February 26th, 2021

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A 5-Minute Return-To-Work Plan For HR Leaders

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Let's start off with a simple quiz. What’s an organization’s most important asset: Its data or its people?

Trick question. The answer is both. On one hand, data is the lifeblood of any strategic initiative. To lead today, quickly leveraging insights from the information available to you can be the difference between getting ahead and falling behind.

But your digital workforce demands digital transformation that reflects their concerns, upholds their values, and expands inclusion, equity, accessibility, and diversity in the workplace. People expect leaders to focus on more than just chasing the metrics that boost productivity and the bottom line. Research from an MIT Sloan Management Review initiative is clear: Effective digital transformation strategies need to underscore and support purpose, engagement, and fairness. Anything less is unlikely to succeed.

While there’s a lot of work to do, taking time to understand the role of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is worth it. In a world of ever-shifting contexts, companies that broaden the scope of these initiatives will win.

Inclusion and diversity in the workplace: Why they're critical

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace has always been an imperative topic. It’s just that the damage caused by incomplete diversity and inclusion policies is more obvious now, and we need to be able to find a path forward that breaks down the barriers standing in the way of a stronger, more inclusive organization.

Recent events continue to shed much-needed light on social issues that include inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Never before has there been such a historic focus on ensuring opportunities are available to everyone, regardless of background. Still, in the corporate setting, these challenging issues are often overlooked, under-explored, and diversity in the workplace is sometimes disconnected from company-wide strategic planning.

Now, pressure is mounting to respond and adapt rapidly to changing contexts. It’s time to move beyond process optimization and build a more diverse and inclusive workplace, for both the employees who come back to the office and those who work from home.

Know what inclusion looks like — and acknowledge your organization's approach to diversity in the workplace

Unless leadership can properly incorporate the needs, preferences, and voices of all of the individuals who make up their organization, the resulting distrust can block any potential positive impact diversity in the workplace can have on the business.

That's especially true with today's distributed workforce. While some employees prefer meeting in the office and others plan on staying remote, the future of your workplace needs to consider the diversity present among your entire workforce and consider how inclusion looks in terms of supporting their unique needs, strengths, perspectives, and preferences.

Before they can address these complex topics, leaders need to know how individual identity fosters stronger team culture so they can model more inclusion and diversity in the workplace to empower employees, and in turn, empower the entire organization — and possibly even the world.

What is diversity in the workplace?

In the context of work, diversity in the workplace often refers to workforce diversity. That includes widening the net to attract a wide range of candidates across cultures, ages, races, religions, genders, sexualities, languages, ethnicities, disabilities, and so on.

A diverse workplace promotes diversity within the company culture, encourages pro-social behaviors, appreciates the differences that exist throughout the organization, and breaks down the barriers to equality.

According to Steele Strategy’s Ellie Moody during a session at IFMA’s World Workplace conference, “Power of Partnership: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Workplace Strategy" diversity can also involve some less obvious areas, such as personality traits.

What is inclusion in the workplace?

An inclusive culture creates room for a variety of viewpoints and ensures all employees feel comfortable voicing their ideas, concerns, and feedback. Inclusion in the workplace focuses on creating a better environment for each individual without requiring conformity.

Inclusion means giving everyone the opportunity to be heard, making sure each employee feels valued, and not requiring people to conform to a restrictive standard in order to feel included or listened to.

The impact of equity and accessibility

Over time, these policies have been redefined and expanded to address a wider expanse of areas that needed representation. The scope has broadened to include diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) initiatives.

Equity acknowledges that sometimes the playing field is not level. DEI policies work to make sure everyone has a fair and equal chance and makes sure any challenges to that goal are addressed. Equity in the workplace includes taking action to ensure that nobody is at a disadvantage when it comes to the opportunities available to them.

Accessible workplaces provide facilities and services that are available and accessible to every employee. That includes doors, signage, ramps, and other reasonable accommodations covered in the Americans with Disabilities Act. You also need to consider non-visible disabilities and remove space and safety concerns, as well as any other elements that impede access while in the workplace.

