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5 key issues your working from home policy should cover

Now that we are several months into the pandemic, many companies are looking to codify their whirlwind remote work implementations into policies that can serve them over the long-term. Unfortunately, for those organizations that did not previously have a working from home policy, it can be difficult to know where to start. There are many issues to take into account when assembling a comprehensive working from home policy, so we’ve dug into the research and summarized five of the most important below.

Why your organization urgently needs a remote work policy

According to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, the pandemic caused the U.S. to become a “working-from-home economy.” Late last year, prior to the pandemic, a survey by LinkedIn found that 82% of working professionals would like to work from home at least one day per week. At the time however, fewer than half of them were able to do so. Moreover, just 18% of people were fully remote.

By June though, Bloom notes that the percentage of people working from home full-time more than doubled to 42%. With 33% not working due to the crushing impact of the lockdown, and therefore just 26% working on business premises, the number of employees working from home is more than 60% greater than the number of those onsite. He furthermore writes that the working from home population now accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

With such high demand for work flexibility prior to the pandemic, and the smashing success of transitioning millions of people to full-time remote work overnight, it will be almost impossible for employers to revoke this privilege as they begin to return to the office. Accordingly, it’s critical that companies begin to put some formal infrastructure around what remote work will look like for their organizations over the long-term. Read on for suggestions of key issues to take into account.

Key issues to consider when assembling your working from home policy

Hopefully at this point it’s clear why you need a working from home policy. Just as policies are necessary for governing onsite employees, remote workers need support and guidance to help ensure they can succeed in their roles. When assembling your working from home policy, consider the following factors:

  • Logistics. As with any other undertaking, designing a successful working from home policy should begin with the basics. Determine and clearly lay out who is allowed to work from home and how frequently. If the same rules do not apply to everyone, be sure to explain why. In addition, be explicit about how work will be tracked and evaluated, so employees aren’t met with any unexpected surprises. Lastly, ensure that you have tools in place to keep everyone looped into all necessary communications.
  • Work environment. Many companies pump a great deal of money into optimizing their office environments and ensuring that employees have the furniture and equipment they need to be productive. The same should be true at home. Consider including a remote work stipend or similar as part of your new policy to help your employees equip their home offices as needed. In addition, once remote working is no longer necessary for public health reasons, your company may want to review and approve remote work setups over Zoom to ensure they meet your working standards and requirements.
  • Data Security. Data security is always a concern when employees are working off-site. Ensure that you have clear policies for how data is to be stored, transmitted, and managed, both digitally and for hardcopies. Thoroughly train all your employees on the tools needed to keep your data safe, and put systems and checks in place to make certain that they’re being used effectively and appropriately. Don’t put your employees in a position to cause a data or security breach because you didn’t properly design, structure, and communicate your remote work policy.
  • Compliance. There are more potential flags here than we can cover in this article, across fair labor laws, ADA requirements, and more. Suffice it to say that you should thoroughly research all the potential legal issues you may come across with remote workers, and address them in your policy. This is not an area where you can choose to be lax without the potential for serious consequences.
  • Equality & Equity. Last, but certainly not least, it’s crucial that you keep a strong focus on both equality and equity when authoring your policy. To the extent possible, employees should be treated the same, or at least the same as others at their level and/or in their position. The remote working policy should consider every employee and strive to enable the most flexibility for every worker within your company’s particular constraints. In addition, be mindful of prioritizing equity as well. If some of your employees may not be able to afford the same level of work-from-home setup as their colleagues, consider increasing their stipend or providing company resources to help support them in getting their workspace up to par and ensuring that they are not disadvantaged compared to their peers.

There are many issues to consider when putting policies in place for long-term working from home. The list above highlights several of the most important ones, but be sure to consult your employees to confirm you’re covering all the necessary bases. Of course, in addition to policies, your remote work strategy should include plans for how to engage employees no matter where they work. If your company could use a streamlined tool for employee communications, engagement programming, and people analytics, check out Workrowd. We’d be happy to discuss how we can help make a hybrid or even an all-remote work model work for your business.

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Building connections within an intergenerational workforce

For more than a decade, a favorite trope of news outlets has been the war between the generations in the workplace. As Millennials began to enter offices, article after article appeared on how ‘Generation Me’ was going to create widespread strife with their need for constant feedback and praise, their obsession with technology, and more. These attitudes and habits, the reporters alleged, would put them completely at odds with their Boomer supervisors.

As we’ve seen, Millennials have deeply impacted their workplaces, but not necessarily at a faster rate than any other generation, and certainly not in a way that’s out of sync with the broader societal forces acting on their companies. Ultimately, having an intergenerational workforce can be of great benefit if it is effectively leveraged. We’ve assembled some suggestions below to help you make the most of the age diversity present in many U.S. workplaces today.

