Teem Workplace Insights
February 26th, 2021


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

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 doesn’t just expect leaders to chase the metrics that boost productivity and the bottom line. Today’s workforce demands digital transformation that reflects their concerns, upholds their values, and expands diversity, equality, inclusion, and accessibility.
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.

Critical importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace has always been an imperative topic. It’s just that the damage caused by incomplete 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.

Current events over the past year have shed much-needed light on many social issues. 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 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, whether employees choose to work from home or from the office.

Know what diversity & inclusion looks like — and acknowledge their role in your organizational culture

Unless leadership can properly incorporate the needs, preferences, and voices of the individuals who make up their organization, the resulting distrust can block any potential positive impact 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 your entire workforce and 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 diversity and inclusion and empower employees for the overall benefit of the entire organization — and the world.

What is diversity in the workplace?

In the context of work, diversity 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 company culture, encourages pro-social behaviors, appreciates the differences throughout the organization, and breaks down the barriers to equality.

Diversity can also include less obvious areas such as personality traits, 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.”

What is inclusivity 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. Inclusivity in the workplace focuses on creating a better environment for each individual without requiring conformity.

This means giving everyone the opportunity to be heard, making sure each employee feels valued, and not requiring people to conform in order to feel included.

The impact of equity and accessibility

Over time, these policies have been redefined and expanded to address more 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 are addressed. Equity in the workplace includes the actions taken to ensure that nobody is at a disadvantage when it comes to available opportunities.

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 accessibility in the workplace.

It’s true 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 access to the tools, information, and services they need.

For example, using wayfinding software in your workplace helps employees navigate the workplace more easily and without adding additional stress. 

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

Why it matters 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 is imperative for many reasons.

High-performing teams celebrate individual characteristics, perspectives, and traits. Companies with a diverse workforce make better decisions 87% of the time. Teams with DEIA policies in place help 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 diverse teams might even be more creative.

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 diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility

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’s the factors that leaders should consider when developing DEIA policies.

Demonstrate authenticity

It’s not enough to have good intentions; leaders need to model diversity and inclusivity in a way that incorporates and encourages and supports their employees. You need to connect these values with hiring and recruiting efforts, technology, operations and services, resources and support, and show that your organization is willing to put in the work.

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 and inclusion 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.

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.

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 inclusivity, the process will need to be iterative, responsive, and authentic.

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

And when it's time to start your reopening plans, we want to help make your return easier so you can focus on making the workplace a more inclusive place for your team. You can download your Return-To-Work Plan For HR Leaders here.

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