Culture Code: Russia
Leveraging the workplace to meet today’s global challenges
The Steelcase WorkSpace Futures research study of 11 countries reveals what organizations need to know about the role of culture in high-performing global workplaces.
A multi-layered identity
Abundant natural resources of oil, metal ores, coal and other commodities, along with a well-educated labor force and expanding middle class—these advantages create opportunities that have attracted multinational business to Russia ever since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Today Russia is one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies. Among the challenges this vast nation faces is the imperative to improve productivity and streamline processes in its fast-evolving culture. Due to the many radical changes Russians have experienced in their lifetimes, mismatched attitudes and approaches coexist, which makes its culture difficult to decipher. Like their nesting matrioshka dolls, Russian people have built up layers of identity, each springing from a different era in their history.
Flexible work arrangements are fairly common, especially for women; remote work is limited due to a still-developing intranet infrastructure.
The social side of work is very important for most Russians.
In Russian companies, interaction happens at the workstation; few have informal meeting spaces.
- There’s tolerance for high density in homes and offices.
- Processes are bureaucratic and paper-dependent.
- Transparency is unfamiliar and can be an adjustment for workers.
The pace of work is fast and intense.
The workweek is officially set at 40 hours, but overtime is common
Arriving late for work or cross-town meetings is tolerated.
- The workday typically begins 9:00—10:00 a.m., but often extends late into the evening as business takes place over dinner and drinks.
Quality of Life
- Russia’s rapid transition to a free-market economy has been unsettling for much of its population and created a split society; 21% of population consider themselves thriving, 22% suffering.
- Among European nations, 28 countries score higher in wellbeing and 11 score lower.
Source: Gallup Global Wellbeing Report, 2010
Source: United Nations Development Programme Report, 2011
Many Russians are strained financially and divided on capitalism.
Source: Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2009
- Finding balance between work and life is a challenge and growing cause of dissatisfaction. Older workers are nostalgic for security; younger generation workers want more free time.
- With a shortage of experienced Russian talent, job-hopping for a higher salary is common.
- Russian workers tolerate fairly dense work-station planning, which affords extra room for alternative spaces.
- Executive offices are important to the culture; explore reduced footprints with enhanced spaces that reflect status by including high-end surfaces and materials, and embedded technologies.
- Socializing and tight bonds are integral to the Russian culture. Cafes in close proximity to work areas can build on that cultural trait and encourage informal collaboration sessions.
- A collaboration “concourse”—a range of spaces within a high-traffic area—can promote more regular shifts between “I” and “we” work.
- he work environment is becoming a powerful tool to attract the best talent, who are looking for upbeat, creative environments that also speak to the Russian desire for “hominess”. Providing a variety of spaces to choose from based on the type of work they need to do can help workers stay more engaged.
- Russians change jobs with increasing frequency. Open spaces that help them feel connected to the organization’s purpose and to other workers can improve retention.
- Brand and company culture are new concepts to most Russians and not fully utilized yet. Especially for multinationals, design spaces that are authentic to the brand to increase understanding and build trust.
- In this culture where family and friends are extremely important, brand and company loyalty can be cultivated by creating spaces that promote a sense of community and belonging.
- A more egalitarian approach to space, and more choice and control over where and how they work will help employees feel less stressed and more highly valued.
- In a country where pollution-related health conditions exist, emphasis on sustainable materials and practices in the workplace can enhance workers’ wellbeing.
Scores on Cultural Dimensions
Because the culture of Russia has been fundamentally recreated during the past two decades, distinctly different attitudes exist side-by-side. Compared to the greater uniformity of cultural dimensions seen in more established nations, Russia displays many disparities.
A shift is occurring
Autocracy has been visible throughout Russian history, but recent studies suggest that different attitudes to power and decision-making now coexist. A preference for participative decision-making and more egalitarian management styles are gaining ground as democratic reforms have created opportunities based on education, skills and experience versus political connections.
Uncertainty Tolerant/Security Oriented
Getting around obstacles
Rules and bureaucracies abound in Russia, presenting significant barriers to foreign companies doing business there. There are so many rules that it’s virtually impossible not to break one. This has led to a wide margin for doing business with bribes, but collective efforts by international firms beginning to change this practice. Russians have shown adeptness at navigating conflicting worlds, working in chaotic business situations and finding creative solutions to obstacles. They are frequent job-switchers, on a constant quest for a higher salary. Their economy is dynamic and evolving daily, and so are they.
100 friends vs.100 rubles
Russia is less individualistic than developed countries, but the most individualistic among developing ones. If Russians are individualistic, they go about it in a collective way. Especially during the Soviet years, many people depended upon blat—complex, personal networks of underground favor exchanges, regulated by unspoken rules. Many collectivist values are expressed in Russian culture—routinely you will hear “Better to have 100 friends than 100 rubles.”
Today’s’ realities vs. yesterday’s ideals
While dominant “masculine” behaviors are expected from Russian leaders, less confrontational and more inclusive bonds of friendship are accepted among peers. Coupled with an emphasis on dusha (the Russian soul), this signals leanings toward a more feminine culture. As the market economy provides more incentives for hard work, the intensity of workstyles is increasing. Aggressiveness and a drive for personal status may overtake the more idealistic, nurturing values.
Short-term Oriented/Long-term Oriented
Low Context/High Context
Nyet may not mean “no”
Like other developing nations, change has happened rapidly, which means Russian workplaces are both grounded in traditions, yet quickly incorporating new ideas and new ways of working. Despite its vast territories, urban real estate is expensive, especially in Moscow. Open-plan environments offer cost savings and are becoming more common as multinational firms stream into Russia, though they contrast dramatically to the traditional Soviet “cabinet-style” layout in which enclosed rooms line long hallways and the size and location of each office reflects hierarchy. Change management strategies will be key to help Russian workers embrace new workplaces and styles.
Considerations for Addressing the Five Key Workplace Issues
Optimize Real Estate
A collaboration “corridor” offers workers a range of spaces that promote more egalitarian interactions.
Attract, Develop & Engage
Build Brand & Activate Culture
Transparency for Russian leadership spaces builds on the culture’s tendency for inclusiveness and nurturing.