IF REMOTE WORKFORCES ARE TO GO THE DISTANCE, business leaders will have to tread more carefully in order to create an inclusive work-from-home culture.
“Understand that you hired people, not ‘employees,’” says Amiel Harper, founder and principal of the Morpheus Consultancy, a brand strategy and business development firm in Chicago. Harper says regarding people as “assets” and overlooking human complexity is bad for business.
There’s a lot to consider, but here are five tips to make remote work as inclusive as possible.
1. Recognize Complexity
Harper says employers seeking profitability and high levels of performance should know how the impact of personal obligations, the COVID-19 pandemic, and sociopolitical factors is heavier when people work from home. Because of the pandemic, normal support such as child care, schools, and adult care might be unavailable or unfeasible. At the same time, the loss of a workplace makes it harder to temporarily sideline personal and sociopolitical concerns.
“There’s a large conversation right now about racial exhaustion,” says Harper, noting that news of violence against Black people hits Black employees in a more personal way. So does working for a company that publicly supports certain groups but lacks internal resources to support them at work.
Personalities also matter, and managers shouldn’t underestimate their staff’s variety of work style, duties, and other preferences.
“We’ve seen many managers surprised at their employees’ reactions to suddenly being a remote employee,” says Lauren Romansky, managing vice president at Gartner specializing in human resources. “I know of one manager who thought an employee’s very direct in-person communication style meant she would thrive when remote work required more reliance on email. But the employee struggled a great deal with the lack of personal interaction.”
2. Rethink Policies
Harper and Romansky both say policies must be more flexible for remote employees, and one blanket set of benefits and accommodations is unlikely to work. For instance, Harper suggests hours of operation might need to change based on people’s locations and life circumstances. Also, family leave, medical leave, and short-term disability policies might need to change due to COVID-19, which has disproportionately affected communities of color. “Leave is different when someone can be incubating a lethal infection for two weeks and not know it,” Harper says.
Employers should master prioritizing. Every business priority isn’t equally important, notes Harper, and employees might have individual concerns that sometimes should take precedence over business tasks that can wait.