Yeah, I’m Abha Thakor and I’m delighted to be at WordFest 2021. And to talk to you about inclusion and communications in the world of remote working.
Thanks for joining me today in whatever time zone it might be for you as you watch this.
I’m based in the UK. And my professional background is in communications, project management and tech,
who would have thought two years ago that we would be United around the world by the effects of a fast bedding virus in this talk. I’ve divided it into four sections and I hope it will help you work even more positively with your teams and together ensure that we’re protecting inclusion in our working environments.
And more importantly, that we’re supporting those people who have been particularly affected by COVID and its impact.
Let’s start with exploring remote, working in what is now the long haul for many of us, the impact of coronavirus has been around for almost a year. And for some of our colleagues for even longer back in 2019, I like many of you could spend much of my time traveling for work. Frequently attending meetings locally or in other parts of the country and being involved with conferences and events and other parts of the world then came 2020.
Our ability to travel frequently within all countries, let alone abroad was suddenly halted overnight. We were subject to restrictions imposed by governments and public health bodies to try and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 infection. A global pandemic, unprecedented in our lifetimes with massive restrictions and numerous lockdowns work and basic travel for many of us has changed working lives and not just in the short term.
We are in a changed environment in some countries, workers were and are being instructed to only attend workplaces. If it was impossible to work from home, sometimes a difficult decision to decide for large numbers of people. Home became not only a place where you lived, ate, slept, and shared with those in your household.
It became for many, their entire world. It may now be the only place that we can carry on our means of earning a living connected to a former working life by the internet when it works and the mobile phone, when there’s a signal and with a bit of good luck, constant electricity. Bedrooms kitchens, corners and garden sheds all these and more have become temporary offices in homes across the world.
Most face-to-face interaction with fellow commuters, work colleagues, clients, and suppliers just came to an end. Some of us became confined in indoor spaces with no opportunity for being outdoors. Many were separated from family and support structures. And others found themselves living in makeshift conditions to protect family members who are at greater risk with pre-existing health conditions.
For those who are used to working from home or working for distributed company, where they could do that, the change may not have been as big, but even for this group, The loss of shared office spaces, working in coffee houses and interaction with colleagues, at least sometimes it’s still a loss and will have had an effect.
All the pressure that we have from this unexpected crisis has an effect on our wellbeing, how we support our teams and our colleagues. Decides how much of an effect that has
as we start 2021 with face, not only with pressure on our health services from COVID 19, but also a growing toll on the mental health and our nations, the impacts on the physical and mental wellbeing of people across the world is heading to what is expected to become a crisis of its own. In addition to the number of actual COVID infections, as you’ll see on the screen, this is just one example.
It’s currently being reported that nearly 6 million of the UK citizens, that’s roughly one in 10, and now being prescribed antidepressant medication. This is a pattern with similarities across the globe.
This statistic should be a wake up call as remote working becomes routine, this new normal, or what is being described as routine remote working has a downside. If left unaddressed, it can cause greater harm and damage on top of the effect of COVID. The social and public health crisis also impacts on our economies, people of a lifeblood of our industries, businesses and community organizations, widespread damage to our people.
Capital is not only a disaster on a humanitarian level, but to our businesses and livelihood too. This makes it even more critical that employers and team managers, we remember the importance of that people and our people during the pandemic, many countries have useful templates and guidelines, which can be used to help you consider how to incorporate good communication and positive practices.
I’ll share at the end of this, talk a link to an expanding resource of suggested resources and some of which were also involved in supporting let’s consider inclusion.
I’m a strong advocate for inclusion in the workplace. But I find the term. It’s not always as widely understood around the world and in the pandemic, it is often being lost in the battle for organizational survival. Put simply inclusion is a principle which seeks to allow every individual equal treatment and equal opportunity.
To enjoy an employment for which they may be suited without discrimination, barriers, or any other unfair treatment.
It means employers making adaptations when necessary to allow this to happen. Inclusion in your work team means making no differentiation between people. Based on things such as gender, physical attributes, disability, sexuality, and many other factors. It means making it possible for someone to succeed in a role rather than facing structures and organizations, which create reasons why they can’t.
This is not advocating, employing everyone who applied for a job. The skills required by the job has to be present, or at least the applicant machete the capacity for developing those skills and for delivering. But it is about the employer trying to provide the best environment possible for those skills to be fully developed and to put into practice for mutual benefit.
Inclusion is good. The business inclusion actually practiced and not just paid lip. Service is good for organizations and good for their people. It helps build organizational resilience and reputation particularly important in this current pandemic. It helps attract skill talent, and increases staff commitment and retention at a time when a lot of people are moving jobs and unsure about the future, a good inclusive environment can help you keep that talented staff.
It helps to remove barriers to employment. Thinking inclusion will help you spot where colleagues may be facing barriers caused by the pandemic. It can also help get pull back into suitable work quicker and reduce related costs. Research across the world has shown that employers with existing equality action plans have been able to respond quickly and positively to new challenges.
