When we think of creating an inclusive work environment, we traditionally think of diversity issues like gender, race, sexual orientation, or age. However, the concept of creating an inclusive work environment will take on a new meaning as we emerge from the pandemic to hybrid and other non-traditional workplaces. The pandemic had us working at home for the better part of 18 months, and while workplaces are starting to open, organizations are transitioning to a hybrid work environment where workers can selectively spend all or part of their week working remotely. Zoom and Teams have transformed how we work! As COVID variants emerge, some workers aren’t comfortable coming into the office, or they may have health risks that prevent them from risking exposure to a variant. This hybrid workplace, with some team members working remotely while others work at the office, has the potential to set up work environments that are intolerant of hybrid or traditional work situations.
What’s the issue?
Let’s say a company has an office policy that allows team members to spend all or part of their week working remotely. Then the team gets a large project with a short deadline. The most efficient way for the team to complete the project on time is for everyone to be in the office, huddle in a breakout room, and complete the deliverable. But what if a few key participants decide they are working remotely that week? They can attend remotely through a webinar or teleconference, but many feel it’s just not the same, or worse yet, they feel the remote team members aren’t pulling their fair share of the work. On the other side, the people working remotely may have a genuine concern about being in close contact with their colleagues, especially if a COVID variant has emerged and is spreading rapidly. What about colleagues who are working remotely because they or loved ones have medical risk factors that make them vulnerable? Initially resolving these situations may have a clear solution, but as we dig deeper, we find that there isn’t an easy solution.
Guess what? This same situation can happen the other way! Workers who have decided to work remotely may be intolerant of colleagues who have decided to go back into the office. Intolerance can take on many forms.
One thing is for sure about our new work environment—leadership needs to step up to ensure an inclusive, respectful workplace by:
1. Modeling inclusiveness
Reach out to ensure that all team members—remote and in-person—are included in the work and valued. As the leader, be the one who builds the bridge between all the team members and doesn’t tolerate exclusion by anyone on the team. Set the expectation that you expect team members to include everyone in team projects and work.
2. Building communication and engagement processes
One of the key roles of a leader is to ensure that team members have all the resources, tools, and systems they need to be effective. If some on the team, say the remote workers, don’t have the means to participate in the work, then they are being excluded. These kinds of work challenges may require more up-front time discussing processes to ensure everyone is included in the work.
3. Not tolerating exclusion
Don’t tolerate team members being excluded because of their work location. Snarky remarks or jokes made at the expense of someone aren’t going to solve the challenges of a hybrid work environment. Put a stop to intolerance and exclusion as soon as it appears!
A Message to the Team
Show some grace and tolerance! Emerging from a worldwide pandemic is not something we do every day, so we are all figuring it out as we go. In a world that champions polarity and extremism of thought, being open to different approaches to work may end up creating a better solution. Make the extra effort to include those who aren’t present is not only the right thing to do, but it will result in better outcomes. For example, if you are in a meeting and working remotely, don’t tolerate it when other colleagues who are also remote start texting or IM’ing about those who are working in the office.
One Final Thought
Most of us would agree that an inclusive workplace is a good thing, and while we have a long way to go to create inclusion in many of the traditional diversity areas, this is one we can stop before it becomes the norm. We are just emerging from the global pandemic, so making sure that all our teammates feel like they are valued and included is easier to start from the outset than to correct later. To quote Ben Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”