Three steps to build an inclusive workplace fit for the future

With the instability of the economy resulting in new challenges and new workplace trends, what employees are looking for now more than anything, is an organisation that takes an active role in listening to and adapting to their needs within the workplace.

It’s a well known fact that when people have a flexible work environment, it creates a much better work-life balance and makes people feel less stressed and much happier. Happier people are know to be more productive and be able to preform better. But what does ‘flexibility’ truly mean. It can mean different things for different people, and it is up to the organisation to be agile and provide room to their employees to make it their own.

The pandemic increase the use of hybrid and remote working models across different industries. As recent ONS data shows, employees continue to seek flexibility and work-life balance even after being able to return to the office. One in six continue to operate from home all week, while a quarter of workers prefer a mixture of office-based and home-based activity.

In addition to this, the pandemic has irreversibly increased awareness around worker wellbeing. Recent research from leading HR software developer MHR, for instance, found that 60% of employees place importance on their company offering mental health support to their workers. Meanwhile, 83% of UK HR professionals agreed that companies have a better chance of recruiting top talent if they offer hybrid working options or a demonstrably supportive approach to wellbeing.

While there are several new workplace trends that we hear about every single day, including the most recent ‘4-day week campaign’, it is important to remember that ways of working continue to evolve, and it is imperative to test new initiatives, collect feedback and see how things play out. What works for one organisation, may not necessarily work for another.

The main elements of building a workplace that successfully takes these developments in its stride – mutual trust and active listening, embracing true flexibility, inclusion and building a sense of community in the workplace.

Design a work-model built on active listening and mutual trust.

The intentionality of being together is what differentiates the way we are working today and, in the future, than in the past. Companies need to bring people together – virtually or on-site not just because it happens to be a certain day of the week but for a larger purpose – to brainstorm, accomplish a task, share ideas, connect and build relationships.

It may be surprising, but many people are anxious about coming to the office  after a long gap. To ease employees back into the system, organisations are actively embracing hybrid work models that provide unprecedented flexibility and choice, one that is built on mutual trust between the employers and the employee. Flexible organisations trust their employees and provide them the opportunity to choose, where and how they deliver their work goals.

They actively listen to and create an environment that allows employees to thrive and do their best at work. Employee-centric culture is rooted in listening to employees’ needs and adapting policies and practices. Active listening therefore plays a key role in building a supportive employee-first culture, particularly during periods of economic uncertainty.

Two-way conversations are essential to establish a trusting relationship. Informal catchups over food and events bring people together. When that is not possible, leaders need to be aware and intentional about connecting with their teams and make sure they are being inclusive. For example, getting to know new employees is not as simple as it used to be, so team leaders need to make focussed efforts to build connections to get to know team members intimately.

Embracing true ‘flexibility’  as the cornerstone of the workplace experience.

Flexibility is personal. There’s flexibility of place, day and time.  Flexibility of place is where work happens.  Flexibility of day is day of the week.  And flexibility of time is about hours.  Many organizations are exploring combinations of all of these.  Flexibility of hours was the original flexibility in the workplace.

We know that the 5-day work week is a thing of the past, but hybrid is and will be the future. Coming to office doesn’t necessarily need to mean a 9am – 5pm day. For someone, it might mean, being able to drop their child to school, come to office and then leave to pick them up again. Empowering employees to share stories and experiences about what flexibility means for them and providing them with the agility to exercise their options is  true flexibility. Providing key projects that teams can brainstorm and work on together is another effective way to bring people back to office.

Even “solo contributors” (those who don’t manage others) work in conjunction with others. That means when considering the place and timing of work you also have to take into account other people.  When, where and how you work it is not only a conversation between the employee and manager, but also about listening and trust between the team members that you collaborate and connect with.  At Pitney Bowes, we have multiple examples of teams/functions that have designated times to come together to work.

Continue building an inclusive workplace and sense of community.

Organic conversations that used to take place around the watercooler or over lunch are not possible in the same way. Organisations and leaders now need to adopt a more considered approach to including employees. Remembering that there are people at the other end of an email or message, is important, and requires practice. It is all too easy, to get caught up in completing a task at hand, that we often forget to make a more personal authentic connection.

For a high-performing organisation, the secret sauce is culture. It is the only sure shot way to attract high-potential talent. At Pitney Bowes, we believe in doing the right thing, the right way. Treating people in the way that we wish to be treated is the cornerstone of blending culture with talent.

We seek to reinforce our diverse culture by encouraging employees to voice their opinions on topics that matter the most to them. Discussions on subjects such as mental health or gender-specific health issues, such as menopause, not only help debunk myths around these sensitive topics, but also to empower employees to feel confident to discuss issues openly and seek the support they need.

Looking ahead

For any organisation, ‘productivity is key’, ultimately, what you’re trying to create is the best environment to get the work done given the person’s role and responsibilities.  That is why “one size” doesn’t fit all, varying for individuals and functions.  Some work requires “quiet time” for writing, analysis, research, while other work requires collaboration and input of others.  At Pitney Bowes, we’re seeking to provide the best place for optimal performance given the work that employees are responsible for.

A few years ago, it was impossible to imagine a fully remote workforce being effective. Yet, with the pandemic, we were able to make great strides in working from anywhere without hampering productivity. What came out from the pandemic was employees’ need for purpose and balance. Those changes are here to stay.

Companies can no longer be transactional; they need to create personalised experiences for employees to feel happy and fulfilled. To win the hearts of employees today, companies not only need to provide challenging work, growth opportunities and an inclusive culture, they need to highlight their efforts as global citizens and their commitment to a broader set of societal issues.

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