Workplace culture needs to let everyone prosper - comment

Last month I was at a lectern in a busy conference venue to mark International Women’s Day with Accenture’s latest research on equality in the workplace; an experience that already seems to be from a different age of business.

Hawkins believes firms facilitating home working will carry on when Covid-19 has passed. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire.

We are all now living with new priorities and new ways of working. So how do we reframe the old ones, especially when they’re as fundamental as equality?

I would argue strongly that while physical workplaces may be changing radically for many, the need to create opportunities for all to succeed is just as profound as it was before the current global health crisis.

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A study carried out before the pandemic, Getting to Equal 2020: The Hidden Value of Culture Makers, is as relevant now as it was in early March. It highlights that today’s workforce cares increasingly about workplace culture and believes it is critical to helping them thrive.

The Accenture executive believes the need to create opportunities for all is just as profound as before this crisis. Picture: contributed.

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This was reported by 79 per cent of women and 65 per cent of men, and by a significant majority (63 per cent) of business leaders. They believe an inclusive workplace culture is vital to the success of their business.

At the same time, there is a major perception gap: 70 per cent of leaders feel they create empowering environments, yet only 40 per cent of employees agree. If that gap were narrowed by 50 per cent, our research indicates that globally there would be a 33 per cent lift in profits.

We know that a workforce of different types of people delivers greater diversity of thinking and more innovation. However, we can only unlock the true potential of a diverse workforce if we create a fully inclusive workplace environment. What does that look like and how can it work well in the current context of remote working?

We’ve all become increasingly aware of the role of technology in helping society stay connected in ways that would not have been imagined just months ago. With Microsoft Teams being rolled out in just a few days across the NHS and being used for virtual information sharing, for example, we’re innovating fast to keep pace with evolving business demands.

Inclusive

Something similar is true for firms facilitating home working; a trend that’s likely to carry on when Covid-19 has passed. While our priority is clearly to protect the health and safety of colleagues, the increasing ­normality of home working means that we need to imagine how to make the ­experience as inclusive as possible.

With that in mind, over the past few weeks we have been thinking about how best to calibrate the “elastic digital workplace” to explain how organisations can get the most from their people in the current ­crisis and beyond. Getting it right has six dimensions, from getting the right technology in place to making sure security processes are optimised. Just as crucial is establishing the correct workplace culture at the outset and not losing sight of best practice.

That means taking a truly human approach, with an organisation’s principals leading from the front, providing the tools and coaching to help create the right environment to test and learn, and constructing workplaces of trust where everyone can thrive, irrespective of their physical proximity to one another.

Visibility is key, and organisations’ leaders are learning to harness video to discuss strategy. Regular check-in calls are playing a big part. Indeed, creating a support network is another essential. But let’s also consider the range of inclusivity tools available to help ensure no one is left out, for example, simple things like displaying subtitles on video ­conference calls.

We may think we are doing all the right things, but, as highlighted by the perception gap, it remains important to ask ­colleagues what they think and learn from ­feedback. As we adjust our office mindset to embrace more remote working, we need to continue to be bold in our ambition to ensure the virtual workplace is both inclusive and diverse. This is as important today as it was last month.

Michelle Hawkins is joint MD for Accenture in Scotland.

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