- Jillian Bjornstad, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
What is Business Culture in Alaska?
Alaska, it is the biggest and most diverse state in the United States. When thinking of Alaska, many people don’t think about the way business is run or why it might be different to what they know. Despite being the biggest state, Alaska only has a population of around 730,000 according to recent estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.
In Alaska, there is a high chance that when you first meet somebody, you know their family or have some sort of connection, especially in rural areas. Alaska’s roots run deep. Many people have been here since before Alaska was even proclaimed a state in 1959. Plus, the largest minority group in the state is Alaska Native or indigenous.
Business culture in Alaska is different. The economy is run mostly by oil and Alaska Native Corporations, but it is incredibly family-friendly and community-oriented. Coming into work in the winter is always something of a trip, but often people are dressed for just that winter. You’ll have business meetings where people are in their winter boots.
Many women, like myself, keep all of our nice shoes at work under our desks. Most workplaces have a lot of flexibility, and someone could walk into an office and have their baby with them. I have been to many places where there is an “office baby” and they are the office's mascot. Usually, there is also a dog associated with a workplace that everyone loves.
A good reason to call into work would probably be that it is 40 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit), and your car won’t start or that there is a moose in the roadway. Others may say that they stopped along the road to pull someone out of a snowbank on their way into the office.
Someone from outside of Alaska might think our winters are the tough part of living in Alaska, but working full-time in the summers can really get to you. Summers in Alaska are beautiful, and it can be tough having to sit in an office all day. When you get to work and when you leave work, the sun is still high. Many people go hiking, canoeing, rafting, and fishing. It is easy to take a few days off to go on a long fishing trip or berry picking. Depending on where you work, a boss might let the office out early just because “it is a beautiful day out there.” In the summer, my office might go out for a mid-day walk and visit the small restaurants right down the road.
What makes business in Alaska, in most cases, so casual? I have always attributed it to our close-knit community. It is easy to get to know people here, and the topic of conversation is usually a good fishing or hunting trip. No one is ever really in a rush. Traffic is practically non-existent, especially compared to places like Seattle or Los Angeles. Many companies aim to make a difference in the community. A company might host a charity event, donate services, or even host scholarships for students. Often you might have to talk business with a company, but you are family friends with the owner or know someone who works there. It is usually easy to get a hold of someone. It is often hard to find someone not willing to talk, especially to students curious about an industry.
Business in Alaska is unique to the point where you might run into a CEO at a drive-through coffee hut or the local grocery store and have a passing conversation. You might even run into your boss at a workout studio and go out for a meal afterward. If you are new in town, a coworker or even your boss might take you to all the right spots or out fishing.
This culture is purely Alaskan.