An unprecedented five generations working side-by-side

For the first time in history, there are now five generations active in the U.S. workforce. While there is some dispute as to the actual dates that comprise each generation, the groups are as follows:

  • Silent Generation (born between 1928-1945)
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Generation X (1965-1980)
  • Generation Y/Millennials (1981-1996)
  • Generation Z (1997-2012)

The oldest members of Generation Z are now 23, meaning that some of them have been in the workforce for 5+ years at this point. Meanwhile, the youngest members of the Silent Generation are only 75. These 75+ workers comprise between 5-10% of every state’s workforce, while countrywide, their proportion is expected to exceed 10% within a few years. With more than 50 years’ difference between the lived experiences of these two cohorts, there are bound to be some disagreements and misunderstandings. However, just as with other types of diversity, having such a range of perspectives can also be a great asset to your business.

Strategies for enabling employees of all ages to succeed

Despite their superficial differences, regardless of age or generation, many employees ultimately want a lot of the same things out of their work experience. These include opportunities for learning and growth, camaraderie and community, and to feel valued and respected. Luckily, a number of these can be achieved through the same and/or overlapping initiatives. Below are some ideas for helping employees to bridge the generational divide and drive your organization forward.

  • Provide everyone with streamlined, user-friendly tools. In order to mitigate any issues stemming from varying levels of tech-savvy, design your employee experience with a focus on easy-to-use tools that make everyone feel empowered and fully able to contribute. Particularly with your communications systems, provide clear training to all employees so that no one is at a disadvantage in conversations and meetings due to challenges with technology. While this is applicable to facilitating inclusion across all demographics, it is particularly relevant for an intergenerational workforce as younger people are often more comfortable adapting to new technologies more quickly than older populations. Putting everyone on an even playing field will minimize opportunities for frustration across age gaps.
  • Develop a two-way intergenerational mentoring program. Young people have a lot to learn from their older peers in the workplace, but this sentiment holds true in the opposite direction as well. There is a lot that younger people can teach their colleagues from other generations, and that should be acknowledged and capitalized upon. Establish an intergenerational mentoring program where the exchange of information flows both ways. More seasoned employees should be encouraged to be open to the input and ideas of younger coworkers, and new professionals should be urged to be receptive to the wealth of knowledge that older peers have amassed over the course of their careers. Provide conversation and activity guides to help your pairings make the most of their relationship, and consider holding innovation events such as hackathons to help them put their combined knowledge to optimal use.
  • Start an intergenerational employee resource group. While most frequently focused on race and ethnicity, employee resource groups can also be a useful tool for building productive connections in an intergenerational workforce. Historically, age-based employee resource groups have typically focused on one specific demographic, e.g. young professionals. Ultimately however, companies would likely benefit more from creating opportunities for what is effectively a group-based version of the mentoring program outlined above. By creating a space that’s not explicitly focused on work in which team members from different generations can interact and team up, companies can finally combine and leverage all of the knowledge and skills within their workforce into more than the sum of their parts.

Having an intergenerational workforce can be either a blessing or a curse. For those organizations that operate in opposition to it and pit older and younger workers against one another, they will find that the antagonistic relationship between employees of different age groups can become a significant drag on productivity, engagement, and more. For organizations that view it as an asset however, and seek to build productive relationships between employees of various ages, they may very well find themselves on the forefront of innovation and broader success.

If you’re looking for a straightforward way to seize upon all three of the strategies listed above, check out Workrowd’s platform. We can help you set up and manage mentoring programs and employee resource groups, all while centralizing and streamlining employee communications. You can reach us at hello@workrowd.com.

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Building inclusion with a hybrid workplace model

Many companies are now facing an unfamiliar talent and engagement landscape, with some employees having been let go, others moved to new roles, certain populations back in the office, while their peers continue to work remotely, etc. Navigating the increased complexity inherent in a hybrid workplace model is something HR departments, executives, and team leaders everywhere are grappling with in the midst of all of the other COVID-related disruptions. One additional ‘disruption’ is the increased focus on inclusion in recent months, following multiple high-profile incidents of racial injustice. Unfortunately, most organizations were already struggling to build and manage inclusion when the majority of their employees were in one place; how can they foster it now that employees are geographically distributed and having very different employee experiences?

The importance of prioritizing inclusion

These are important questions that every company should be asking right now. Building an inclusive workplace is undeniably the right course of action, for employees’ happiness, security, and wellbeing, but also for the company’s bottom line. A study by Deloitte found that as compared to their less inclusive competitors, organizations with inclusive cultures were:

  • 2x more likely to meet or exceed their financial targets;
  • 3x as likely to be high-performing;
  • 6x more likely to be innovative and agile; and
  • 8x more likely to achieve better business outcomes.

