Health+Benefits

Ripping Off the Band-Aid

Is a remote workforce more inclusive?
By Katie Oberkircher Posted on April 13, 2021

While grappling with a global pandemic for more than a year, solutions implemented temporarily for remote work and employee management ended up serving much longer than they should have. Stuck between pre-pandemic work life and band-aid solutions to reorganize the workforce, accelerate technology updates and streamline communication, where does that leave business leaders?

In the final of a three-part Q&A series with diversity and inclusion consulting firm All of Us, founder Andrew Phillips discusses the challenges employers face as workplace dynamics continue to shift.

Q
What kind of conversations can employers encourage employees to have with each other to ease the transition of returning to the office?
A
The employees should be reassured that it is perfectly normal to have worries and concerns about returning to the workplace. Engaging them in a conversation about overall wellbeing – emotional, financial, physical – is key.

Employers should make it clear they are there for their employees during this transition back to the office. Encourage people to voice their concerns and share experiences amongst themselves as well as with the company leaders. Note their worries and see how the company can help to ease them. Most importantly, employers should lead by example and be open about having concerns too.

It is important to remind employees of the benefits of working in the office and the sense of being part of a team. Ask employees to share benefits of being in the office, so they can be celebrated. Idle chat by the water cooler is a significant part of office life and should be embraced.

Q
What kind of opportunities do employers have to make the workplace more inclusive as businesses begin to transition their people back to the physical workspace?
A
More than 60% of workers want a hybrid model with time in the office and time working from home. Employers have an opportunity now to look at their remote and flexible working policies to drive employee job satisfaction and retention. Many employees have enjoyed the benefits of working remotely, like saving on travel or being able to concentrate more. At the same time, after the initial shock, many workplaces realized they could operate with a remote workforce. Having a flexible working policy in place will ensure a satisfied existing workforce and encourage a more diverse pool of talent to apply for future work – working parents, neurodiverse people, and people with disabilities.

Another opportunity to make the workplace more inclusive is to invest in mental wellbeing. Despite the different home and work circumstances during the pandemic, most people’s mental health was adversely affected, which means we are now much more aware of the importance of our overall wellbeing. Employers now have a chance to show their employees they genuinely care by investing in or updating the existing mental health policies. Involving employees in these conversations is key to ensure these policies work for all.

It is human nature to need face-to-face interaction; we are lonely without it and perform better when we are around others, sharing ideas and debating topics. While working remotely has become the new normal, it is not normal and cannot work forever. The challenge and opportunity for business is to find the right mix of working from home and working in the office. Without visits to a place of work, employees might lose a sense of belonging, meaning that loyalty to a business could suffer and staff might not feel motivated or inspired to go the extra mile.

Q
How can employers avoid dividing their workforce when some employees who prefer to work remotely need to handle tasks and decisions which are best done face to face?
A
This will differ from company to company, but we have all learned in the past year that face-to-face doesn’t necessarily have to be in person. Give all employees the opportunity to join meetings remotely, but also, if possible, ask the remote workers to come in once every few days, weeks, or months – whatever frequency works best for your business and employees. We created the All of Us platform as a way of uniting an entire workforce around important topics of diversity and inclusion, allowing employees to engage with each other and show their support wherever in the world they are. Creating a sense of unity and community are critical to business success and in cases when face-to-face does not work for everyone, there are digital solutions a business can consider.

Regular catch-ups with your remote workforce and the flexibility for those who come in to work remotely when needed will ensure an equal footing and a less divided workforce. Also, continue doing whatever worked for your company during the pandemic – remote team socials, coffee mornings, no-meetings afternoons, etc. Staff surveys will be a helpful tool to check how people are feeling and if there is a sense of inequality between the two working groups. It is always much better to involve your workforce in working toward the right solution for your business rather than dictating that ‘this is how it’s going to be.’

Try to create set dates in the calendar when everyone comes together, maybe quarterly town hall meetings with the whole workforce and monthly team meetings with everyone. This allows all staff to feel included and part of something and allows the business leaders to create a sense of belonging and unity behind a common goal irrespective of how and where employees work.

Q
How could employers gauge employee interest in a financial wellbeing solution and how it might impact overall wellbeing?
A
Financial health is an integral part of our overall wellbeing. Although a bit taboo, the importance of talking about financial stability has become more apparent than ever after a year of mass furloughs, pay cuts, and job losses. It is probably safe to assume that employees at all salary levels are now interested in taking charge of and understanding their finances better.

It is important for employers to normalize the conversation by expressing their personal concerns and actively using and endorsing the financial wellbeing solution the company chooses. It is vital for employees to see that financial issues affect people at all levels.

If we assume that staff at all levels of a business are stressed by money matters affecting their financial health, it is important to have a policy and a solution/benefit in place to provide needed support. People are uncomfortable about talking about money, so a company needs to communicate clearly that they understand financial stress and have ways and means of supporting their staff. If an employee does not know there is help available, they will suffer in silence, creating mental and emotional stress that will ultimately affect performance.

Q
Nearly a third (30%) of employers say the pandemic and the economic crisis has prompted them to consider how fair their pay and benefits are. What is the first step?
A
As income providers, employers contribute to their employees’ financial wellbeing, which shouldn’t stop once the salary is paid. Think about the kind of financial support your employees might need – investment and debt guidance, pension and savings management – and find trusted sources you can signpost people to or bring experts in and run training sessions in-house.

While it is important to look at financial wellbeing at an individual level, there is also the issue of addressing the gender pay gap, which has been an increasingly hot topic in boardrooms over recent years. The pandemic has allowed businesses to do a great deal of soul searching and show a great deal more concern for, understanding of the value their employees bring to the business. There has never been a better time to address this issue once and for all.

Katie Oberkircher Director, Health Policy & Strategy Read More

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