In addition to a well-executed workplace climate survey process, conducting a “culture walk” through the physical spaces of the workplaces is a practical and non-obtrusive method to observe and audit signs of workplace culture, climate, and equity. Factors such as space allocation, office placement, visual displays, and the manner in which employees communicate, can speak volumes about whether an organization’s reality aligns with its values.
When & Where to Conduct a Culture Walk
- One-off approaches are insufficient to address deep-seated cultural inequities that facilitate workplace gender-based violence and harassment. As with any comprehensive prevention and response program, culture walks should be conducted on a regular and ongoing basis that accounts for rapidly-changing dynamics.
- Organizations with multiple divisions, floors, offices, and other varying work spaces should take care to walk every type of work area.
- The day of the week, time of day, and number of people working at any given moment can impact how workers navigate their work space and interactions. Varying the day of the week and time of day culture walks are conducted is recommended.
- An organization’s entire staff should be informed of the full extent of its comprehensive prevention and response program, including whether culture walks are conducted. However, unannounced culture walks may better assess workplace realities. Workers should be assured that no specific adverse action (unless required by law or disclosed policy) will be taken on the basis of information obtained during a culture walk, regardless of whether it’s announced. A best practice is regular disclosure of findings in a manner that does not identify or implicate specific parties.
- Workers representing a broad cross-section of supervisory and non-supervisory levels, pay grades, and all other power dynamics should be part of teams conducting culture walks.
What To Look For: Space Allocation & Display
- Are power imbalances and status reflected in space allocation and office locations?
- How much space is allocated for meetings and group interaction versus provided to individual employees?
- What is the nature of any space, if any, where employees may speak confidentially?
- Are displays used in a positive, informative, and visually-appealing manner?
- Do all employees feel ownership of and connection to spaces?
- Do employees display personal items? If so, how do they manage such displays? Is there any oversight or ability for coworkers to voice any concerns regarding displays?
- How do employees access their work spaces? Do parking, entrances, and other access points reflect power imbalances and status?
- Does a broad cross-section of employees actually utilize common areas, such as break rooms and kitchens?
- Do employees have the space and empowerment to gather privately without fear of supervisory oversight and intrusion?
- Are there any detectable social and emotional cues in employee interactions?
- When employees speak to each other, do they close doors or whisper?
- Do employees prefer to write to each other? Is their written tone formal, hostile, or detached?
- How do supervisors primarily communicate with those they supervise? Through e-mail? In person?
Some items observed during culture walks, such as space allocation, can be incrementally addressed by organizational leadership teams. Other items, such as the manner in which employees interact and communicate, may require referral to a working group that is fully representative of all employees. Such a working group could also be charged with developing a workplace code of conduct that reflects cultural considerations, as informed by the findings of culture walks and climate surveys.
Regardless of the manner of response chosen, a best practice that promotes confidence and accountability is to keep employees informed about findings and responsive actions taken, solicit suggestions for change, and engage in an ongoing conversation.
Source: Susan M. Healthfield, How to Assess Your Company’s Culture, available at: http://www.ultiproweb.net/pdf/whitepapers/cultureassessmentfinalfinal.pdf.