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Updated: Aug 2, 2022

The daunting challenge of building sustainable corporate cultures in a remote work world.

This is not an ode the gold watch retirement gift. After all, it's not the gold watch's fault that nobody retires any more. From the time Pepsi started the gold watch tradition by telling long-time employees that "you gave us your time, now we are giving you ours", sustaining cultures have been defined by diminishing returns.

The fact is, the chasm between the working experience that matured with the silent generation and older boomers to today's reality of net zero retirement and the indefinite hustle is wide indeed.

Long before the aughts, people stayed in place. This means not only were resumes defined by less volatility, but families generally remained less splintered and relegated to geographic clusters. Cultures, and specifically company cultures, for better or worse were more easily sustained through continuity through all levels of experience.

Then, thanks to technology enabled comms, the lower entry costs of starting a new business, and the Southwest Airlines-ing of low maintenance travel, corporate cultures had to navigate more transience, more distractions, and less loyalty. Still, the great ones, Apple, Zappos, Ritz Carlton, Chic-fil-A, and others managed to build galvanizing, mission clear belief systems.

Yet, once again we are at an inflection point given remote work has forced companies to figure out how you bind people together behind a singular mission when the entire relationship construct is reduced to a series of boxes on our laptops. Zoom's efficiency has become turnover's best friend as we're all boxed in.

Forget the archaic water cooler concept, remote work undermines basic bonding cues. Without breathing the same air, seeing how co-workers move and react to each other and their space, sharing the same weather and local news and tales of the teachers at our kids' schools... all of it has created a burning platform for those who actually understand how do adopt their internal branding strategies accordingly. Oh yeah, 20% of couples met their spouse at work. Too bad pheromones are decidedly not zoom friendly.

I didn't invent the term "culture eats strategy for lunch", but lunch is certainly looking a lot tastier these days as culture comes face to face with this new reality. While respecting that traditions will always be part of driving cultural adherence, you don't need a gold watch any more to know what time it is.

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