Inclusivity the key to Covid-19 culture challenge
How to maintain corporate culture when people work remotely has become a major issue for employers, says Kara McGann, head of social policy at Ibec
To be truly inclusive organisations must understand that the pandemic has impacted people differently. Photograph: Getty Images
Companies with a strong focus on inclusivity are best placed to maintain their corporate culture throughout the pandemic, despite massive disruption to the workforce. It means diversity and inclusion programmes are more important than ever.
“Organisations must not take their eye off the ball. We simply cannot afford to lose our focus on developing diversity and inclusion,” says Kara McGann, head of social policy at Ibec, the employers’ organisation.
How to maintain corporate culture when people work remotely has become a major issue for employers. With diversity now a given in Irish workforces, inclusivity is the key, she says.
“All of our workplaces are diverse, that’s just a matter of fact now. It’s inclusivity that brings the benefits,” explains McGann. These include greater creativity, innovation, higher problem solving abilities and better decision making.
But to be truly inclusive organisations must understand that the pandemic has impacted people differently.
For someone with a disability who previously commuted to work on public transport, the ability to work from home may be a welcome development. For someone juggling care responsibilities, working from home may require additional flexibility if they are to stay productive. Someone living alone may find extended isolation oppressive.
“Other employees still will have been in the office all the time, and so face different pressures and challenges,” she explains.
Different experiences, inclusive approach
The challenge managers face is how to cope with all these varying experiences, while connecting and engaging with people as individuals.
“There are no rule books or guide books, so mistakes will be made,” says McGann. “On the other hand people have embraced this. We have seen huge flexibility from employers who are trying to navigate this, particularly at the early stages when people were managing childcare and elder care as well as basically doing their full time job,” says McGann.
“Where some employers had thought that remote working would not be possible in their organisation, it has now been tried and tested. On the other hand, some employees may be finding it isolating and want to come back to the office, so some form of hybrid solution may be the answer.”
Developing the skills to manage remote teams
For managers, many of whom have had to develop the skills to manage remote teams “on the fly”, the key to inclusivity lies in good communications and complete transparency. “If you don’t have all the answers to people’s questions, it’s okay to say so,” she says.
We have to understand our teams better in order to get the best out of people right now
Strike the right tone and you can strengthen teams, irrespective of their remote status.
“We’ve seen a strengthening of some teams as a result of good communications, so the effort at inclusivity is paying dividends,” says McGann.
“We have to understand our teams better in order to get the best out of people right now. We will end up with better outcomes at the end of this as a result of that, in terms of things like trust and camaraderie. It is one of the few silver linings we can take from this awful Covid-19 experience.”
The current environment has forced us all to see whether we can do things differently, and the answer, for many, has been a resounding “yes we can”, she says.
Even where an organisation hasn’t been able to successfully implement a full remote working policy, “the information learned during this time will help it plot its way forward,” she says.
Investing in company culture
Employers are ramping up supports for mental health and wellbeing.
“It isn’t just fear of the virus that people are worried about but concern about loved ones, about the ways we’ve had to grieve. Others are coping with the lost potential, such as planned IVF that didn’t happen. Employers are putting supports in to help all staff through all kinds of challenges,” says McGann.
Ibec’s Diversity Forum, which has more than 200 organisations as members, has seen a significant increase in activity this year too, as employers look to support their staff in a changed landscape. “It reflects just how keen organisations are to keep diversity and inclusivity on the agenda,” she says.
Supporting inclusivity now will pay dividends long into the future. “That investment will not be lost. It’s an investment in the culture of the organisation.”
How to foster inclusivity in a distributed workforce? Ask an expert
Few companies know more about maintaining corporate culture among a dispersed workforce than Sodexo. It is a world leader in delivering services that improve the quality of life to clients in business and industry, education, financial, pharma and healthcare. These include food services, infrastructure build, facilities and estate management, optimising the workplace experience, wellness experiences, personal and homecare services.
A strong corporate culture, predicated on diversity and inclusion, has been vital to its success, says Margot Slattery, its global diversity and inclusion officer.
The company, which employs 470,000 people worldwide, was founded by Frenchman Pierre Bellon who, after WWII, wanted to found a business that focused on providing workers with a good quality of life.
“It was about offering growth, success and opportunities for people and I’m an example of that vision. I started out in the organisation as a chef. I built my career, and my family life, around Sodexo. The whole organisation is full of similar stories, people who started out as cleaners and caterers now working at all levels in the organisation,” she says.
There is no point having diversity unless you have inclusivity too. “It doesn’t work if people don’t have a voice and don’t feel they can contribute.”
In a distributed workforce, culture comes through every interaction between the company and its employees, she says, whether that is a conversation with a line manager or ensuring they have the tools they need to do their work every day. “Every interaction with employees must be a communication of these values,” says Slattery.
“Right now, because of Covid, employees are much more likely to be asking ‘Why can’t I do things differently?’ ‘Why do we have to do things a certain way just because that’s the way we’ve always done them?’. If the job can be done a little more flexibly for staff, do it. If people can do it from home, let them. It’s about adjustability, adapting the work where you can.”
For more information, visit www.ibec.ie