Moreover, Quantum Workplace noted that engagement is low for employees who believe inclusion in their organization is moderately or very weak, while it is high for those who believe inclusion is strong in their organization.

We’ve written extensively about engagement here before, but suffice it to say that it’s not something you want to overlook as it has far-reaching impacts across productivity, retention, happiness, and more. Particularly during this time when employees need support more than ever, it’s crucial to find strategies to build inclusion across your entire team, rather than letting silos crop up between remote and in-office employees. Below we’ve assembled some suggested tactics and approaches to managing engagement in a hybrid workplace model based on established best practices.

Strategies for building connection across remote and in-office employees

For your employees who are returning/have returned to the office, the new COVID accommodations may have made a previously comfortable environment feel foreign and unwelcoming. Respecting people’s different experiences with the virus and their individual efforts to protect themselves can make it difficult to connect with colleagues, even ones with whom they were previously friendly. In-office folx will need support and guidance to participate in building an inclusive workplace just as much as their remote peers who face more obvious inclusion challenges.

Some steps you can take to ensure everyone is included and feels that they belong as part of your hybrid workplace model are:

  1. Level the playing field. If there are meetings where at least one person will be remote while others are in the office, require that everyone join via video conference. Having one employee trying to participate from a screen while all of their colleagues are together in one room puts that individual at a deep disadvantage. Conversely, requesting that everyone participate from their desks, no matter where they sit, ensures everyone’s voice matters equally and shows remote employees that they’re both valued and respected. This strategy has the bonus effect of further mitigating viral transmission risk by reducing the number of times employees gather in-person in an enclosed conference room, so it’s a win all around.
  2. Open up communication channels. This may seem obvious, but there are a number of components to making this work. The first is to clearly describe which channels should be used for various types of communications, across email, chat apps, meetings, and so forth. Another is to encourage inclusive practices such as choosing to use chat rooms where project discussions are visible to everyone rather than one-to-one email threads that may exclude people and leave them in the dark. Third is to stress the importance of check-ins and ensure that managers are holding one-on-ones with all of their team members every week, along with at least one whole team meeting. For some teams, daily 15-20-minute video calls to touch base may be warranted to keep everyone looped in and engaged. Lastly, emphasize the importance of documenting conversations via digital means rather than relying on in-person conversations that don’t include the entire team, especially for the sake of remote workers.
  3. Develop a buddy system. Find ways to promote interaction for both in-office and remote workers. There are apps that pair up random employees for get-to-know you chats, programs that will help you launch a mentoring program, and as always, our personal favorite, employee resource groups. Create social infrastructure for your employees to interact across distances and you’ll reap the benefits.

The requirements of our new virus-ridden reality can make it difficult to keep your workforce engaged and connected. As you design your strategy for the coming months, make sure you’re catering to both employees who work in the office and their colleagues who are remaining remote. If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution to help keep employees on the same page across project teams, employee groups, and the organization more broadly, give us a shout at hello@workrowd.com. We’d love to show you how we can streamline the complications a hybrid workforce brings and increase engagement and inclusion for your team.

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Ensure managers are asking employees these 3 questions

Managing people is difficult. Tasking some employees with the job of monitoring, motivating, inspiring, evaluating, and disciplining others in addition to fulfilling their other job responsibilities is a lot to ask. People are complex creatures with diverse sets of values and ideas, and managers are expected to understand and cater to each individual in order to get the best out of every team member. Given all of this, the fact that 58% of managers report that they received no management training at all is shocking. Do your whole company a favor and set your managers up for success with dedicated training and support. For those just starting out, we’ve combed the research and assembled a list of three questions managers should ask employees in order to engage their team members.

The High Cost of Bad Managers

Bad bosses cost the U.S. $360 billion per year. This may seem like an outrageous sum, but when you consider that three out of every four employees report that their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job, and that 65% of employees say they would choose a better boss over a pay raise, it’s easy to see how that level of dissatisfaction could lead to some significant losses. Bad managers contribute to a whole slew of negative business outcomes including employee disengagement, decreased productivity, absenteeism, and critically, serious retention problems. According to a SHRM study from last year, 60% of people who had recently left a job say they did so because of their manager.

How can we turn the tide on such a massive problem in our workforce? Ultimately, as opposed to many of the systemic societal issues employees and companies are facing right now, the issue of bad managers can be broken down to the smallest unit: individuals. Change starts with folx in management positions being willing to learn and make adjustments in order to do better by their direct reports. Companies can help facilitate this with trainings, coaches, and digital learning resources, but ultimately, if the individual doesn’t want to or isn’t ready for change, none of these offerings will make a difference. Once managers decide they want to take that crucial first step though, there are some baseline criteria they can follow to ensure they’re empowering their employees rather than the opposite.

