June 26, 2009, 6:43 PM — In the original British version of The Office, Tim Canterbury, the series' everyman character, remarks, "The people you work with are people you were just thrown together with. I mean, you don't know them. It wasn't your choice. And yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family. But probably all you have in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day." It's a particularly bleak moment on the show -- and the show is a great example of how a bad workplace culture can really kill any possibility for success an organization might have.
There is something of a stereotype that techies don't have the greatest social skills around. But when it comes to figuring how to get along with those people they spend eight -- or ten, or twelve, or sometimes more -- hours a day walking around together on the same piece of carpet, they actually seem to learn how to get along with them. Maybe they aren't as close to family, but for many of us, they become much more than just people we're thrown together with.
Photo by: Dawn Endico/flickr
But how can you can make this happen -- in either a leadership role, or just as an ordinary employee? When I started talking to people for this article, I half expected to hear nothing but horror stories, but I heard from a lot of people who knew that they had a good thing going in their workplaces -- and who were eager to tell me how they kept things going that way.
A question of trust
One of the most common themes that underlay many of my discussions was trust, even though that word wasn't always used. Often, the level of trust that a company has for its employees comes out in the amount of freedom they're given to arrange their time as they see fit. Packy Anderson, a senior software developer at GridApp Systems, is pleased about the schedule flexibility he's afforded. "Since we pretty much work on our own, I'm able to set my own hours (within reason) and come and go as I please. Just this afternoon, my father came through town and wanted to have a late lunch. I knew that nobody would bat an eyelash at my working straight through until 2 p.m. then taking off for an hour and a half, because nobody's watching over me making sure I log a certain number of hours each day."