As from March 2020 we are living in a period of far-reaching economic and social shockwaves. Many employees were sent home and forced to develop new ways of working. This hasn’t been without obstacles: from dual-career couples invading each other’s workspace, to children interrupting Zoom-meetings at unsuitable times. Nevertheless, many organisations report increased productivity and employee engagement. As this situation continues, it leaves HR departments with the difficult task of designing a workplace for the future. One thing is for sure: we are not going back to the way things used to be. But if that is not an option, what is?
While designing this new workplace it will be crucial for employers to ensure that in whatever decision they make, they maintain an inclusive culture and that the numerous efforts of recent years regarding equality don’t go to waste. One key aspect when it comes to inclusion is listening. Companies usually listen to their employees by conducting engagement surveys. However, in times of crisis like these this will not be sufficient. Today, listening is not about asking how employees experience their work, but how they experience their work in combination with all the other aspects of their lives.
One approach to this new way of listening can be to collect stories. In many cases the interesting stories of the minority groups you are trying to support, do not easily reach higher decision-making levels. As a company you can encourage employees to share the unpaid care burden openly. Issues employees are faced with might include raising children, cooking, cleaning, caring for elderly relatives, shopping, household management, as well as mental tasks such as planning schedules and performing emotional labour such as tending family relationships. These strongly depend on one’s economic and social status and personal family situation. Such concerns can be discussed in employee networks (e.g. employee resource groups for women, young professionals, expatriates, LGBTQ employees, …) as these are set up for safe and open communication, or with direct supervisors if the employees feel confident with that. In this way the needs of minority groups can climb up. These stories can then be the starting point for targeted support like providing people with additional paid leave for caring responsibilities or a code employees can use without judgement on their calendar whenever they need to take time off for non-work obligations.
Just as everyone’s experience of the pandemic has been different, so will their needs as we move into longer term working arrangements. By listening to your employees’ stories, these different needs will become visible and will help the HR department to build a new workplace that supports all. So rather than making employees try to fit into rigid policy frameworks, organisations should shift towards their people’s needs (and especially those of minority groups) when designing the new workplace for the future. One thing is certain: the new workplace will not be a universal, ready-made, one size fits all solution but with thoughtful considerations, has the potential to become a Great Place to Work for All.
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