As we begin the countdown to the New Year, there are many who are eager to put 2020 behind us. Understandably so, the past year has been challenging for all of us in unprecedented ways. But, if you know me, you know I’m not one to dwell on the dark side of life. With every challenge comes an opportunity, to dig deep, to improve ourselves and to rise above life’s challenges.
The challenges of 2020 are no different. As this year trundles to a rickety close, let us look forward to the new year, a year in which vaccines will become available around the world and we have a chance of returning to a more normal world. In this blog post, we will cast a glance backwards over the year that was – and, more importantly, look to the future and decide who we want to be in a post-COVID world. The world has been changing around us and while we hope for a return to ‘normality’ the reality is that we and our working world can’t but be altered as a result of the events of recent months. Now, more than ever, we need to evolve in order to survive.
The past number of months has been dominated by COVID 19 and so, the biggest challenges in the coming months, will no doubt relate to emerging from this health and economic crisis. Chief among these challenges is how organisations return to ‘business as usual’.
I think it is fair to suggest that many people, employees at all levels, have taken the last number of months to re-evaluate their lives. The work-life balance has shifted in ways none of us could have thought possible in recent months. Parents have had more free time, thanks to the elimination of a daily commute, to play with and raise their children in a hands-on way. Not being free to visit family due to public health restrictions has prompted some families to move closer to their extended family. More people have decided that they want to live a life that makes sense for them instead of blindly maintaining the status quo – and so, employee’s expectations have shifted.
The need for remote working this year has exposed vast numbers of workers to an increased amount of autonomy in their work. Something that many organisations who have maintained traditional approaches to people management would never have opted for voluntarily. It is my belief that these workers will expect a higher level of respect from management going forward. They have shown their commitment to their work without high levels of supervision and they will expect to be treated accordingly. In a survey carried out by technology company Slack, only 11.6% of respondents expressed a desire to return to office-based work full-time. Any organisation who refuses to show some degree of flexibility going forward may lose staff to more competitive employers who are willing to provide better working conditions.
Rather than an all-in approach to a return to the office, it seems likely that most organisations will opt for a new hybrid working model, where employees can split their work week between working remotely and at the office.
This model will allow many workers to access the benefits of remote working while still staying engaged as part of a team. This is one of the aspects workers have missed the most, being able to feel a sense of connection with their co-workers, it is shown in the Slack study, as the only aspect of remote working to emerge with a negative number was a sense of belonging.
Any new shift to working arrangements that affects an entire organisation is bound to be accompanied with teething problems. Organisations have now seen that remote working can be successful, however, a shift to partial remote working may leave gaps into which under-represented minorities may fall.
I have spoken extensively in the past about the need to build inclusive workplaces that allow all team members to thrive. What does that look like when the workplace is partly localised and partly remote?
With the softening of the structure of the workplace, I see the potential for those who ‘don’t fit’ to get forgotten about. It may be easier to hold team events when the members of our team who require special accommodations aren’t present. I’m not suggesting that this is a part of a conscious strategy, but rather a symptom of our unconscious bias which can creep into our thinking at the blink of an eye. Therefore, if this is to emerge as a new way of working, we must be even more vigilant about keeping on top of unconscious bias.
A further complication of COVID-19 in the workforce is the impact that it has had on those in caring roles. A study carried out in the U.S. by McKinsey in association with Lean In revealed that, on average, women have spent an extra 20 hours a week in their caregiving roles since the start of the pandemic. While both parents may be working from home full-time, it appears from this study, the division of labour has not equalled out. The result of this is that high numbers of women are experiencing burn out and 25% of participants are considering leaving their career, reducing their working hours or have already done so, since the start of the pandemic in the spring.
There was a racial element to the study also, showing that black women, who already face increased challenges in the workplace due to their race, are struggling even more, they find they have less support and are more likely to have reduced hours or lost employment due to the pandemic.
This report is concerning for all of us who have worked so hard to increase female participation in the workforce, to help women progress into leadership positions and to support black women in the workforce.
How will the impact of these individual women’s decisions play out? It’s hard to know yet. If women continue to carry an increased caregiver burden into the future, we as diversity and inclusion specialists, leaders and organisations need to work to figure out how to tackle this changing situation so that women who want to be in the workforce and who want to progress to the top of their field are still supported and able to do so.
Although our focus so far has been on the impact of COVID on workplace concerns, political concerns have been bubbling away in the background all year. They boiled over, too, in the instance of the Black Lives Matter protests earlier in the year – it is clear that we are in the midst of a racial equality moment. Although the most heat is to be seen in the U.S., organisations around the world need to heed what is happening and act accordingly.
As mentioned earlier, employees’ expectations have shifted – that’s not only in terms of what they can get from their employer, but what their employer is contributing to the world at large. 70% of job seekers want to work for an organisation which is committed to Diversity and Inclusion. Employees now see working for a company as an endorsement of their modus operandi – and if they don’t support it, they will go elsewhere.
Are you and your organisation playing a full role in the progression of racial minority groups? It can be easy to say, ‘that’s not my fight’, but if you are a large organisation with an impact in the world, and a large number of employees and customers, then, whether you like it or not, if you want to stay relevant, you need to hold a stake in the quest for racial equality at work.
Finally, there is another political challenge coming down the tracks which will impact on business and organisations across the country – and Europe. Brexit will come into effect from the 1st of January next year, only mere weeks away. While much of the media attention has been on logistics, we are more concerned about the impact on people, employees and their daily lives. While the UK has been a member of the E.U. for decades, the ‘friendship’ of which the politicians speak is fragile. As the reality of Brexit begins to impact people’s daily lives, it will give rise to tensions – and when these enter into the workplace, they present the potential for increased bias – on both sides of the equation. Political concerns aside, as leaders, it behoves all of us to maintain good working relations with our nearest neighbours – even if we don’t always agree with what how they decide to do things. It is important to stay alert for an uptick in bias arising out of the effects of Brexit within organisations. ‘Brit bashing’ is not ok and the unfolding situation should not be used as an excuse for such behaviour in the workplace.
2020 has been such a difficult year and, unfortunately, while there is cause for optimism, realistically, it will be some months before we start to get back ‘to normal’ and even then, difficult trading conditions may remain. Yet, if we choose to engage with these challenges, see them, accept them and work to resolve them using Diversity, Equality and Inclusion techniques, our organisations will be better positioned to thrive in the long term.
Hopefully, this time next year we will look back on all that has happened with relief that the world has calmed down. The work that we do now in promoting a culture of inclusion, where everyone is counted, whether working from home or from the office, will lend a steadying effect to our ship that feels as though it’s being tossed about on a stormy sea.
Markets go up and they go down, pandemics will come and go. What is here to stay is our commitment to equality. If we work on that, it will stand to us for years to come.
To help organisations tackle these challenges and other ongoing diversity and inclusion challenges, PhoenixRize will launch our new e-learning courses in the new year. The recent months have shown how effective e-learning strategies can be so that no one needs to experience an educational hiatus as a result of the pandemic. Approximately one and a half billion people were learning online in March of this year.
Not only is e-learning highly effective, it is also a mode of learning that is ideal for diverse workforces. The material can be built and delivered in a way that caters to many different types of abilities, schedules, and as it is delivered virtually, is available to a much broader spectrum of people, many of whom may not be able to attend in person.
We’re very excited about our launch which will take place in early 2021 when we will announce the three digital leaders who are partnering with us to deliver this interactive, media rich, gamified e-learning solution. To find out more and be notified of launch details please click here.