How Managers Can Make Change in the Short-term

The journey towards becoming a better manager is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s no denying that managing people is hard, which is why it bears repeating here. Adapting to new employees, constantly learning about and seeking to improve oneself, and just trying to stay sane through all of it can be a real struggle. To help with this, we’ve trawled the research and assembled a list of three simple questions to help managers make a positive change in their relationships with their team members starting this week. Encourage managers to ask the following questions during their check-ins with employees (and ensure they’re having regular check-ins with employees to begin with!):

1. What went well this past week?

Ask your employees about their successes, and truly listen to their answers. Acknowledge them for the accomplishments they mention. Recognition helps build employees’ self-esteem and engagement, and kicks the conversation off on a positive note. The key here is to make sure you’re really paying attention and providing genuine praise so the employee feels both heard and appreciated. You may be surprised by the results of simply making the time and headspace to truly check in with them.

2. Are you facing any roadblocks?/What are you struggling with?

Let your employees know that you’re there to support them, and that if they’re having problems, they should feel comfortable to freely express them to you. Many issues that ultimately become dire could have been averted if they had been addressed earlier. Encourage employees to share any areas where they’re feeling underresourced or otherwise unequipped, and assist with solutions to the best of your ability. Knowing that you have their back will do wonders for your relationship, and will greatly improve the employee’s work experience.

3. What can I do to be a better manager?

Ask your employees how you can improve, and be genuinely open to hearing their responses. Inviting and accepting feedback can be disarming in a way that opens doors that would have otherwise remained closed. The key here is actually being willing to work on the areas employees identify for you. Record their comments, and let them know how you plan to address them. Then actually follow through on your commitments.

With the bar so low for managers today, there is ample low hanging fruit to be picked in efforts to improve. Simply providing this list of questions managers should ask employees can make a noticeable difference. Consider offering leadership training for your managers if you have the budget, and if not, try to at least assemble a repository of free resources for them to consult. Better yet, organize your managers into cohorts to study the materials and practice the recommendations together. If you’re interested in an easy way to organize and manage employee support groups, check out Workrowd. We’ve got everything you need to streamline your professional development experience and help your team keep each other accountable. As always, we’re at hello@workrowd.com.

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Employee engagement ideas for socially distanced workers

There’s no denying it at this point; social distancing is here to stay. So what do you do when your employees are back in the office, but all the employee engagement ideas you used to rely on – happy hours, group lunches, office amenities – are off the table? Although these activities and benefits have long been mainstays of most companies’ engagement efforts, they are ultimately only superficial strategies. Especially during these difficult and confusing times when employees are dealing with so much in addition to work, the focus of engagement efforts should be on supporting your team with compassion and empathy. Companies that do will reap the benefits for years to come.

Reframing How You Practice Engagement

The first step towards keeping engagement high while distancing measures are still in place is to stop thinking of engagement in the classical way. Just like inclusion can’t be developed through a once yearly unconscious bias training, true engagement does not stem from foosball tables or holiday parties. While these are great bonuses, true engagement comes from employees feeling seen, heard, and appreciated at their companies. Stop approaching it as if you can bribe your employees into being engaged; buying things like snacks and games as a substitute for actually investing in your employees is not going to work. Engagement is something that is built not bought.

Accordingly, think about what has made your own experience at companies better or worse. Were you motivated to work harder for the company that brought in lunch once per month, or the company where you felt genuinely supported and valued for your contributions? Employees need to know that their employer cares about them every day, not just when there’s a special event, so engagement initiatives have to be ongoing rather than one-offs. Begin thinking about employee engagement ideas as part of an integrated strategy and you’ll be in a much better position to serve your employees regardless of whether they’re in-office or remote, mid or post-pandemic.

Strategies and Activities for Boosting Engagement

Now that you’ve got a new framework for how to approach building engagement, it’s time to start designing your strategy. Some key requirement to keep in mind include:

