For decades, corporations have sought to foster diversity by helping employees “bring their whole self to work.” This concept has led to the implementation of countless metrics, diversity officer roles, engagement surveys, and employee resource groups, as well as many other interventions. While these solutions are a step in the right direction for building more diverse organizations, how do they hold up in our new environment? How can we be helping people bring “their whole selves to work” when working from home?
COVID-19 has disrupted regular business and societal operations, leaving individuals without jobs, on extended furloughs, and in question about long term employment security. And on top of these pressures, employees are not just working from home; employees are balancing the personal responsibilities of homeschooling young families, supporting elder care, attending to pets, while finding an appropriate space – in all senses of the word – to continue to prove their value to the broader organization.
Today’s younger generations of employees and students have long demanded that schools, universities, and corporations offer “safe spaces”: areas where people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to criticism, discrimination, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm. Yet they’ve primarily been met with resistance from these organizations who have challenged that safe spaces are not necessary, do not contribute to resiliency, and are impractical.
However, as corporations shift meetings to video systems like Zoom or Google Hangouts during the current pandemic, organizations must realize that they are entering the only safe space that many individuals have.
These homes are not just their safe space, but for many people who struggle with being fully understood and appreciated, these spaces are also a retreat where one can confidently be and bring their whole self. While employees used to be able to escape to a coffee shop, library, or their favorite neighborhood gathering spot to participate in video or audio meetings, those choices have been significantly curtailed amidst the backdrop of COVID-19.
As responsible employers, managers, and peers, we must respect the invitation we are provided as guests into someone’s home. Respect means avoiding the temptation to pass judgment as we enter our coworker’s space, assessing the worth, value, quality, or how their space equates to that individual’s ability to be productive outside of the office.
General Assembly is a unique culture that creates effective learning environments to support the re-skilling and education needs of learners. Whether you walk into the doors of a GA campus or login to one of our classes remotely, you will find a community that strives to allow one to bring their whole self to work. In the shift to all remote meetings and classrooms, we’re striving to pause to consider and adhere to these five rules of remote belonging and engagement in every interaction:
1. Have empathy. People are adjusting to working in an environment they share with roommates, partners, spouses, children, pets, other housemates, and dependents. This will inevitably lead to a significant disruption in schedules, meetings, and workflows, requiring all of us to be more accommodating to this new reality.
2. Recognize that people are bringing their whole selves in new ways. People’s family situations, physical disabilities, or life circumstances may be more visible. Ensure that you respect privacy and boundaries as much as possible.
3. Acknowledge your position and power in the organization. The way you show up as a manager, leader, or executive to members of your organization will feel different to employees when you are in their physical space.
4. Create space for different learning and working styles. Provide a platform for introverted thinkers to find their voice and participate in the dialogue.
5. Over-communicate to your employees about the benefits and resources they can use, particularly for mental health. Give support as needed (through benefits like telemedicine or virtual meditation sessions) to take care of their physical and mental health needs.
With these five rules as a north star, we’ve been able to seamlessly transition students and staff online while maintaining our focus on dignity, safety, and value to the organization.
Organizations that want to do the same in providing safe spaces for their internal and external stakeholders–while smoothing their operations during this time of remote work–should review and implement these rules of remote belonging and engagement. During this time of instability, these measures will provide for an environment of safety and stability for organizations and their people alike.