While many are now used to the daily commute from the bedroom to the makeshift home office, HR departments across the world are still working to align their practices with make-or-break factors including public health and safety measures, diversity and inclusion efforts, and mental health concerns. Heading into 2021, the future of the workplace – whether at home or reunited in an office building – will continue to adjust until there is truly a “new normal” that works for every employee.
Creating Intentional Inclusion
Without being able to interact with co-workers in-person, it is now more important than ever to intentionally create an inclusion strategy that looks at the issue from many angles. Inclusion starts with recruiting practices, such as interviewing, hiring, and training, and ends with management and leadership best practices. Only when all of these elements are brought up to inclusive standards will the company culture be truly inclusive. Recruiters, interviewers and managers need training and employees need opportunities to communicate. For example, building in private and open forums where all employees can express feelings and concerns, be they business critical or unrelated to regular business functions.
Inclusion encompasses a wide variety of factors that are often not a part of the regular business discussion. Take mental health as an example; it can often carry a stigma that can leave employees feeling isolated from their counterparts. To create an inclusive environment, there are organizations that employers can partner with to create a roadmap for addressing these concerns. These third-party services offer unique benefits, working to determine specific mental health challenges that exist within their organization, and then developing a plan to manage through them as peers, teammates and leaders.
To further support diversity, hiring teams can deploy additional best practices including blind resume screening to remove any unintentional bias in all areas of the job search. Diversity must be attained in an organic way that creates a genuinely inclusive culture, not just as a best practice or a way to check a box. New hires must be trained by employees across a series of backgrounds, locations and departments to develop a culture of accountability. That training should set a precedent for the type of inclusive communication required in the organization, and those standards should never change. If diversity and inclusion start from the ground level, the entire organization will reap the benefits over time.
Actionable Steps Towards Supporting a Diverse Community
Employers and employees alike need to ensure that they are putting their money where their mouth is in terms of diversity and inclusion. If the business is looking for a way to show support for minority groups in the community, consider diversifying the organization’s portfolio of vendors. Right now, those vendors might be digital in the form of software tools, but eventual office reopening will create more opportunities to reimagine partnerships. By supporting fully minority-owned vendors, organizations can nurture the diversity in the community while getting a top-notch service to enhance their business. This should be part of a larger, long-term strategy to support diversity across the industry and in communities. This type of intentional step allows companies to tap into new networks and reach new markets, but the most important benefit lies in the ways these initiatives can exude the core values of the business and enhance the culture tremendously.
Creating the Flexible Work Environment for Everyone
Many major international companies like Google, Facebook and Shopify have announced that they are not returning to the physical office until long into 2021, if they choose to return in-person at all. This forced restructuring has shown many companies the benefits of work-from-home including increased productivity, lower costs of operation and happier employees. Once it is safe to return, however, employees should be encouraged to seek flexible solutions, such as establishing designated work-from-home days into their schedule. This will ease the transition so that employees still have plenty of family time. Not only that, but allowing for some degree of continued remote work eliminates down time. Long commutes and inter-office distractions weren’t commonplace in 2020 quarantine life, and transitioning back to the “old” normal may feel like too much too soon for many of your team members.
This flexible workplace is certainly sustainable, but employees need adequate and equitable resources to make their home office as productive as possible. To set them up for success, companies should provide their employees with the equipment they need to have a solid home office, whether that is a key piece of furniture or a software-related tool. These accommodations might look different for each employee, and that’s ok.
Furthermore, just providing the software isn’t enough. HR representatives must invest their time and energy into training employees for remote work so no one is left behind. For those employees who may be new to the industry, took a non-traditional route to your company, or are a bit more old-school, adapting to a fully virtual work environment can be challenging, in a way that other employees may not understand. Be sure to check in with each of your employees and see how they can be better supported whenever transitioning to a new type of software or virtual business practice.
Establishing a Work-Life Balance
When the home became the workplace and a typical schedule became much less binding, the gap that once existed between work and home life closed before our eyes. According to a recent report, 75% of employees have experienced burnout as it relates to their jobs, and 40% felt additional burnout during the pandemic. This is due in-part to 37% of employees claiming they are working longer hours now than they were before COVID-19, in addition to a lack of work-home boundaries, family commitments and the daily struggles of navigating a pandemic. The shift to work-from-home exposed leadership to the unique experiences our peers are juggling at home, especially during these strange times.
While we are all familiar with the challenges associated with working in close proximity to family members or roommates, some employees may not have the luxury of being able to turn an extra room into a temporary home office for a full workday. Employers must be cognizant of diverse home scenarios and make accommodations for people who might need a separate workspace or other ways to avoid distractions. These accommodations could come in the form of safely reopening parts of the office on a limited, case-by-case basis, or allowing employees to use single-person workspaces in their hometown. Additional efforts such as providing noise-cancelling headsets employees can use during important calls can make all the difference for those in busy homes.
Additionally, it is important for employers to continue to understand the challenges of balancing home responsibilities and work tasks. Even as work-from-home arrangements continue, some family’s situations are ever-changing as schools fluctuate between remote and in-person and health challenges may come and go. The original niceties many employers extended during the transitional period need to persist as long as the extraneous circumstances of living in a pandemic continue to uproot “normal” life.
Despite the challenges of working from home, 2020 led to a new appreciation for the family, and employers should take note. Even though for many work now takes place at home and business travel is still unsafe, it’s important to encourage staff to take time off to spend with their families. This time off needs to remain free of the stress of work to ensure that COVID does not become an excuse to work constantly, thus risking burnout and mental health concerns. Encouraging a strong work-life balance is critical for keeping employees happy and productive in 2021 and beyond.
Taking the Necessary Steps
Now when life is more isolated than ever, it is critically important to listen to your employees and swiftly adapt to their feedback. Even taking the smallest actions towards promoting diversity and making everyone in your organization comfortable can foster employee satisfaction and protect company culture from a distance. 2021 will be all about compensating for the abnormalities of the “new normal” and adjusting to your employees work style to find the sweet spot where the future of work can thrive.
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