The importance of D&I in engaging a remote workforce

Why is D&I important in engaging a remote workforce?  First and foremost, it is about staff welfare.  Welfare whilst working from home (or living at work as many are currently seeing remote working) is central to ensuring that a firm is able to engage and support its employees on a continuing basis whilst at home.  Senior leaders and line managers need to recognise and understand that for all the benefits of working from home for many people, there are an equal number of challenges faced by different groups and for different reasons.  There will be huge divergence within the remote working experience of how people are affected by the enforced change and D&I is important in recognising this and putting in place initiatives and support for employees.

I think that the enforced remote working which many of us have been living through for the past six months has broken down many barriers and increased empathy in considering the diversity of the needs of our colleagues.  When everyone is in an office it is easy to be ignorant of what might be going on outside of that building and I think that in many places there will have been either a lack of awareness of non-job related pressures or a past culture of people hiding their needs as they worry that anything which might require flexibility or adjustments could be considered to be a negative on how they and their commitment to a role are perceived to be.  In February I would have been horrified at the thought of my four year old video bombing a work call.  Six months on, it turns out that it doesn’t make me any less good at my job (and in the case of running a virtual assessment centre for new trainees, can in fact help to break the ice and put the candidates more at ease…).  Lifting the veil between work and home has great benefits on all sides of a working relationship.  If we can reduce internal anxiety over perception then that can only help wellbeing and, in turn, productivity.  D&I is central to this.

We need to consider the different needs of staff and what we can do to support them.  Flexible working patterns are needed in some cases, and this will become even more important for parents and carers as the schools return this week.  Staggered drop off and pick up times are going to create logistical challenges against a backdrop of reduced wrap around care offerings as well as inevitable crisis points of class bubbles being sent home at short notice.

Consideration is needed for those who find it difficult to work at home.  Pre-lockdown I think it was probably taken for granted how much emotional support, and re-energising, comes from small interactions with colleagues.  The simple ‘Hellos’, ‘Would you like a cup of tea’, and ‘How was your weekend’ go a great way to fostering a sense of community and togetherness.  In a virtual world we need to work harder to create these sorts of social interactions but we must also be cognisant that to some extent they can exacerbate and add to ‘Zoom fatigue’ where they might be another video call to add to a long list in a day.  What are the other ways to connect with our colleagues?  Can we help to link up people who live locally for face to face meetings? It’s a great chance for people in different parts of the business to meet where their paths may not usually cross and build relationships and synergies.

D&I is also important in recruiting and retaining talent virtually.  There is a risk that the time and effort which goes into hiring a candidate and training them is wasted if they do not feel connected to the role and the organization.  Equally, remote working gives the opportunity for reflection by employees over their role and whether it is the right place for them.  Companies need to ensure that people feel part of the whole whilst undertaking their role remotely and D&I initiatives should serve to increase connections and keep staff motivated and engaged. 

How is difference magnified when you don’t see it?  Making D&I central to any policy making is critical to ensuring that internal biases do not adversely impact on certain sectors of the workforce.

D&I is firmly on the agenda for many companies and can help us redesign the workplace to tailor it to people’s needs and preferences alongside those of the business.  By considering D&I we can build a progressive model for the future and getting those things right will increase engagement in a remote working environment which in turn provides solid benefits for all businesses.

Written by Sonya Rees, Director, Blick Rothenberg

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