This is no less true in this pandemic. We need to maintain diverse and inclusive workforces. They good for business. And for the future of work, in whatever direction it takes, how we support and understand how to protect that diversity and inclusion is even more important in this new remote working environment.
It has been a long and sometimes painful journey to get this principle of inclusion, widely adopted, and some jurisdictions employment laws have been passed to cover specific aspects of workplace inclusion. It’s not always been sustained into real life working environments. And in the times of crisis response, some organizations have ended up dropping or ignoring inclusion in the name of responding fast to change and the unknown, the COVID star remote working we’re now in research has shown a greater focus on leaving employees to just get the job done.
In whatever ever environment they can with often little thought about the space, equipment, access and cost of internet and data usage,
particularly the suitability and affordability of these areas in a long running pandemic. Sometimes this is not intentional, but the longer term effect on physical and mental wellbeing of staff will have a cost and damage, which organizations and individuals may not be able to recover from. It is likely to have greater costs on wider industry, society and healthcare too.
And in many places already is. It’s all too easy for employers to look at the overhead saved and office space and the associated obligations. And to think when it comes to homeworking the phrase, it’s your home, set it up and operate as you wish, cc’s their responsibility and interest. So in this new normal, are we in danger of ignoring?
The benefits of inclusion and diversity. The more we fragment the workforce in organizations, which are not properly equipped for this type of crisis response in remote working the greater the danger of doing so now, just as we need to consider the individuality of our employees and contractors to ensure inclusiveness.
We need to recognize and a crisis such as the current one, each person will be affected to a different degree in different ways and we’ll respond accordingly
proportionate impact. This is probably one of the biggest challenges that we have in our workplace. And understanding it and supporting our colleagues is the way that we will succeed and get through the crisis together. The pandemic will have a greater impact on some of your team members and contractors than others.
This is Milt about how bright, skilled, dedicated, or even responsive a person might be, but how they are experiencing what is happening and how they are reacting to it. The impact may be short-lived a co with limited notice or result in longer support needs.
there may be specific communications and other work related needs that team members or contractors may need to raise. If the pandemic is affecting them disproportionately more than others, we need to be open to having those conversations. Many of the issues people are experiencing may have been unforeseen.
For example, for those who’ve come back from maternity leave, have a disability or pre-existing health condition and ethnicity, which means that Corona virus could affect them more. Seriously. Those would care responsibilities and those subject to isolation or restrictions on movement. All these people will experience a disproportionate impact on their availability and what may be possible at one moment in time
taking matters like this into account needs to be part of your people management and business continuity planning. But they should never be used as a way of criticizing, excluding or subjecting people to the fear of repercussions. We’re already hearing reports that in some environments, that is the case, and we need to avoid that and learn how to be more supportive of all of our teams.
The change working environment for people in general, which can be heightened for those affected disproportionately can have an impact on wellbeing, mental health, and employees, or contract disability at a particular time to carry out their task.
Heard of many examples of staff, uh, contractors facing difficulties from the impact of the pandemic on their working environments.
Could we be more understanding? Can we actually look at what might have been a disproportionate impact and see how little adjustments could be made to make the working environment more positive and helpful?
Even if you don’t have the capacity to manage on an individual basis or on a small team basis, then systems and training can be put into place to help and support
And it’s not just employers who need to think and check their mindset as remote workers, managing contractors or employers. We have a particular responsibility to really think about the impact it may have had and what might need to be reasonable and helpful to get a good result for everybody. The need to invest in our workforce.
Has if anything increased due to COVID-19.
This is where positive homeworking planning can really make a difference. Managing homeworking, both as individuals or team management needs to have an awareness of the dangers for productivity, both the creatives and others in tech. This is not just from the risk of a nearby coffee maker and the TV.
It’s also the potential long-term strain on team members who are working in makeshift arrangements whilst trying to balance homeschooling or care needs, locked down, restrictions affecting everyone in their household and limited availability of working space and internet access.
Workers have commented that the so-called freedom to work from home is in fact, creating more barriers, not less. They site the limited access to equipment, lack of guidance and safe working practices amongst other things. What we need to remember is that not all team members may have access to the knowledge of what needs doing to protect that physical health when they’re working in makeshift arrangements or how to manage their time and priorities when working remotely from others and in the absence of what would have been in-person management support.
Home is not easy for everyone. There are a downside of remote working heightened by the pandemic and highlighted in research across the world. A sense of social isolation, lack of motivation at times, maybe the pressure to deliver as a one person operation. All the difficulties of keeping in touch with colleagues and work flows when part of a wider organization
and intention, and not always easy to ascertain via email chat and text those a long history of unintentional conflict and misunderstandings arising out of how an email has been interpreted. Without the context provided by tone inflection or even a rye personal smile on delivery. An email or chat message may actually not have the message.
It is intended to have conveyed
those who struggle with nuance and inferred, meaning in everyday life, such as those on the autistic spectrum. Find that even harder to work with in this environment. However many teams are now managing work so solely through these technologies or continuous video meetings often no time is set aside between meetings to do delegated actions or take any kind of screen break.
