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Working remotely and inclusively: inclusion amid a world in lockdown

We must be more flexible and empathetic, recognise that people are under incredible pressure right now.

Home is where the heart is—and, in the middle of a global lockdown, it is now also where the work is.

Our homes are traditionally where we live, not work. But the current environment has forced all of us into entirely new arrangements in a matter of days that, in normal circumstances, would have taken months of careful planning and a healthy dose of change management. Even so, we are nothing if not adaptable.

There is great opportunity for us to re-evaluate our goals. Right now, there is an abundance of information and well-meaning advice on how to work productively at home. There is little account given, however, on what it actually means to work from home. This is why we have identified areas of focus around this new working set-up, ranging from the practical and functional aspects to the emotional and behavioural.

Empathy for varied home lives

In the middle of a health crisis, it’s important to remember that the focus of a company’s day-to-day running should be on the health of its people. This starts by acknowledging, understanding, and accepting that people’s home lives are drastically different from their office lives.

Some people live alone; where they were once surrounded by co-workers, they may now be working in total isolation. Being physically disconnected from everyone else can take a huge toll on people’s mental health, so setting up regular check-ins is one way to support these team members. A quick call everyday keeps them connected, engaged, and feeling valued.

These check-ins or ‘virtual coffees’ needn’t be work-related at all. Here at Arcadis Gen, we found that providing an informal channel where people can simply share how their day is going has done wonders for our team’s morale. Communities are strengthened and formed, even when everyone is working separately. And in this new age of self-isolation, virtual connections become all the more important.

On the other hand, other households are so full of people that finding space to concentrate on work or just be alone with their thoughts is extremely difficult—even impossible. Companies need to have empathy for these less-structured dynamics. These colleagues may have their windows thrown wide to let the air in (especially as the warmer months come in), and street traffic may be audible. They may even have kids, parents, or pets chime in during a conference call. We don’t always have control over these types of distractions, and companies need to accept and accommodate this difference between a controlled office space and the everyday happenings in a house.

As home working becomes the new normal, we are seeing another, more human side of our employees. For companies, this is an opportunity to get to know your people even beyond the walls of their cubicle.

Having enough of the right tools

Once we knew were to be banished to our homes for the foreseeable future, it was quickly apparent that technology and gadgets are now basic necessities. We need them to do our work, our kids use them for home-schooling, and all of us stay connected with the outside world through our screens.

But now that technology is as indispensable as food and shelter, it raises another issue of privilege. Even considering only those lucky enough to have jobs that can be done remotely, not everyone has equal access to these tools. Some may need to share their computers with their family or roommates; others may be working with older and failing techs. In such cases, companies can initiate a sharing/recycling solution instead.

By providing these means to their employees, companies not only help their people be more productive ‘at’ work, but they help their people, period. And we are already seeing the incredible value of this sharing/recycling initiative here at Arcadis Gen.

Among our UK-based employees, we have colleagues now find more time for themselves, to relax or concentrate on work, because they were sent an extra device for their kids’ use that reduced the pressures (and squabbles) of trying to share. We have co-workers who sent back their older, personal laptops for repairs and are now not only able to work more productively but have been able to connect with more people than before.

And the more the boundaries of home and work are blurred by the pandemic and ensuing global lockdown, the more pressing is the case for companies to provide the necessary tools (and some) to help their employees cope with the trying times.

Sensitivity to Biases and discrimination

With people’s professional lives now overlapping dramatically with their personal lives, how do we deal with—and avoid—the bias surrounding either? We are in our homes more than ever before, and that, together with the concern of the spread of the coronavirus, means that we are likely doing more cleaning washing and cooking than we have ever done. Studies have consistently shown that the burden of domestic chores falls on women, so the current situation means that for many women their overall workload, whether for the office or their home chores, may have exponentially increased as well.

Many others are also at greater risk due to prolonged lockdowns. Breadwinners may be more hard-pressed to earn as supplies dwindle faster the longer their families are forced to remain indoors. There may be colleagues who worry about their financial security as employment dynamics continue to shift. And there may be some whose problems are more personal, as in the case of those living with abusive relations.

Assurance is the best thing companies can give their employees in these times of uncertainty. Assurance that there is help for them if needed, and the knowledge that they will not go through these difficult times alone. The key is to work closely with your teams and foster even greater trust among one another. Whenever possible, assure them that, first and foremost, they have employment security with your company. If this is not the case, assist them with their back-up plans by guiding them to professional bodies or organisations where appropriate.

Ultimately, just let them know that you have their backs.

The New Normal

We are truly living in a new normal now. We need to accept and embrace that working at home is not only different in itself, but the experience is likewise different for each of us. We must be more flexible and empathetic, recognise that people are under incredible pressure right now, ensure we look out for one another in a way we maybe haven’t before, nurture an environment where people feel able to raise concerns and also seek practical ways to support them. Our people did not bring their homelife to their workplace; their work came home with them. And ultimate, that is a truly new way of working!

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