Liz Pawson-Poon, Legal Consultant shares some thoughts on remote working and inclusive workplaces.
Social distancing measures came into place when I was just one week into my new legal project at a charity. I am lucky enough during this time to be able to work from home and for an organisation that is well versed in agile working.
A few weeks in and some recurring D&I themes keep cropping up. Here are some of my reflections to help leaders remain inquisitive and champion inclusion during these times.
The Professional vs The Personal
Since I started working 11 years ago, never before have I seen people’s personal lives spill into the professional space so starkly as in the last few weeks.
Working parents are splitting work shifts to juggle their full-time jobs with looking after their children at home. Those of us who are carers are having to work flexibly to make sure that essentials can be taken to loved ones in self-isolation, or that hospital trips can be made at allotted times.
It seems to take a pandemic to bring people’s personal lives to the fore in the most extreme way, but though extreme in nature, the crisis has laid bare the fact that workers are multifaceted human beings who do not live in a vacuum outside of professional work.
Caroline Criado-Perez described the traditional workplace as tailored to fit the life of a “mythical unencumbered worker”, that is, one who has limited caring duties, which adversely affects progression and retention of workers who take on these duties. The last few weeks has shown that the majority of workers are anything but unencumbered, and that traditional structures therefore still require changing to champion these workers in order to increase productivity and employee loyalty.
Visibility vs Value
What has been confirmed is that professionals will still deliver on deadlines and quality of output despite not being chained to their desks!
Again, it seems to be a confirmation of what many already recognise - that being devoted to one’s personal duties and being dedicated to and serious about your work do not have to be mutually exclusive, especially now when we live with the technological tools at our fingertips.
The unconscious bias exhibited during many discussions on advancement tends to equate hours and visibility at the office with dedication and value, when businesses should be focusing on real criteria such as the ability to garner client satisfaction and loyalty, and on the successful delivery of projects.
An inclusive culture seems more crucial than ever before, as team leaders are required to check in on their teams remotely. Team catch-up calls have been eye-opening as we learn more about colleagues’ personal circumstances than ever before. The penny dropped for me (and it would have done for others in privileged positions) that, serious though this pandemic is for everyone, it will affect those who are in less privileged positions and minority groups even more (in some cases, a whole lot more).
How are people with disabilities or underlying health conditions coping with work, the effects of self-isolation, and the wider consequences of the pandemic such as the availability of healthcare? How are employees who are carers juggling work and care; and are these responsibilities being borne more so by certain groups of employees (or indeed of the population)? How is all this affecting employees’ mental health, especially those self-isolating alone?
It’s been motivating and encouraging to see leaders and colleagues being inquisitive rather than shying away from these questions - these extreme circumstances make it impossible to ignore. I will be reflecting on how this inquisitiveness can be transferred to the less extreme circumstances of daily life when this is all over.
It may be tempting for organisations to park diversity and inclusion work in these trying times as focus is drawn towards revenue generation and cost cutting. But diversity and inclusion seems more crucial now than ever before, as management is required to innovate and come up with new strategies as well as new ways of working. Employee satisfaction and buy-in also seems crucial to delivery.