  • Ensure your employees have what they need. While it’s frequently overlooked as a component of engagement, the foundation of your program should be making sure employees have the knowledge, tools, and support to succeed at your company. Employees who don’t know where to go if they have a question, who don’t have a clear understanding of expectations, and/or who don’t have the necessary tools to perform their jobs well won’t be helped by any of your other attempts to boost engagement. If you have team members who aren’t empowered, who don’t see a path for themselves at your organization, and who don’t feel valued, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to overcome those challenges. Start here, then build your strategy once you’ve got employees’ basic needs squared away. This step is especially critical during the pandemic.
  • Open the lines of communication. Another key engagement strategy is to make sure employees feel that they have a voice. If employees know that they can express concerns or new ideas freely and with the expectation that they’ll be listened to, they’ll feel valued and therefore much more likely to be engaged. Utilize different communication channels to provide both extro- and introverted employees with ways to participate. This may include surveys, anonymous suggestion boxes, focus groups, town hall-style meetings, and more, but most importantly hinges on managers making sure they actually connect with and listen to their team members. Foster a culture of open communication at all levels and watch your engagement scores increase.
  • Supercharge your employee groups. Last but certainly not least, build community within your employee population. A Gallup study showed that employees with even one close friendship at work were seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. Initiatives such as employee resource groups, rec sports leagues, professional development clubs, and so on go a long way towards helping your employees build the relationships and support networks they need to foster strong positive associations with coming to work. Make it easy for your people to find their niche within your company, and bond with those who share their interests and/or life experiences. Your bottom line will thank you as these connections will improve collaboration and communication across your organization, in addition to increasing engagement, productivity, retention, and more.

We know it can be daunting to try to crack the code and come up with effective employee engagement ideas during such confusing and stressful times. If you could use some support from tools to resources to metrics, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at hello@workrowd.com. We’d love to learn more about what you’re struggling with so we can determine how to best help. No one should have to walk this uncertain road ahead alone.

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Disability accommodations in the age of COVID-19

According to the CDC, 61 million U.S. adults live with a disability; that’s more than a quarter of the population (26%). The word ‘disability’ spans a wide range of physical and mental challenges across mobility, cognition, mental health, hearing, vision, and more. Some disabilities are readily visible upon meeting a person, but many are not. As businesses struggle to reopen responsibly amid the ongoing pandemic, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your employees with disabilities are supported. Read on for some tips to understand and equip your people with any disability accommodations they may need to remain safe from infection.

Many disabilities increase the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms

For a variety of reasons, your employees with disabilities may be at increased risk of harm from COVID-19. In terms of physical health, adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than adults without disabilities. A study released in June found that patients with these and other underlying conditions who contracted the coronavirus were six times more likely to be hospitalized and twelve times more likely to die from it than peers without these compounding issues. Accordingly, while every employee should be maximally protected from COVID-19, employers should take extra care to prevent exposure risks among their employees with disabilities, in order to minimize the potential for dire outcomes.

Similarly, mental health disorders can be deeply exacerbated by the conditions the pandemic has created. Many people without a clinically diagnosable mental health condition are experiencing crippling levels of anxiety and depression from social isolation, financial hardship, and the loss of loved ones from this virus. Simply reading the news on a daily basis is enough to destabilize a person’s mental health.

As we wrote about here, mental illnesses and disorders can deal a crushing blow to metrics like productivity and engagement in the workplace. In fact, depression and anxiety conditions alone are estimated to cost the world economy $1 trillion per year. People with cognitive disabilities are also at increased risk of mental health problems, making it even more imperative that they have resources at their disposal to support themselves during these challenging times, as well as disability accommodations to keep them safe and healthy.

Steps to keep employees with disabilities safe from infection

The first step to protecting employees, whether or not they have a disability, is of course to follow all evidence-based recommendations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Facilitate social distancing, require mask wearing, limit use of common spaces and appliances, and sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. Make all signage clear and accessible, using high-contrast, large font and placing it at heights that are visible to those in wheelchairs. Ask employees for suggestions of how to make the workplace even safer, and implement those ideas where possible. Communicate your policies early and often, and require strict adherence in order to prevent situations where employees may feel at risk of exposure or peer-pressured to violate rules.

Another important step is to offer opportunities for employees to request individual accommodations to your policies. Being mindful of privacy guidelines, ask which employees have special circumstances, from having a disability themselves, to having someone in their household who is disabled, to ensure they have an open invitation to voice their needs. Seek to truly listen and understand their situation, so you can be positioned to best help them. Objectively assess their level of risk, whether or not their job is essential and if it can be done with limited in-office time, as well as what disability accommodations you can reasonably grant. Lastly, ensure that whatever decision you ultimately make is in compliance with all regulations, particularly those around EEOC and ADA.

Communicate the outcome of any deliberations clearly and compassionately to your employees. In instances where you were unable to grant accommodation requests, explaining why will go a long way towards ensuring that individual does not feel slighted or unduly denied. As circumstances evolve, encourage an open-door policy around accommodation requests and continue to remain aware of employees’ situations and health in order to provide the best employee experience possible despite the less than ideal circumstances.

