On the surface, returning to the office may seem like it’s leveling the playing field for workplace inclusion but with the rising COVID-19 delta variant, employees’ comfort levels for in-person work have shifted along with in-flux work policies. Whatever the model ends up being, the barriers of hybrid schedules can disproportionately impact certain groups — such as working parents and underrepresented populations — who may struggle to balance work and home priorities.
As workplaces remain distributed for the foreseeable future, now is the time for business leaders to consciously rethink how they connect, inspire and communicate as an organization to operate against their individual, team and business goals. To ensure every employee is supported and able to do their best work during the transition and beyond, one thing is certain: radical inclusion must be prioritized.
While radical inclusion starts at the top, it’s up to every employee to embrace and help each other grow to ensure each individual within the organization feels seen, valued and heard for who they authentically are. A big part of radical inclusion is cultivating conversations and considering alternate perspectives. Being able to have productive conversations leads to better collaboration – we all know that is how we get our best results.
These uncertain and somewhat experimental times as we define the Future of Work is a golden opportunity to reset expectations for everyone and build models where every employee feels tied to the mission and their coworkers, regardless of their location, language, background or longevity with the company.
Here is my master checklist for ensuring all employees work together effortlessly:
Create Intentional Spaces
To ensure all employees find their tribe, managers must create intentional spaces (physical and psychologically safe) for employees to show up in the ways that work for them. Build communities that remain connected – both virtually and in-person by creating employee resources groups. At Asana, we found organic communities naturally formed and existing within the organization, like dedicated Slack channels for new parents and LGBTQ+ allyship, where employees can share experiences and feel supported. Take a look at what is organically happening within your organization and nurture those communities by having those groups share ideas at company-wide all hands or have an HR person check- in to examine if new policies should to be put in place as a result of those group conversations. Pay close attention to groups who are disproportionately affected to ensure they have a seat at the table – both physically and virtually.
Build Better Meetings
Employees should feel comfortable bringing their full selves to group and one-one-one meetings – whether that means being transparent about Zoom fatigue or being more candid about hardships when trying to balance it all. It is especially important for managers and direct reports to have a certain level of transparency in 1:1 check-ins where they can “share their mess” and speak candidly about challenges and needs so people don’t feel alone in their experiences. Managers should model this as well. These types of real talk conversations may help uncover underlying issues for employees, such as mental health struggles or feelings of not belonging, which could otherwise go unnoticed. More U.S. adults are suffering from anxiety or depressive disorder from the pandemic, so it’s essential managers have the tools in place to keep an eye on their teams and themselves. People managers also need this same support and space as they take on the added stress of creating positive work experiences for their teams
Activate Allyship with Training
Provide allyship training and organized learning forums where people can facilitate productive discussions around sensitive topics such as gender, race, sexuality and political inclusion in the workplace, promoting belonging and psychological safety. Commit to the success of your Employee Resource Groups (ERG) function and implement training or breakout discussions built with the intention to create inclusive, growth conversations. By investing in quarterly training programs that foster belonging and inclusion for both new hires and long tenure employees, people will feel more connected to their work communities and have an opportunity to understand sensitive topics in a way that they may not have been privy to before.
Design Inclusive Schedules
With schools returning in-person in the fall, working parents have to balance school drop off and after hours child care commitments whether they will be in the corporate office or their home office. Though many companies are pushing return to office dates until 2022, employees will continue to remain distributed working across different time zones. To be mindful of everyone’s time, organize as few meetings as possible – sticking to bi-weekly larger conversations and opting for more direct report check-ins where people can find a time that works best for their schedule. For anything that doesn’t require a face-to-face interaction (of if you’re just looking to take a break from video meetings), leverage tools like Asana’s Video Messaging which can allow employees to work asynchronously and provides benefits of face-to-face communication while allowing employees to meet at a time that works best for them.
Keep Everyone in the Loop
When working across satellite offices and with conflicting schedules, it can easily feel like people are missing out on conversations that happen when they’re online or in the office. To avoid this water cooler effect, provide your team with meeting notes and circulate action items after every meeting so the full team has the proper context and information to do their best work – without feeling siloed or punished for not being in the office. Having a team alias or shared task to share updates is a great way for everyone to stay in the loop. And remember, when communicating with teams, take any cultural cues into account since communication styles so vastly differ from country to country its important to choose words carefully, especially when giving feedback.
Onboard with Collaboration
As companies eventually open their doors for in-person collaboration – both new hires along with tenure employees will have to find their evolved workflows and establish new norms. Consider re-onboarding programs to outline new expectations, features and office flows so that everyone is up to date on the latest company policies, communication platforms and other important components like accessibility and spaces to relax, recharge or collaborate. Clearly outline where work is expected to be done – whether in Slack, email or collaboration tools – and when work is expected to be done – whether there are defined hours or no parameters – so that employees understand what is expected. At Asana, we are even planning to circulate “welcome back” guidelines and provide leaders with a checklist of things to do on the first day/week/month back. For any new employee who joined the company over the pandemic and has never been to the office – build separate orientation experiences so there are no first day of school jitters when in-person collaboration eventually returns. Also consider buddy and mentoring programs and anything else that helps bring people together and considers intersectional identities.