The way we work has changed beyond recognition this year, and employers now have a unique opportunity to ensure the best bits of our WFH experiment are carried forward and cemented in new policies. When we return to the office, we cannot return to the bureaucracy, inflexibility, presenteeism and exclusionary biases of old. If employers want to build a more inclusive future for their business, these are the steps they need to take today.
1. Start the conversation
Inclusivity relies on honest and open conversations, and in order to achieve company-wide change, you’ll need buy-in from those higher up. So open up the dialogue now. Remind board members of the business case for creating a culture where all staff feel equally seen and heard.
We know for a fact that diversity leads to innovation, smarter decision making and more revenue. But this is only the case when all individuals in a business feel genuinely empowered to contribute their insights and perspectives, and are authentically valued and assimilated within teams.
Responsibility for this comes down to line managers and more senior members of staff. So invest in them as well as company stakeholders. Put in place the training sessions managers need to lead inclusive behavior by example, and identify what needs to change to better support individuals.
2. Adapt office spaces
Before staff return to offices, you’ll inevitably need to make adaptations to allow for social distancing and new safety measures. So, whilst the builders are in and there’s no one around to disturb, now is the perfect time to make spaces more inclusive for everyone. Consider the need for lifts and wheelchair ramps for staff members with mobility issues, as well as the need for gender neutral or accessible toilets.
Smaller scale changes might involve investing in assistive software, such as text-to-speech functionality for those with vision impairments, or giving staff the option of standing desks and ergonomic chairs. Everyone’s needs and preferences will be different, so giving staff choice and empowering them to decide what’s best for them is key. As we transition out of lockdown and back to offices, open mindedness and a willingness to carry forward the lessons we’ve learnt will be employers’ most valuable asset.
3. Evaluate hiring processes
Inclusivity is all about creating equality of opportunity. So, whilst everyone is still working remotely, take advantage of being able to distance yourself from the business in a more figurative sense. As honestly and objectively as possible, assess whether all candidates approaching your company for a job would stand an equal chance of getting hired.
If not, start by building blind CVs into application forms to remove biases in selection processes. You could also factor in assistive technologies and alternative assessment options, to remove barriers to access for candidates with different needs.
Since we’re still such a long way from achieving inclusivity in society at large, the first step is to actively raise up minority groups in whichever spaces we can.
Make diversity a priority when hiring for any new role, work with recruiters specializing in hiring people with disabilities, and hire freelancers to accommodate the needs of those who rely on flexible work. For existing staff, extend opportunities equally by making provisions for the fact that certain groups tend to be excluded from the water cooler conversations that lead to progression and promotion. Make contact with HR now to start ironing out the details of diversity-led development schemes, which can be ready for when staff return.