Supporting employees with varied and changing needs during the global pandemic isn’t easy. Make it easier by talking to your employees and being transparent with your processes. Consider starting a disability employee resource group to help your team members who may be struggling, including those who may be new to disability as a result of COVID-19 complications. If you could use a tool to assist you in standing up an ERG, providing additional employee support, and streamlining your communications around pandemic safety, check out Workrowd. We can help you help your employees, and measure the results through automated surveys and reports.

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Designing your inclusion strategy for the long-term

The recent outcry against systemic racism prompted many companies to scramble to schedule unconscious bias trainings and other one-off initiatives. While in theory this response was better than continuing to turn a blind eye, the centuries-long oppression of BIPOC in this country will not be resolved with a two-hour workplace training. Now that the urgency of the moment has passed for many people who are not directly impacted by this struggle every day, we cannot simply go back to business as usual.

Building truly inclusive workplaces neither starts nor ends with making people aware of their biases; it requires a continuous effort to educate, support, and empower employees, with particular attention towards uplifting those from historically marginalized backgrounds. Most companies don’t currently have a framework for cultivating inclusion on an ongoing basis. Up until recently, executing on an inclusion strategy wasn’t something businesses paid attention to, and when they did, it was rarely addressed from an empirical standpoint. We know now however, that both diversity and inclusion have far-reaching impacts on business outcomes, making it essential for companies to begin prioritizing them. Read on for some ideas on how to design your inclusion strategy to help your company succeed long into the future.

Recognize that inclusion affects all areas of your business

As the twelve-step saying goes, ‘the first step is admitting you have a problem’. While it’s easy to think that inclusion can just occur organically under the right conditions, the fact is that most people aren’t naturally inclined towards inclusion. Most features of American society, in fact, are oriented around exclusion. Think about how we glorify being invited to ‘exclusive’ clubs and events, or buying luxury items that are in limited supply. The traditional idea of romantic relationships is founded upon exclusivity, and we even see children from very young ages assembling into friend groups frequently to the exclusion of others. We’re not taught to value inclusion, nor trained in how to be inclusive, so why would our workplaces naturally trend towards inclusiveness?

Ironically, while inclusion is not the norm for most people or workplaces, failing to cultivate it can result in deeply negative business outcomes. Exclusion impacts your retention rate, your employer brand, employee productivity and engagement, and more. Recognizing that investing in inclusion will deliver a significant return on investment similar to other business requirements, such as marketing and sales, is a necessary reframe before starting to design an inclusion strategy that can drive measurable impact over the long-term.

Bring in an expert (and pay them!)

Once you’ve shifted your perception to recognize that inclusion is just as important to your business success as other key performance indicators, it’s time to bring in rockstar strategists and executors to help your company succeed just as you would across any other area of the organization. If you were building a new product you wouldn’t hesitate to engage relevant subject matter experts, and the same goes for inclusion. Ideally, it’s advisable to bring on at least one full-time employee to orchestrate your inclusion planning and implementation, but for smaller companies, starting out with a consultant may be your best bet. Do what’s right for you but don’t downplay the need for expertise in this arena.

Moreover, if increasing inclusion is going to improve your bottom line, you shouldn’t hesitate to pay for the expertise you need. Many diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging professionals have noted in recent months that people have tried to engage them or gain access to their resources for free.  There are few other industries that see such egregious disrespect of their time and experience, so treat inclusion specialists the same as you would treat any other consultant or new hire. Give them the tools to succeed, trust their knowledge and ability, and pay them for their work.

Stay on it

Building inclusion is not something that can be checked off a to-do list or crossed off on your roadmap. Similar to any skill, it requires ongoing practice and commitment to be successful. Everyone in your organization must strive to practice inclusion at all times, on every project, and with every colleague. In order to root out the insidious processes that preclude equity in our workplaces, inclusion must be made a company value and be infused throughout all aspects of the day-to-day operations.

At Workrowd, we’ve been working hard to walk the talk from day one, and we still regularly step back to take inventory and improve our processes to be more inclusive. If we can help you on your journey, don’t hesitate to reach out. We strive to make the process of building inclusion easier and more data-driven, and we’d love to have you join the movement. You can always reach us at hello@workrowd.com.

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Reducing the impact of layoffs on company culture

As the pandemic continues to drag on, many companies are facing difficult choices when it comes to their workforces. While some businesses have been able to maintain their pre-pandemic staffing levels, and others are even hiring, many have been forced to make cuts. Whether through furloughing or completely laying workers off, the trauma surrounding these separations for both those leaving and the ones staying can manifest in negative outcomes for your company culture. It’s critical that you put strategies and processes in place to minimize the impact of layoffs and bolster morale in the lead-up to one of these events, as well as in the immediate and sometimes extended aftermath. In this post we’ll outline some ideas for respecting and supporting employees, whether they’re remaining on your payrolls or not.

