Rebekah Valero-Lee covid-19
Usually, culture change and the evolution of behaviours that support improved equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) happen gradually, over a prolonged period.
But in these unusual times, changes to the way we work have not only been huge, they have also been instant, creating a need to adapt that’s already affecting ED&I in some surprising and thought-provoking ways.
For some, working from home, at least for part of the working week, would have been a choice long before Government advice and social distancing regimes made it a reality. Often, however, workplace practices are often not tailored around the needs of the individual but around the needs of the company and the whole team. Consequently, those with other responsibilities, such as children or elderly relatives, find themselves balancing their work and life roles around an office schedule.
One of the outcomes of the COVID-19 situation is that our new working reality has demonstrated that old working conventions do not have to be set in stone.
Perceptions of value have shifted from the person who spends the longest day in the office to the person who is the most productive, despite the challenges of working from home and delivering projects as part of a physically disconnected team.
This period of unorthodox working has taught us that unorthodox can work well. For example, it has given those who are most creative late at night the chance to allocate their most productive hours of the day as working time, and those who juggle work and family now have the freedom to work around all their responsibilities. For those managing a team, this creates an opportunity to play to the strengths of individuals and empower them to work in a way that suits them best.
This period, and the technology we are using to make it work, could make the concept of a conventional working day seem old-fashioned, opening the door to improved inclusivity for those who have previously struggled to conform to the standard 9-5.
Of course, there are caveats to this. For virtual meetings to be productive, we will need to be more mindful of colleagues’ working patterns, strengths and styles, so that conversations can be scheduled at a time and using a platform that suits everyone. However, this simply means that our experience of working remotely will be a catalyst for further positive change as we take more notice of the working preferences and the challenges or routines of others.
Regular catch-ups can no longer be allowed to drop down the priority list because effective teamwork will rely on actively touching base with each other. Expectations and deadlines cannot be vague because micro-management and last minute curved balls are no longer possible, so communication will become simpler and more purposeful, with clear expectations set for deliverables and urgency.
As we adjust to the new challenges of working outside of our regular routines, it also makes sense to assume that we will reach out beyond our regular team structures too. Getting work done will depend on leveraging the talent and experience within the business and, as homeworking makes location irrelevant, there will be increased opportunity for co-working across different departments, different sites or even different countries.
With so much change surrounding us, it’s important to understand how we can use the current situation to embrace ED&I working practices, but it’s important not to lose sight of the obstacles that were preventing us from nurturing a more inclusive workplace before. Those obstacles still exist. Leaders must be conscious of any bias, which can result in them trusting colleagues who are most like themselves. It’s essential for those in a leadership role to ensure they consciously involve every member of their team, allocating tasks to all and checking in with everyone.
Whether we have a fully-equipped home office or are camped out at the dining room table surrounded by home-schooling paraphernalia, this is a time when we’re all united by the need to keep everything as normal as possible, even though everything is further from normal than we’ve ever known it.
The way we work now to develop a cohesive team will leave a legacy when we do all return to the workplace.
That legacy may well enable people to work from home and hopefully, it will also involve enhanced understanding of inclusive working cultures.