a hoodie (like me, most of the time!), it’s nice to know that’s okay.
But perhaps more important than dress code is how informal team members are with each other. Is this a place you can joke around, if that’s your main mode? If you’re in a position of leadership, do you expect people to treat you a certain way? These are important things to consider before joining a new company.
PRO TIP: Arrive early for an interview, then just watch how team members interact with each other. Do they seem like they genuinely like each other? Are they goofing around at all? Or is everything strictly business?
Are you the kind of person who is happy to follow or are you looking for a place where you can lead? I know, this seems like a trick question: obviously, you should pick “lead.” But I also think there are seasons in our lives in which we really want to be more of a cog in the process than out in front making changes.
Some companies have a top-down leadership structure, meaning that you have to have a position to really make many changes. In other cultures, you are encouraged to take ownership. It can be more work, but it can be rewarding too.
PRO TIP: In any interview, be sure to ask about ways you can make an impact that are outside of your area of direct responsibility, if a culture of ownership is important to you. How your interviewer answers should tell you a lot about how much the company values input from its team members.
I suppose in some ways, this is similar to Formality Level. But it can be different too.
At EduSource, for example, we have an informal culture to the extreme. We joke around and have fun with each other. We don’t have dress codes. But we sometimes have less flexibility with remote work. During certain times of the year, we encourage remote work, and even formally all work 2-3 days per week remotely. But during the summers, when our apprentices are in town, we really emphasize in-person work. We’ve found that’s the best way to train our apprentices – on-site and hands-on. So due to our mission, we have less flexibility than some custom software shops.
Other things to look for – does the culture encourage flexibility for things like dentist appointments? Do you have to take PTO for that and make a formal request, or can you just run out and come back? All of these things can definitely be indicative of the flexibility built into the culture.
PRO TIP: I think the best way to learn about this is to just ask. For example, “If I have a dentist appointment and need to be off for a few hours, what’s the process for that?” or “Do you encourage remote work? How often is acceptable?”.