Leaders need to make sure all their employees can do so without feeling uncomfortable, unsafe, or unwelcome.

It’s evident that the pandemic has led more employees to want freedom of choice when it comes to their physical environment, schedule, and work processes. On top of that, they expect and deserve access to the tools, information, and services they need to be successful.

In some cases, your existing workplace systems might even help you accomplish greater accessibility in the workplace. Wayfinding software in the workplace, for example, can help employees navigate the workplace more easily, without adding additional stress. 

Why accessibility, equity, inclusion, and diversity in the workplace matter for the future of your organization

The push toward a more inclusive culture has been a defining issue of our time. Putting diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility matters on the front-burner of your priority list will be imperative for many reasons.

High-performing teams celebrate individual characteristics, perspectives, and traits. Companies with diversity in the workforce make better decisions 87% of the time. Teams with DEIA policies in place assist efforts to eliminate bias and inequities that stand in the way of organizational health, unity, and effectiveness.

Additional benefits include higher productivity when employees trust their organization. And high-trust organizations are not only more innovative, but they also outperform their competitors.

Some research suggests that diversity in the workplace might even lead to more creative teams.

Perhaps that’s why HR leaders are more concerned with diversity, equity, and inclusion. In fact, Fast Company’s 2021 HR Trends Report shows the number of HR leaders who reported “not focusing on DEI” fell to 6%, compared to 25% in 2020.

Best practices for equity, inclusion, accessibility, and diversity in the workplace

Companies that don’t have diversity and inclusion won’t survive in the long run. But how you implement these strategies matters as much as having them in the first place. Here are the factors that leaders should consider when developing policies around diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

Demonstrate authenticity

It’s not enough to have good intentions; leaders need to model inclusion and diversity in the workplace in a way that incorporates, encourages, and supports their employees. Connect the values of inclusion, equity, accessibility, and diversity with your hiring and recruiting efforts, technology, operations and services, and resources and support.

Don't just talk about it, show how willing your organization is willing to put in the work for inclusion, diversity, accessibility, and equity.

Cultivate a strong, cohesive company culture

Leaders should focus on breaking down the barriers to collaboration by enabling everyone on your diverse team to make an impact. For example, space booking software can help ensure all your employees have access to the spaces that best support their individual needs and have the resources available for easy, comfortable collaboration.

Embed diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility company-wide

Taking on these issues requires leaders to solve a multitude of complex issues, and that means you need to have all hands on deck and prioritize these goals as part of strategic business planning initiatives. Enlist leaders in HR, IT, FM, and other leadership roles to get involved with company diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts.

During a panel discussion at this year’s Future Offices event titled “The Competitive Advantage of Connection and Culture: Robust And Cross Functional Strategy Between Workplace, Facilities & HR,” Emma Hastings, Workplace Experience Manager at Grubhub, discussed her cross-functional approach: “I take a lot of time and energy to meet, strategize, and plan with our people team member who runs company culture, diversity, and inclusion so that I’m always clued in on what their efforts are and make sure I prioritize them.”

The future of work is characterized by better experiences for all

As a new normal sets in, people have become accustomed to more independence, flexibility, and easier accessibility. However, quick and easy access is only one part of the puzzle — especially if it's not offered to everyone.

In the current Internet of Things (IoT) era, you need to analyze the way efficiency and productivity intersects with these more complex, human-centered issues. In order to build trust and foster a culture of inclusion and diversity in the workplace, your strategic process will need to be iterative, responsive, and authentic.

We encourage every organization to redefine success in a more inclusive way to truly empower the diversity of their workforce.

And when it's time to start your reopening plans, we want to help make your return easier so you can stay focused on supporting diversity in the workplace by creating an environment that fosters equity, inclusion, accessibility.  You can download your Return-To-Work Plan For HR Leaders here.

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