Creating an inclusive office environment

Tech NationTech Nation 3 min read

For most businesses, their policies around the long-term return to the workplace are currently in flux due to the pandemic, and now is the perfect opportunity to consider rebuilding these policies in a more inclusive way. 

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘hybrid working’ or ‘Work from Anywhere’ policies (like the one we’ve implemented at Tech Nation or that was recently announced by SalesForce) seem to have become ‘the new normal’. In terms of the impact on productivity the shift to remote working has had a positive impact. The CIPD states: “As proponents of flexible working knew would happen all along, productivity hasn’t fallen off a cliff. In many cases, bosses have found it has increased.”

Flexible working and hybrid approaches to office/remote work necessitate new policies around Diversity & Inclusion. For example, we are all grappling with how to run hybrid meetings effectively. Anyone who has ever dialled into a meeting remotely will know how painful it can be. If some people are in the office and some at home, how do you ensure everyone’s voice is heard equally? You may choose to introduce a rule whereby if one person dials in, everyone has to dial in; explore technology which allows for a more immersive virtual experience; or train managers to chair hybrid meetings more inclusively.

With hybrid workplaces, employers need to offer as much flexibility as they can. One size does not fit all, so you should let managers and employees curate their work experience at an individual level. In order to get this right, you need to remove the privilege or “gold stars” associated with presenteeism, and focus less on style and more on substance. People should not be rewarded or promoted for being in the right place at the right time and saying the right thing to the right people, but for adding value to their team and organisation.

It’s also important to recognise the factors that may lead someone to prefer a different working style, and create policies that will help them feel welcome and included. For example, some studies have suggested that, of those wishing to return to the office full-time, most are younger, more junior members of staff; according to one recent study conducted by PwC, 34% of workers aged 18-24 would prefer working remotely one day a week or less, compared with only 20% of all other respondents. 

Many companies are carefully considering returning to the office, given concerns that younger staff could miss out on valuable networking and mentorship opportunities. However, Professor Prithwiraj Choudhury rightly points out that decisions cannot be made on which groups should and should not work remotely based solely on what is found from research during the pandemic. There are a number of key differences between those organisations that began experimenting with remote work before the pandemic and those that began working remotely out of necessity during the crisis. 

When making these decisions, it is also important to consider research that was conducted on the effects of remote working prior to the pandemic. Examples of research include Choudhury’s studies of the US Patent Office (2017) and GitLab (2019).

Creating an inclusive workplace checklist

  • Launch specific initiatives that help create a truly inclusive workplace in a world of hybrid working, and download Github’s Remote Playbook
  • Consider the following factors as you create policies around employees’ working environments and the move to hybrid working:
    • Listen to your staff and understand their needs through conducting regular staff engagement surveys. You can find examples of questions to ask staff through CultureAmp or integrate an organisational intelligence tool such as Temporall.
    • Create policies specifically for a hybrid workplace that outline what your expectation is of in-office vs. remote working. 
    • Consider providing an expense allowance for employees to work in local coworking spaces.
  • Consider leveraging D&I technology that can help build a more inclusive workplace. For example:
    • VECTRE is a VR tool that includes Perspectives Immersive Bias Training, enabling participants to directly experience (and therefore gain a deeper understanding of) discrimination within the workplace. 
    • Chatbots, such as Talk to Spot, can assist in potentially personal or difficult conversations within the workplace by providing the opportunity to anonymously report misconduct.

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