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5 Ways to Focus on Inclusion as We Return to the Office

We must create environments where all of our teams are supported and welcomed.

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Many companies are starting to test the waters for the big return to office this September. In many ways, working remotely has been the great equalizer, including providing equal access for all to our CEOs and Executives, and invitations to key meetings without having to travel. As we shift from the screen and return to physical spaces and places, we must continue to show up as inclusive leaders and create environments where all of our teams are supported and welcomed.

As we return to the office, here are five ways leaders can continue to build a working environment where we all feel included:

1. Ensure you provide accommodations for all

According to a recent study, one in three U.S. employees have lost or changed jobs during the pandemic. Some of your employees may be new and have never been to your offices. They onboarded remotely, and their needs may be different in a physical environment. Be sure you are asking ahead of time for accommodations needed, including mother's rooms, a prayer room, and specific working space and technology requirements. If you have new office spaces, ensure you are going above and beyond the American Disabilities Act (ADA) standards by taking extra consideration in the layout and design of the office space, and ease of navigation.

Related: How to Give Employees Ownership of Their Workspace As They ...

2. Support employees in feeling safe coming to the office

There has been an historic surge in hate crimes against the Asian community, fueled by the continued rise of xenophobia during the pandemic. There was a 169% increase in anti-Asian hate crime reports to police in the first quarter of 2021 versus 2020. And many hate crimes are not reported by Asians, due to fear of retaliation and concern that justice won't prevail.

Some Asian colleagues may not feel safe coming into the office. Ask how you can help support them. This could be by providing personal alarms and pepper spray, offering company transportation, or reimbursing for Uber rides. If colleagues don't feel safe traveling into the office, allow and continue to support them in working remotely.

3. Be intentional about building both in-person and remote relationships

As we start to enter into the post pandemic phase, employees have differing views on how they want to work. According to a recent Human Resource Executive study, 65% of employees want to work full remotely post-pandemic, while 33% prefer a hybrid arrangement. Many leaders for the first time in their careers will be confronted with managing teams both virtually and in person.

Ensure you are being intentional about building relationships with your team, including those you don't physically connect with. In one-on-one's, project reviews, and team stand-ups, everyone will have equal access to you. Watch out for spending informal time with in-person team members and unintentionally excluding remote employees. Even the casual lunch or spontaneous drinks outing can make remote employees feel excluded. If you are taking your team members out to lunch, ensure to schedule virtual lunches and offer a gift card to show your commitment to building your remote relationships.

Related: How Should We Return to Work? The Future of the Hybrid Workforce

4. Continue to use virtual meetings for equal access

The future of work is the hybrid model. 63% of high revenue growth companies have already adopted a hybrid model. This means that some employees will be onsite and some will be fully remote, while others will come into the office on only set days of the week.

In a hybrid model, continue to use virtual meetings to create equal access for all. Schedule company town halls and all company presentations on the days that the majority, if not all, employees are all working remotely. This will allow for everyone to feel welcomed and included. Instead of flying external speakers to a particular office location, host the event virtually. Everyone will then feel part of the event, instead of some colleagues watching a speaker on stage over the screen, while other colleagues are sitting in the room.

5. Be supportive of working parents

For many working parents, this will be the first time they will be away from their children in over 15 months. Many younger children will experience separation anxiety. Parents may arrive late at work or may have to leave early to pick up a child. Don't create a narrative that a working parent might now be a performance issue. Allow working parents and caregivers to adjust their return to the office schedule as needed, particularly in the first month.

Regardless of what policies and programs we put into place, the most important thing to remember is to show support and kindness as we all adjust to this new normal.

Related: This Is What Offices Will Look Like in a Post-Pandemic World

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