Reflecting on 2020, most would agree that the pandemic forced us to pivot and adapt to new ways. Companies had to move all their staff to remote working, including roles that previously have been assumed to be ‘always done in person’ like Shared Service Centers and Call Centers. To the surprise of many, employees continued to perform their tasks with no impact on productivity and efficiency. The books got closed, and results were reported on time to investors.
Compliance and Security have been vital areas focus as management needed to ensure that compliance and governance standards have been adhered to while remote. No shortcuts would be implemented due to staffing shortages as many companies furloughed staff and/or restructured their organization.
Doctors and nurses learned how to deliver Telemedicine, and patients had to adapt quickly to using digital technology. Educators moved to online teaching, which in higher education has already been widely used but now children as young as Kindergarten-age had to learn how to use technology for learning.
2020 also brought to light the need to make much-needed changes in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Recognizing that companies serve a diverse customer base, companies should mirror the diversity they see in their customers into their organization. ‘We can recruit and develop “everybody” because we look like “everybody.”
With remote working, the time has arrived for all to think about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) through a much broader lens than before. Companies have been primarily focusing on increasing diversity of gender and race and have spent less focus on creating an inclusive environment for people with diverse abilities and disabilities. Many companies have made commitments to increase diversity at management levels, including setting specific targets. Some groups have called for companies to promote women and other underrepresented groups to leadership positions with equal pay.
Ken Chenault, Chairman & Managing Director, General Catalyst, in an interview with Bloomberg, talked about the OneTen initiative to provide 1 million jobs in 10 years to Black Americans. So far, 40 Fortune 500 companies have made commitments to the OneTen initiative. The initiative focuses on the recruitment of talent and upskilling, and the career movement of people.
According to Chenault, job requirements are not relevant to the job’s actual performance. 75% of Black Americans who are eligible for jobs do not have a four-year degree”. He continued by saying that IBM has been rescoping and re-spec-ing jobs that will not only benefit Black Americans but will benefit everybody because it will be opening up new opportunities.
The remote working environment has created an opportunity for companies to broaden their diversity and inclusion lens to consider employees with diverse abilities and disabilities.
“Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.” ― Stephen Hawking
How do we bring true inclusion to the workplace? Everyone agrees he is brilliant! What if we can tap into other brilliant talents like Stephen Hawking, who would not have been included in selection criteria until now? While some cannot wait to return to the office and ‘go back to normal,’ others have excelled at remote working and are dragging to return to the way it used to be. As the world moves towards hybrid work, fewer and fewer companies expect employees to be in person five days a week. Companies are moving to flexible working, allowing employees to continue enjoying the benefits of remote working balanced with in-person interactions from time-to-time.
Remote working has allowed those who are less outgoing to control their environments more. Those who find hall conversations and water coolers spontaneous catch-ups ‘exhausting and stressful’ have enjoyed the control they gained by managing the timing of ‘small talks’ over MS Team or Google Hang Out or other digital platforms. People with autism can be brilliant and extremely friendly but also can find themselves struggling in social interactions. Remote working has leveled the playing field, and existing barriers can be removed as the focus shifted more to an outcome.
Companies can no longer turn away brilliant talent with physical disabilities who previously would ‘have not fit’ into the in-person environment. New ways of working can allow employees with different abilities and disabilities to perform the job remotely and achieve the desired outcomes. Conscious and unconscious bias must be removed as companies shape the future workplace into a truly inclusive workplace.
Who is the Stephen Hawking who you did not let through your door?