Prior to the layoffs

While separation decisions are typically made through a confidential process, and for good reason, it’s still possible to be upfront with your employees rather than leaving them wondering. Odds are they’ll know the business is at risk, so keeping them in the dark as to your efforts and intentions only serves to ratchet up the collective anxiety. This anxiety then ripples through meetings, project work, and even casual banter, putting your business in an even worse position as employees are unable to focus on their tasks.

Establish a reputation for transparency and trust by sharing what you can when you can. If your employees know that you’re doing everything you can to prevent furloughs and layoffs, and what the process looks like for deciding, they will feel respected and valued even while they may be concerned for their jobs. Let them know your timeline for deciding, and what would need to happen to prevent a situation where you have to initiate separations. Don’t put them in a position where they’re panicking and trying to ferret out clues. Tell them what’s happening, why, and when so they can start to prepare themselves accordingly. The impact of layoffs can be devastating to single and even dual income households, so having a bit of advance notice that layoffs may be necessary can help families start to plan.

The layoff process

If possible, it’s best to execute the separations all in one go. Otherwise, you leave employees wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. Explain that the senior leadership team is doing everything possible to make this a one-time event, and be respectful in your individual conversations with people. Understand that they’re likely to be upset, and don’t try to make light of the situation. Be honest that this is not something the company is doing by choice, but out of necessity, and let them speak their minds. How their colleagues were treated during the separation process will filter back to the employees who are staying on, as well as to future candidates, so it is in your best interests to be both human and humane in your interactions. Explain to them their benefits, any severance they may receive, as well as their healthcare entitlements. If you can provide additional supports, do so.

After the layoffs

Those employees who remain with the company will likely feel shaken by the loss of their colleagues and the threat of another round of separations. They will need your support to help minimize the impact of the layoffs. Where possible, provide access to mental health professionals to help team members parse through their emotions and fears. Schedule opportunities for employees to voice their concerns and ideas for moving forward to management so they know that they have a say in what happens next. Don’t harp on how much needs to get accomplished in the near-term to save the company; give employees time to deal with their trauma.

Ask managers to check in with their team members individually to see if they need anything. Be thoughtful about reallocating assignments rather than further overloading employees who are already burned out. Treating your employees as human beings rather than ‘human capital’ will go a long way towards helping your company emerge from this crisis without insurmountable culture debt.

Ultimately, there’s really no good way to handle furloughs and layoffs, but there are ways to make it less damaging for your employees. Maintaining a healthy company culture is a critical component to ensuring business success, so while it may be easy to overlook during a crisis when so many things need attention, that decision (or oversight) will come back to bite you down the line. If you’re looking for an automated way to manage and measure company culture in the aftermath of a separation event, Workrowd can help. Give us a shout at hello@workrowd.com and learn more about how we can help you rebuild or bolster your company culture from the bottom up.

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Top ways to support employee mental health

It has now been more than four months since the first states started their lockdowns, and even the most stoic of personalities are beginning to suffer the effects. For the overwhelming majority of us, the pandemic has changed virtually everything about our daily and weekly routines, preventing us from partaking in many of the activities we love, and snarling household responsibilities with children and work now demanding the same hours. While it may seem that most of your employees are managing, even if they may not be at their best, the fear, anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion of recent months cannot be denied. Do yourself and your business a favor by making sure that employee mental health needs are acknowledged and met.

Before we dive into strategies for supporting employee mental health however, let’s examine why it’s so important. Aside from the human factor of wanting your employees to be safe and well, burnout and mental health issues within the workforce come at an extremely high price. The American Psychological Association found that workplace stress costs the U.S. economy more than $500 billion each year, and 550 million workdays are lost annually due to stress. Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day. The World Health Organization named stress ‘the health epidemic of the 21st century’, and Stanford researchers found that workplace stress is to blame for 8% of national healthcare outlays and more than 120,000 deaths each year.

The costs of not supporting employee mental health are clear, but what can you do about it? Luckily, there are a number of options ranging from free to a bit more costly. The first, easiest, and most important thing you can do is to speak openly and honestly to your employees about mental health. Let them know that it’s okay to not be okay, and that your company welcomes whole people who sometimes aren’t their 100% put together professional selves. Normalize talking about mental health and genuine responses to wellbeing questions such as ‘How are you doing?’ Ensure that your workplace empowers employees to share their struggles, so that you can provide them with the support they need to help them feel and perform at their best.

