Paradigm’s New Remote Workplace Inclusion Survey: Understand How Employees Experience Working From Home
The coronavirus pandemic is impacting the lives of employees in companies around the world. These employees are facing a variety of challenges—anxiety about their health and the health of loved ones, new caretaking responsibilities, increased racism and xenophobia, and the stress of an uncertain economy—that are intensified by the rapid shift to remote work. Many organizations have been forced to transform into fully distributed workplaces almost overnight, exacerbating existing barriers and creating new challenges related to fostering inclusive, effective workplaces.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve had conversations with clients across industries that want to help their employees do their work effectively while weathering this crisis. But, like their employees, many of these organizations are new to remote work at this scale and are having difficulty assessing employees’ needs.
While fully-distributed workplaces have certain upsides—for example, accessing talent across geographies—being in the physical presence of others at work facilitates benefits that can be difficult to replicate virtually. Employees working together in an office can more easily access a shared sense of identity, important information, and workplace resources—all fundamental pre-conditions to effective, inclusive workplaces. In fact, it was the absence of these qualities in remote contexts, and the difficulty of fostering them within a diverse workforce, that emerged again and again in my review of the research on the pitfalls of managing virtual employees.
For this reason, these qualities became the building blocks of Paradigm’s new Remote Workplace Inclusion Survey, a tool for leaders to monitor whether their remote workplaces are set up for employees from all backgrounds to have an equal chance to succeed. Not only does this survey provide an opportunity to hear how employees and their communities are being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, it also assesses whether organizations have successfully developed the right conditions for remote work. Below, we’ll talk more about what is needed to promote an effective fully remote environment amidst unprecedented uncertainty and why these conditions are even more difficult, and necessary, to cultivate within a diverse workplace.
When our home lives become our work lives, companies need to proactively assess employees’ needs for sustainable work.
Companies are able to offer equal access to many of the resources required to work effectively in the office, but in a remote environment, differences emerge. When employees are remote, their home lives have much more influence over their work lives: the absence of a spare room, a quiet place, or even functioning internet may make it more difficult for some employees to contribute in the same way as their peers.
Survey results can help determine whether employees have the resources they need to be effective—such as the ability to work with limited distractions, adequate technology, and social connection—will allow leaders to understand what their employees need to work from home as effectively as possible. For example, they may discover a need to support their employees in creating sustainable remote work, either by allowing more flexible working schedules, distributing an at-home technology budget, or offering social hours. They may better understand the particular challenges that parents of young children in particular are facing given widespread closing of schools and daycare centers, and encourage managers of these parents to work with them to design a more sustainable schedule.
Information flow is inhibited in remote work environments, but crucial to getting work done effectively.
Information flow requires even more effort to effectively maintain in remote workplaces; companies can no longer depend on managers’ proximity to their direct reports, employees catching pieces of relevant conversations or checking in while grabbing coffee as a stopgap. Communication and knowledge sharing are, at minimum, crucial for employees to know what is expected of them. But even more importantly, knowledge sharing is a necessary antecedent of innovation, which is critical as organizations navigate rapidly evolving business environments and an unsteady economy. Leaders must make sure that all employees understand company decisions and direction, are clear about the goals of their role and team, and can access and offer information unhindered in order to collaborate.
Surveys can measure the perceived effectiveness of meetings, whether employees have clarity about their roles, and whether they understand company direction, helping leaders evaluate whether their communications are sufficient to guide all employees towards business goals. This information might shed light on the need to reconsider meeting cadence, change company communications, or guide managers to be more explicit. Amidst economic volatility and the daily barrage of difficult news, focusing employees’ energy on the most pressing issues and reducing additional uncertainty will go a long way to lessen the burden of these anxious times.
Staying motivated and on the same page as coworkers is difficult in remote workplaces; cultural efforts and connection with colleagues can correct for that.
Remote work can loosen the ties between employees and their companies with damaging outcomes to the business. Managerial oversight is much harder to maintain in a remote environment, making it more important than ever that employees are able to functionally self-manage.
Employees who feel connected to their company and colleagues, and who are inspired by leaders and managers will be the employees who go above and beyond. They will be the employees who have an intrinsic commitment to the goals of the organization, and feel enough trust in their colleagues to collaborate effectively. These employees will also be most resilient to change and upheaval.
Assessing employees’ sense of belonging, organizational commitment, and relationships to colleagues through a survey allows leaders to learn how well-positioned their employees are to champion business goals. It might reveal the types of cultural initiatives required to activate employees, or how to invest in fostering employees’ sense of connectedness and belonging.
Diversity in Remote Workplaces
Not only are these three pre-conditions for effective workplaces—shared resources, identity, and information—much more difficult to foster remotely, they also pose unique challenges for diverse workplaces. The downsides of homogenous workplaces are well-known—groupthink, overconfidence, biased decision-making—but in workplaces where all employees are the same, shared identity can be easier to cultivate, information flow can be more fluid, and employees have similar home lives. Companies must ensure they have the conditions that allow employees from all backgrounds to succeed remotely in order to realize the well-known benefits of diversity, like innovative thinking and improved decision making.
The last five years have revealed an unparalleled commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the corporate world‚—businesses have recognized both the moral imperative and the strategic benefits. An unprecedented economic shift is not the time to scale back on this work. This is a time that requires more from us all, as members of society and as members of organizations that must adapt quickly with limited security or clarity. Leaders, support the diversity you’ve worked hard to build; it will be what gets you to the other side.
April 16, 2020