Balancing an inclusive culture across virtual and physical workspaces

Published 10/11/2021

Published 10/11/2021

Facilitating home working was a top priority for many businesses as an initial response to Covid-19. Now that it has been widely adopted and successful, it is crucial to assess how this has impacted diversity and inclusion (D&I) within organizations. 

Remote working has huge benefits for the diversity and inclusion of a business, and there has long been a call for more businesses to offer flexible working arrangements to attract and support more diverse teams. However, the current climate has not just enabled organizations to rapidly switch to home working, but it has also made way for varying approaches to managing new team dynamics. 

Some companies have opened Covid-secure offices to allow those who would like to return to their workplace to do so, others have delayed reopening until 2021 and discourage anyone from going into their physical place of work. Some have closed offices completely and plan to continue remote working indefinitely. Each of these approaches has its advantages, but they also have its disadvantages from a diversity and inclusion perspective. 


The added challenges of D&I in a remote working environment

Virtually managed and operated teams

On one hand, entirely remote arrangements are easier to ensure that everyone has access to the same support and opportunities, so long as additional support is provided to individuals who need it. For example, for those who have a disability that restricts them from returning to the office or individuals who have a better work-life balance operating from home, a team that remains entirely home-based would be the most inclusive solution. 

But equally, it is important to consider those who have found remote working to be challenging and the impacts on their wellbeing. These challenges are not specific to any one demographic and could impact anyone in your organization. This period of extended home working has been challenging for many and has disproportionately impacted individuals from minority groups, but in a hybrid team, further challenges arise.  

Inclusivity in a blended team

In a candidate survey, 5% said that their circumstances would not allow them to return to the office when their employer was expecting them to. Of those individuals, 28% felt that a delay in returning to the office, while others returned, could impact their career in the longer term, with 72% stating that they felt their development, access to leadership, and career progression would be reduced or restricted.

When allowed, and some choose to go back to their place of work, certain groups of professionals such as working parents, more often mothers, are less likely to be able to return to work. Those that have a disability are also more likely to stay at home. If you are not physically in the office, then you are missing out on having informal conversations and the experience of being around your team. It is also important to keep in mind the diversity of the group of people back in the office. 

Remote working for some individuals is preferred, for others being in the office is ideal, but some might be disadvantaged in either situation. For example, for those who are neurodiverse; working virtually would be helpful in some areas of work, but when the primary method of communication is through virtual tools such as Zoom calls, how easy is it to get your voice and opinion across?

Promoting diversity and inclusion for changing work dynamics

Regardless of the working arrangements, it should all be about the options available to your employees and the support provided to those who need it. Whether you are in the office or not, how do you maintain inclusion? In both scenarios, there is a danger that some people get left behind – it is crucial to ensure that they do not.

Three tips to maintain inclusion across blended teams

  1. Think about who you are talking to when decisions are being made: In the office, line managers might typically sit with their team, all day, every day. In these settings, opinions are shared in a much less formal capacity, so, what do you do if not all members of your team are there? Regular contact is key in a blended and remote team, always ensuring that you are including all team members in determining actions, making decisions, and setting strategies, so everyone has an opportunity to share their view.
  2. Communicate as a group wherever possible: Team discussions are important. You need to ensure that you are hearing everyone’s ideas and allow everyone to bounce their ideas off one another. Sole decisions based on conversations with just one team member, or that do not include another member are where this will fall.
  3. Never cancel a team meeting because you have spoken to part of the team in the office: It is important to recognize that everyone has an equal contribution to make and that a regular platform to contribute remains available and constant. Do not cancel team meetings because you have discussed key points with someone offline, keep the platform open for others to share their points of view or raise any other concerns.

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