I won’t forget March of 2020. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would be living in a world where we had to take shelter at home, shut down offices and for most of us, work virtually from our basements, attics, living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchen tables. We have been working virtually for over a year now and as unbelievable as it was, we survived. We made it through the summer, we pushed through the fall and winter with hopes that we would return to something resembling a normal existence.   

Then we heard our leaders say “we will be inviting employees back to the office” during the summer months.  The day that many were wishing for months ago has arrived, and many of us are looking at each other and asking, “how is this going to work?”

It’s a natural reaction to the world around us, but I would venture to guess that as we started wrapping our heads around returning to the workplace, we had many questions. Many of those questions are issues involving diversity, equity, and inclusion.

There are many concerns and needs of our employees that need to be considered. These concerns will vary across different populations. For example, persons with disabilities might be concerned about considerations for accommodations. Considerations will have to be made for moms and dads who are wrestling with decisions from school districts about plans for fall. Managers may require additional training to support their teams. Concerns around favoritism shown towards those who opt to return to the office as opposed to those who can work virtually will have to be addressed.

These are just a few of the concerns to be considered. These concerns have diversity and inclusion implications. Safety, unconscious bias, equity are all areas that will need to be addressed for employees who are most at risk across the many dimensions of diversity that exist among our employees.

One way to address these concerns is to listen to the voice of your employees. Provide regular opportunities to hear from employees, gain feedback on how the work environment is or isn’t working for them, and try to adjust where possible along the way.

We are moving to a hybrid reopening model. With these types of situations, some employees will be coming to the workplace on some days while others may be able to and opt to continue to work virtually. If this is the case, it will be important to try to mitigate “Distance Bias,” which is our brain’s natural tendency to put more importance on things and people that are closer to us than farther away. The impact of distance bias, if not dealt with properly, can seep into all aspects of the employee-manager relationship, from onboarding and orientation to performance assessment and development.   

We have developed a lot of those skills to mitigate distance bias over the past year working virtually and we can continue to practice them with those colleagues who will continue to work virtually.   

Demonstrating inclusive management practices is essential during this period of transition. Clear and transparent communications of expectations, providing for ongoing feedback during regular intervals, allocating individual time to each of your employees to discuss specific needs and questions are some actions to ensure that you are fostering an inclusive work environment, hybrid or otherwise.

As we look to implement a workplace reopening strategy, we have opportunities to redefine the ways we work and engage with each other. We have a unique opportunity to learn from the past year and create a version of the “next normal,” a version that will be enhanced by making diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority. We must ensure that our workplace strategies are inclusive of the needs of all the employees, not just the chosen few.  

We have come through a very tumultuous time over the past year, as we transition and begin reopening our sites and facilities, let’s make sure that we take the time to eliminate as much stress as we can. Doing so will ensure a successful transition to this next phase of our professional journeys.

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