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‘Remote first’ isn’t a culture. Here’s what companies should focus on instead

Scan through job postings these days, and you’ll inevitably see it. Sometimes it’s spelled out in big, bold letters; other times it’s buried in the perks and benefits: “remote-first culture.”

After a year of lockdown, growing numbers of companies are embracing remote-work options—some, such as Twitter and Shopify, are allowing employees to “work from home forever”; others now offer flexible, hybrid arrangements. To be clear, I think these options can be great. There’s just one problem. Remote-first isn’t a culture, not by a long shot. And confusing where we work with how we work is actually a big deal.

THE ELUSIVENESS OF COMPANY CULTURE

Even before the pandemic, precisely defining company culture wasn’t easy. A library’s worth of books has been written on it, but the concept ultimately is a vague one. Culture can be “what people do and how they do it.” It can be attitudes and behaviors, or even less tangible (but distinctly not toxic).

Moreover, what counts as “good culture” can be night and day, depending on the company. Some businesses champion freedom and responsibility, while others practice radical candor or radical empathy, all in pursuit of a well-functioning team.

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