Navigating the Return to the Office: The Impact on Inclusion

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AUTHOR
Amanda Fajak

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a seismic shift in the way we work, with remote work becoming the new norm for millions of people around the world. However, as vaccinations increase and restrictions ease, organisations are now contemplating a return to the office. While the transition back to physical workspaces may seem like a welcome change, it is crucial to consider its impact on inclusion. In this blog post, we will explore the potential effects of returning to the office on inclusion and discuss strategies to ensure a more inclusive workplace.

Revisiting Physical Accessibility:

One of the key aspects of inclusion is ensuring physical accessibility for all employees. As companies prepare for employees to return to the office, it is essential to review office spaces to ensure they are accessible for individuals with disabilities. This may involve making adjustments to facilities, such as installing ramps, elevators, or accessible washrooms. By prioritizing physical accessibility, organisations can ensure that everyone can navigate the workspace comfortably.

Addressing Commuting Challenges:

Returning to the office often means employees have to commute, which can pose challenges for some individuals. People with disabilities or those who rely on public transportation may face additional obstacles when commuting to the office. To foster inclusion, organisations can provide flexible commuting options, such as remote work days or flexible hours, to accommodate diverse needs. Additionally, offering transportation subsidies or organising carpooling initiatives can help alleviate the financial burden and improve access for all employees. 

Supporting Work-Life Balance:

During the remote work era, employees experienced increased flexibility in managing their personal and professional lives. The return to the office may disrupt this balance, particularly for individuals with caregiving responsibilities or those who benefited from reduced commuting times. To promote inclusion, organisations should consider implementing policies that support work-life balance, such as flexible work hours, remote work options, or on-site childcare facilities. By acknowledging and accommodating diverse personal circumstances, companies can foster a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

Addressing Hybrid Work Challenges:

Some organisations may adopt a hybrid work model, combining remote and in-office work. While this can offer flexibility, it may also present challenges for inclusion. There is a risk of creating a two-tier system where in-office employees have more visibility and opportunities for collaboration, potentially excluding remote workers. To mitigate this, organisations should invest in technology and establish inclusive communication practices that bridge the gap between in-person and remote employees. Regular virtual meetings, inclusive decision-making processes, and the use of collaboration tools can help ensure that all team members, regardless of their physical location, feel equally valued and included. 

Nurturing Psychological Safety:

The return to the office can trigger a range of emotions and concerns among employees. Some individuals may feel anxious about their health and safety, while others may have difficulty readjusting to a more structured work environment. Fostering psychological safety becomes paramount in ensuring inclusion during this transition. Organisations should create open channels of communication, encourage feedback, and provide support resources to address employees' concerns. It is crucial to create an environment where individuals feel comfortable expressing their needs and where empathy and understanding are prioritized.

Conclusion:

As organisations plan for the return to the office, it is vital to recognize the potential impact on inclusion. By proactively addressing physical accessibility, commuting challenges, work-life balance, hybrid work dynamics, and psychological safety, companies can ensure that the transition is inclusive for all employees. Embracing diversity and fostering an inclusive work environment is not only ethically important but also enhances employee satisfaction, productivity, and innovation. Let us seize this opportunity to reimagine the workplace and create an environment where everyone can thrive.


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