Social Distancing since Covid-19 has been a very interesting exercise in experiencing the way that work places have transitioned in dealing with the Corona Virus pandemic and Government placed restrictions.
Apart from the severe economic fallout from Covid-19, which has seen the closure of many businesses, the severe social restrictions have also highlighted the values and culture of workplaces. Continued employment in this crisis cannot be taken for granted and this has largely depended upon the nature of the work and the financial structure of an organisation. However, other important cultural aspects of an organisation such as inclusion have also been highlighted by the crisis.
In my own non for profit organisation we have a workforce that is quite diverse but at the same time we have one main employee group and several underrepresented employee groups. The business of law is the main component and as such it has a structure with a strong vertical orientation, which in ‘normal’ times does not easily allow for differing points of view. The intrusion of Covid-19 has extenuated what already existed, that is, that it is a workplace culture where not everyone feels respected and appreciated.
Although, in theory, structures are in place to support ground level inclusion, the intrusion of Covid-19, has allowed an easier path for Management to make unilateral decisions without the need for engagement with other levels of staff, particularly ground level, where-the-rubber-hits-the-road, type of staff.
Favourable inclusive attitudes grow within a soft structure, which does accommodate people at the ground level. The truth was told in our last Annual Report whereby the Organisational Structure Chart was missing two designated groups of employees within the organisation – they simply were missing from the organisational structure.
Visual elements are an important aspects of inclusion and these types of ‘oversights’ really highlight inequality in organisations and leave no doubt as to their values. It takes gifted leaders who really care about their employees to encourage attitudes of inclusion. The real daily challenge lies for management to ensure that team leaders in the organisation are themselves inclusive and enlist others to be so on a daily basis. This means to actively enlist all team members in relevant meetings and engage in active listening, while encouraging different points of view.
In our new socially isolated world, it is even more important, to stay focused on maintaining inclusion, particularly if the expectation is that the staff will continue to be productive moving forward. In today’s highly sophisticated technical world, there is no excuse for exclusion. This means structuring online meetings, allocating resources and using language that advances inclusion. Employees need to see that inclusive behaviour is a core competency.
It is a constant and daily challenge to ensure inclusion and it requires effort and care to ensure real equality for work places. It is not about a final victory but about being present daily to everyone in the organisation who each have a right to to be respected and heard. Putting the missing pieces back in the puzzle and having a place in the organisational flow chart would be a very good start – even if it is at the bottom of the page.