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Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind: Ensuring Inclusivity Of Homeworkers

by Mark Ellwood

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We are now eight or so months into the global Covid19 pandemic and we can safely assume that, for most people, working from their home is no longer a novelty. With many countries across the world (Malaysia included) reimposing localised movement restrictions, the need for remote working for health reasons is still there.  But moreover, many companies, from American Express to Microsoft, are extending and bolstering their home working arrangements. It seems the virtualisation of the workforce is here to stay.

 

But this is now having a huge impact on company cultures.

 

The challenge of keeping an engaged and motivated workforce, in which everyone feels included and part of a wider company culture, when everyone is working from home under a huge variety of different personal circumstances, cannot be underestimated. It raises significant questions for businesses around inclusion, onboarding, equality, benefits, health, mental wellbeing, social activities and communication – the answers to which, firms are still wrestling with.

These challenges become especially apparent when a compnay is operating a hybrid model – some employees in the office but some working from home. Those homeworkers can, often rightly, feel they are missing out on both the benefits of the firm’s culture and also opportunities to be recognised.

Today we are looking at inclusion and we’ve drilled down our 6 top tips that anyone can use in order to ensure their, and their teams’, active inclusion in the workday cycle:

 

1. All-hands sessions

It is a good idea to schedule regular online team brainstorming sessions. Give everyone good notice of the topic and ask them to prepare their contribution before the meetings.  When having the meetings, make sure these are well moderated and everyone gets a turn to have some input. It’s also helpful to encourage all the team to embrace video conferencing. One of the things that gets lost from the office with remote working is non-verbal communication – estimated to be 93% of human communication.  With video, this loss can at least be mitigated through some visible body language and facial gestures.  It also makes the team so much more visible and tangible.

Individuals: Make sure you prepare before meetings and have something to bring to the table. Participate in the discussion around others’ ideas and make yourself presentable for the camera, which also helps with morning discipline for the workday ahead.

 

2. Include casual bonding

Something else that gets lost from the office environment are all those casual bonding moments between employees – from the quips at the watercooler, through to the larger special group activities during or after work. Social culture is also an area where companies have invested heavily to set themselves apart from their competitors. How businesses translate this to an online environment will be a challenge that produces a wide variety of individual company responses. But at a bare minimum, you should set time aside for virtual bonding sessions with your team – be that a Google Hangout morning coffee together, to discuss your day ahead and possible challenges, a virtual lunch meet up or maybe a goodbye sign-off. The importance of this casual time is well documented and, as well as ensuring the inclusion of all team members, it can be a source of creativity and innovation. This can be supplemented by having a side avenue for casual conversation – such as over Skype, WhatsApp or some other chat/messenger service.

Of course, meeting in person is recommended, but that would depend heavily on your team’s circumstances, comfort levels with meeting others and the rules in your particular location.  But a socially distanced picnic can often beat a webcam jam.

Individuals: Keep up to date with your colleagues. Take the time to check in on others, and respond positively when others check in on you.

 

3. Recognise hard work

Without those casual ‘well done’ in-passing comments and mini reward ceremonies you get at the workplace, team members can start to feel undervalued for their contributions. To make sure this doesn’t happen, arrange one-to-one catch ups each week to check on problems and progress, and be sure to note down and share strong work with the rest of the team during all-hands sessions. Encourage the team to recognise each other’s efforts, for example by sending thank you messages and e-cards. Introduce a rewards system, such as most productive employee or most helpful employee of the week. The team can then nominate their colleagues and vote for the winners each week. Prizes could include online vouchers or maybe even an online order/delivery of cupcakes to the colleague’s address. Coming up with creative reward ideas will pay off with an increase in morale and productivity.

Individuals: Appreciate the hard work in others and bring up the contribution in meetings. Be sure to congratulate weekly top performers. Find ways to thanks people who have helped you. Don’t wait for others to thank you first.

 

4. Appreciate circumstances

Some of us have a reserved office space, coffee machines and domestic help at home.  But some of us are working from a small Ikea folding table in our single room studio apartments. Some people are dividing their time between work and their kids’ home learning, others are alone apart form their contact with teammates at work. Take time to build a picture of the circumstances of each of your team members. Share your situation openly in the team meet ups.  Make allowances for those who have more challenging circumstances, and less access to tools than others in order to create more equality of environment and access within the team.

Individuals: Be patient with others. Understand their situations and adjust expectations accordingly. Also appreciate your managers may have their own challenges at home.

 

5. Work from home, don’t live at work.

A common complaint from home workers has been that their hours have become stretched, the work/life balance has disappeared, and they are now in an always-on culture. This results from a variety of factors, such as the stretch-out of the day’s activities to account for home schooling, over-servicing clients to retain critical business and simply the fact that your colleagues know they don’t have to factor in each other’s travel and you are at home even during the lunch hours. In this environment, it’s important to set some boundaries. Understand that an extra effort may be needed to get certain tasks completed. But that should be offset by clear times to start in the morning and a comms-off time in the evening. If people need to work over a longer period because of domestic arrangements, at least they don’t have to expect calls with colleagues outside these core hours.

Ironically, given what we’ve already said above, part of this balance is keeping meetings to a minimum. The term ‘Zoom fatigue’ is already commonplace and it can easily happen that you spend all day in back-to-back calls, with little tangible progress to show for it. Keep a close eye on calendars and make sure not too many calls are booked for the day and that they’re not being booked outside the ‘core’ hours.  There will be a subtle balance between on the scheduled catch-ups needed to ensure inclusion, and not over-calling and reducing productivity.

Individuals: Respect your colleagues’ off-time, check diaries before scheduling a catch-up call, give yourself triggers to stop working at certain times, such as your kids finishing their school day. Take regular breaks.