Thanks to remote and hybrid work, many companies are embracing a complete overhaul of the workplace. The physical workplace has become the virtual workspace, making 2021 a great opportunity to rethink and reimagine organizational themes, policies and strategies for equity and inclusion.
This focus on DE&I is extremely important for many reasons, including ensuring that all employees have equal access and ability to reach their full potential and that they are supported in a safe and secure environment. Supporting and optimizing at least one (and possibly multiple) enterprise unified communications (UC) environments such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack or Cisco WebEx Teams provides employees with capabilities that can enable critical DE&I work, especially in the current hybrid work environment.
Challenges To Achieving Workplace Equitability In A Hybrid Work Environment
When employees are working from home, they have variable access to technology like high-quality Wi-Fi and well-functioning hardware necessary to complete their work. Some also lack a quiet workspace or must balance priorities like caretaking for children and relatives, all of which impact their productivity and make it more difficult for their voices to be heard in a virtual workspace.
There’s also the potential for increased bias-based harassment in an online environment. In some instances, workers who are interacting through the filter of a screen rather than directly in-person are more likely to forget to self-edit. This means that co-workers may use language and discuss topics that aren’t appropriate for a work environment. Further, as the number of communication channels continues to grow, so do the potential opportunities for targeted harassment.
It’s clear that working remotely presents serious challenges to sustaining a positive and inclusive workplace culture — and this is where UC platforms can help. While it’s impossible to totally replicate an organization’s culture in a remote, distributed environment, these tools are a solid agent for supporting greater inclusivity.
Unified Communications Platforms Bring People Together
The leaders of an organization play a critical role in helping realize the impact that UC platforms can have in uniting team members. Below are three things that leadership can do to help employees get on board with this technology as a way to bring people and teams closer together.
• Ensure that all employees have an equal opportunity to participate. A myth that must be dispelled is that the best path to equity is providing everyone the same experience.
A hybrid model creates disparities between employees working at an employer-controlled site, those working at home and those with different remote working conditions. These disparities challenge the ingrained assumption many leaders have that giving everyone the same conditions is the fairest way to set them up for success.
Rather than providing everyone with equal experiences, leaders and managers on their teams must ensure that all employees have an equal opportunity to participate. Managers must learn how to facilitate flexibility and adapt these conditions for the local context.
• Rethink management philosophy to drive performance by outcomes, not by inputs. One of the biggest misconceptions is that time spent at your desk is equivalent to success and that people are less effective when they’re not working in the office. With the global shifts of the past two years, it is imperative that leaders rethink how success is evaluated and implement an employee performance model that is focused on results or outcomes, not “chair time.” Rather than using UC monitoring tools to monitor just “visibility,” use these tools to understand project completion and delivery milestones — which are better aligned with results rather than time spent.
• Enable intentional team collaboration and innovation by design. Overweighting synchronous, co-located collaboration incurs the risk that other important ways of working are not optimized or put to best use. For example, introverts need much more time apart from others to do their work, which the pandemic afforded them. Removing this way of working can put them at a disadvantage.
Furthermore, our interactions with customers show that asynchronous collaboration is just as important as synchronous collaboration to achieving team innovation. In fact, growing urgency around innovation in many enterprises suggests the traditional water-cooler effect is inadequate. Moreover, serendipitous collaboration can still occur in a hybrid workplace by facilitating networking opportunities.
Of course, for any of these initiatives to succeed, employees must be able and willing to engage. If employees are not receiving ongoing education, training and resources to help them get the most out of their UC platforms, they are less likely to understand or even know about the platforms’ key elements and benefits.
One way to address a platform’s low adoption or engagement rate is to establish an “IT champion” program. Champions are subject matter leaders and act as an extension of the IT department. They have embraced the current UC or collaboration platform and become experts in its usage. As IT champions, these individuals provide peer-to-peer education so end users can hear from people they work with on a regular basis regarding how UC and collaboration platforms have improved their workflow — or in this case, how these tools have brought employees together to support a common cause or explore a shared interest.
What can you do with the right UC?
For knowledge workers across industries, Gartner, Inc. found that employees who are given high levels of flexibility are more likely to be high performers than those who aren’t — a win-win for both the company and its employees.
For organizations that want to maintain a first-class employee experience, culture plays a central role in 2021 and beyond. That includes diversity, equity and inclusivity. Culture was historically fostered by in-person interaction, but working remotely and in a hybrid environment presents serious challenges to sustaining a strong workplace culture.
This is where unified communications and collaboration platforms can help. We’ve helped organizations like the Gates Foundation incorporate UC to coordinate and communicate charitable giving and to establish initiatives supporting DE&I efforts, and with a solid plan and bespoke strategy, these tools can help power corporate diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.