Remote working has hindered diversity, let’s make sure to bring it back better
By Alexandra Anders, Senior Director of Talent, EMEA · Cornerstone OnDemand
For some, this extended period working from home has been a welcome break from the morning rush hour commute and enabled extra time to tidy the house at lunchtime. But for others, it’s been a tough time juggling home schooling whilst also focusing on work and somehow finding time for themselves.
18 months on and many people remain in a constant battle to juggle the same priorities, with calls by politicians to ban out of hours emails from bosses and to enforce the “right to disconnect”. Remote working has made it harder for employees to step away from their desk for the day, and there is an expectation that employees are available at all hours of the day, just because they have the facilities at home to work, but this is having a severe impact on mental health.
Not only that, but diversity has also taken a hit throughout this period of remote working. If we think about the limited communication we have in our home office – often we’ll just talk to our team members through Slack or Teams and not interact with people outside of our teams, meaning we’re becoming less exposed to people who we might not be used to talking to, not gaining as many different perspectives or insights.
With many employees not expected to return to the office full time and instead choose a hybrid working approach, no doubt this trend of limited communication amongst employees will continue. So, how can we make sure to keep the diversity agenda moving?
Diversity – the pandemic pandemonium
Even before the pandemic, companies had only just started to address diversity issues in the workplace through in-person workshops, unconscious bias training initiatives and generally trying to encourage and create a more diverse office environment. But as we no longer work together with others, no longer commute through busy and diverse cities, we have become less exposed to the people beyond our team or even our own four walls, being forced into echo chambers and only communicating with the people we know and are comfortable with.
Naturally, feeding off the diverse environment from the physical office has become almost non-existent thanks to three lockdowns and offices remaining more empty than full since. While there have been moments in the past year where diversity has been in the spotlight, particularly during the George Floyd and Black Lives Matters protests, fostering continued diversity is what really needs to be a priority for businesses if we are to build it back better. And, given our extended time out of the office, we may need to completely start from scratch.
Setting up the foundations
The good news is that we can mitigate this setback by laying the groundwork now. Luckily, the pandemic hasn’t hindered our communication channels with our employees. We’re all experts in Teams, Zoom or Slack by now, no doubt, and it’s a case of making better use of these channels for diversity. Setting up dedicated Teams or Workplace channels, to name a couple, for employees to have open conversations and suggest ways to improve diversity in the business can be a great way to get employees in the right mindset, ready for when they return to the office. Also, having a bank of ever- evolving resources, such as books, podcasts and articles, around certain minority groups that employees can add to themselves and read at their own leisure can be a subtle way of getting employees to be more open-minded about diversity and to learn more about it for themselves.
Lockdown has been a great time to analyse where the gaps are in diversity, companies may have been working out what voices are missing from key discussions and decision-making meetings, refreshing language in job ads to attract more diverse people or undertaking virtual unconscious bias training. Now, it’s about ensuring this kind of activity continues, whether companies are planning on returning to the office or not. We have the gift of time and we can dive into those uncomfortable truths and really decide not only if this is the best company it can be, but if individuals are being empowered to be the best they can be too.
There has never been a time in history where people have been subject to so much change. We’ve completely revolutionised the way we work, followed government guidelines that have altered our everyday lives and changed almost every element of what we are comfortable with. And that’s something we must harness in order to bring about true change in the workplace and bring back diversity better.
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