Beyond opening the door for dialogue, it’s also important to ensure that employees know what mental healthcare services are available to them. If you don’t currently offer mental healthcare benefits and you have the budget to do so, consider adding this to your benefits package, both for employees and for their families. Either way, supply clear guidelines as to what employees’ options are when it comes to finding a psychologist or psychiatrist, in layman’s terms and in an easily accessible location. Explain what is offered, and how much each service costs out of pocket so that employees don’t have to worry about being surprised with a financially burdensome bill after seeking help. It’s also crucial that you provide culturally competent mental health professionals to meet the varied needs of your employees and ensure you’re helping rather than setting them up for more harm. If your healthcare plan doesn’t include mental health services, consider exploring the numerous telehealth companies that provide therapy via video call on an a la carte basis as a way to support employees who may be struggling.

Another way to assist employees with mental health is to offer opportunities to practice self-care via activities such as exercise, yoga, and meditation. Your company can provide free or subsidized subscriptions to meditation apps to help encourage participation. Alternatively, you can offer yoga or workout sessions via Zoom, or simply curate and send around a playlist of exercise or yoga-focused YouTube videos so employees have something at the ready when they need a stress break. By building these services and practices formally into your programs, you can show your employees that the company values their mental health and that if they need to take time during their day to go for a walk or stretch in order to help their focus, it is both allowed and encouraged.

Last but certainly not least, connect your employees to one another for much-needed support and discussion. Whether it’s pairing people up for virtual coffee dates, creating small groups and providing them with conversation guides to build camaraderie, or creating a mental health employee resource group, human connection is critical during these difficult times. If you’re looking for support in developing these cohorts, check out Workrowd’s platform. We make it easy to organize and manage employee groups, and maximize transparency and access so everyone can get involved where they feel most comfortable. We help your people find their people, which is essential to maintaining the mental health of your workforce as the pandemic continues. Let us know how we can help at hello@workrowd.com.

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Metrics for measuring inclusion & belonging

As a followup to last week’s post about measuring inclusion, we wanted to dive a bit deeper into some important metrics you should consider tracking to build a more welcoming and supportive workplace for all employees. Inclusion, belonging and even engagement can seem like nebulous and tricky concepts to measure, but as the saying goes, ‘what gets measured, gets managed’. The reverse is certainly true, so if we want to see legitimate progress on inclusion in our workplaces, we have to start by assessing where we are today, and setting concrete, measurable goals for where we want to go.

We’re going to focus on four key metrics in this post, but keep in mind that these may or may not be the right indicators for your organization. While the items below are pretty broad-based measures that should apply across most industries, a truly successful approach to inclusion and belonging will always be tailored specifically to your company. As we covered in our post last week, the best first step you can take towards making your company more inclusive is to talk to your employees. Armed with their input, consider tracking some version of the categories below to ensure your program is driving impact.

Engagement

Engagement is a critical measure that many companies already assess via annual or bi-annual surveys, as it has far-reaching effects on productivity and revenue. Ultimately though, if you’re not digging sufficiently into your data to determine how engagement varies across demographic groups, you’re missing 90% of the picture. Feeling included is a big factor in engagement, so while there are a number of reasons why engagement might vary, if you’re finding that underrepresented folx have significantly lower scores, exclusionary experiences may be partially to blame.

Retention

A significant piece of the puzzle as to why we haven’t been able to move the needle on building more diverse organizations is that while companies have made efforts to diversify their hires, many folx from underrepresented groups elect not to stay after coming onboard. If you examine your retention data and find that you’re losing folx from underrepresented groups at a higher rate than their peers with more prevalent identities, focus on designing your exit interviews to truly find out why. Odds are, exclusion and discrimination are contributors.

Happiness

Employee happiness is often viewed as unscientific, but the numbers don’t lie: ” One study found that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees. When it comes to salespeople, happiness has an even greater impact, raising sales by 37%.” Measuring employee happiness as part of regular surveying efforts can help expose which segments of your workforce may be struggling with exclusion.

Inclusion & Belonging

Last but certainly not least, you can actually measure inclusion and belonging directly. Ask your employees to rate how strongly they agree with statements such as:

  • I feel like I belong at my company.
  • Perspectives like mine are included in decision-making.
  • I can voice honest feedback and be taken seriously without fear of backlash.

Do this regularly and monitor how changes to your programming correlate with changes to employee responses. As with the other metrics, be sure that you’re segmenting the data in order to surface all of the insights from different groups within your company.

Inclusion can be a difficult thing to influence, especially when your company may not have actively paid attention to it in the past. It can help to have a proven partner to align and guide your process. Workrowd automates ongoing surveys while also providing tailored recommendations and programming support to help you launch initiatives that actually drive change within your organization. If you’d like more information on the content of this post, or about Workrowd, reach out to us at hello@workrowd.com.