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Intentional Inclusion in the Modern Workplace

27 October 2022

Your office may not work much like it did a few short years ago. Today, the employee experience is increasingly recognized as a contributing factor to organizational success, and flexible work models are shifting workplace dynamics and reshuffling priorities for optimal performance and productivity. Previously resolved or unaddressed challenges are surging, or resurging, in significance, and matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) belong near the top of this list.

Even companies with established pre-pandemic programs should reassess and refresh policies to optimize DEI in virtual, distributed, or otherwise flexible workplaces. Leadership will need innovative methods and resources to keep every employee feeling like an essential part of a cohesive work group. DEI works differently in the modern workplace, and new work models create a prime opportunity to approach inclusion with deliberation and intention.

Why DEI?

Though long overdue, a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive employee experience remains a goal unachieved. Benefits of DEI range from increased employee engagement and psychological safety to improvements in productivity, collaboration, and business outcomes. A flexible work model can either contribute to a more inclusive workplace, or it can reinforce existing problems to create new DEI challenges.

Modern work models

With the sudden, largely unexpected opportunity to explore more flexible work models, the business world has made some startling discoveries about productivity and performance. As it turns out, the traditional 8-hour workday isn’t necessarily the best approach, and employers are increasingly confronted with a strong employee preference for hybrid work models. As McKinsey reports, “More than four out of five survey respondents who worked in hybrid models over the past two years prefer retaining them going forward,” and “more than two out of three employees who prefer hybrid models say they are likely to look for other opportunities if asked to return fully on-site.”

Whether a workplace is entirely virtual, operating with a mix of on-site and off-site employees, or incorporating more autonomy into work schedules, the workforce response is primarily positive: Employees prefer flexibility. But flexibility is a broad concept, and the success of a flexible work model lies in its design, implementation — and the degree to which the details create flexibility at an individual employee level. With flexible models now a permanent fixture in the working world, employers must adapt their organizational design to the preferences and needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.

Employees and job seekers from traditionally underrepresented groups report an even higher rate of preference for flexible work options. Overall, a clear consensus of employees — across all demographic groups — identified three primary inclusion practices as areas in need of improvement for their employer’s distributed work model:

  1. Work-life balance
  2. Team building
  3. Mutual respect

Bringing these priorities into your organization’s DEI efforts requires an intentional, human-centric approach that includes strategic planning, comprehensive change management, and a demonstrable commitment to each employee’s experience.

Inclusion challenges

The move to a flexible work model can both exacerbate existing challenges and create brand new ones, especially regarding issues of DEI. But the momentum of change can be directed to drive a more human-centric, inclusive company culture — one in which every employee feels a sense of belonging and purpose. An intentional organizational approach to DEI may reveal unexpected or previously unrecognized obstacles to inclusion. Common concerns include:

Intentional inclusion

DEI improvements don’t happen by accident. Accessibility and universal inclusion take intention and a human-centric approach to organizational design. Technology offers its own brand of connectivity, but people still crave human connection, and employees are happier and more productive when they find it at work. Luckily, there are concrete steps employers can use to encourage inclusivity and meaningful human engagement in virtual and distributed workforces. Strategies include:

Inclusion is an intentional act in every organization, but it takes extra effort and careful planning to implement effective DEI policies in a virtual or distributed workplace. Inclusion is the foundation of a healthy, cohesive flexible work culture, and with a thorough, human-centric approach, it can make all the difference to virtual workplace success.

Learn more about human-centric strategies for organizational flow at fitch-consulting.com.
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