Let alone process. The underlying factors in a communication emerges are an attempt to replace this human connection, but they can only fill that gap so far and have an inherent ambiguity, which is not understood by all. In our offices, we’re more likely to be encouraged, to observe regular screen breaks and avoid sitting in the same position, belonged periods of time.
All of these things are important for our longterm good health and wellbeing. But for many at home, working on laptops and devices sitting cramped on staircases or dining tables, which have become the norm, the multi-screen economic environment may just not be possible. And it’s not as common as the world might think.
And for many of the expense and the lack of space makes these things impossible. And the global research we’re undertaking at non-stop business support. Along with others, we find this is too common example. We’re expanding this research data to help employers address the situation and to support clinicians who are reporting increases in hand, shoulder and back issues from these makeshift working arrangements.
If you can assist with this. We’ll share a survey at the end of this talk,
the tech community and your organization can help. This is where the WordPress community can make a difference through sharing awareness and better workplace practices. Organizations like big orange heart, which you can support through this word Fest conference, uh, providing some of the support that will be needed the longer the pandemic continues.
Of course, neither it, the open source community itself all are equipped to deal directly with personal issues that might require specialist professional attention. But what they can do is help signpost appropriately. They can help encourage discussions and they can show people new ways of working more positively and inclusively.
Organizations need to take positive steps to facilitate homeworking. Good. Two way. Communication has to be upfront and center wants dispersed. Your workers will need to know exactly what is required of them, how they alter deliver any timeframes which may apply given what I’ve already said about inclusion, those responsible for delegating or overseeing work.
Need to recognize that a one size fits all type of generic communication may not be the best way of doing this, knowing your people is essential even more. So now, if you don’t know the people with whom you have direct contact or never bothered to get to know them, Then try where you can to do so and keep that door open to those.
Who’ve had a disproportionate impact from the effect of this pandemic while the key priorities is to adapt your messaging appropriately for those working for you and with you as with good practice in normal times. Take into account that there will be people who have thinking patterns or maybe neurodiverse who may require you to give your instructions in a particular way.
When isolated at home, such workers may be missing. The sense of routine and structures provided by an office environment may feel anxious and insecure. You may find yourself working remotely with a colleague whose particular approach might be different to yours. It’s something of a paradox that the very technology which allows remote participation and therefore in theory, greater accessibility can also act as an electronic prison through which these behavioral and cognitive differences can appear to be magnified.
And that brings us on to our next section.
In this section, we’re going to talk about the area of unconscious bias and how we can reduce the risks. Yeah. COVID many organizations have started to use AI artificial intelligence. These developments will also need to refocus. On how AI can support and enhance the new normal of work and remote working.
One of the issues encountered in the evolution of AI is the risk of introducing unconscious bias from those creating, designing, or inputting into processes and systems without adequate testing and understanding of the processes created or influenced by AI. We can be at risk of them creating or reinforcing biases we seek to avoid.
We don’t have time to go through this issue in a lot of detail today. But it’s important to raise for when we’re designing systems, making assumptions based on someone else’s performance or delivery in the workplace and remembering that disproportionate impact, maybe not realized in algorithms, automation or manual data capture when we’re using those tools.
Unconscious bias is what words and actions are influenced by specific cultural backgrounds and experience belief, systems and education, both formal and informal. Those influences can lead to an unintentional, unconscious discrimination. Well bias against those whose backgrounds, beliefs, educational experiences, and any other factors such as neurodiverse thinking, which may not necessarily align with a majority viewpoint in an organization was not always present in all environments.
An office or a communal workplace should aim to provide the kind of level inclusive playing field, which I’ve been outlining through this talk. This is not necessarily possible in a homeworking environment where access to a computer and its capability, internet speed and connectivity and working spaces may not be available in the same way as they might be in an office location or coworking space.
With the increasing leanings towards using AI processes for managing workflow and staffing, we can unintentionally magnify a number of unconscious biases often found in the workplace concerned bias, for example, is where people can assume the others are similar to them in their thinking, feeling and lifestyle.
Access to resources and suitable workspaces is likely to be different amongst the team, working in makeshift arrangements at home or where they are required to isolate.
There are also differences in the challenges that they may face in those home environments. With competing demands on their retention, ranging from homeschooling limited access to outside space or difficulty in covering basic needs. Like food shopping in general, attribution bias issues are more likely to appear.
And the current environment where a person may associate any failure and performance for a work colleague to bead you solely. To their lack of ability, rather than thinking about the factors and the circumstances around them and the effect that they may be having this lack of understanding and people centered analysis can creep into automation and AI processes created for monitoring performance and delivery.
It needs to be checked. It can also give rise to support actions, which don’t grasp the actual issue, which might be that a team player has been disproportionately affected or is in the recovery period from the virus. And through making small adjustments, talking with your team, it can really make a positive difference.
The possibility of unconscious bias is something we need to guard against, especially in our commitment to true inclusion. AI can also be used to help reduce the chances of unconscious bias. The key is an inclusion being better understood in teams and organizations. And that this understanding runs through, into the systems and processes that are built and fundamentally how we work and understand our colleagues.
Let’s move into our final section, positive productivity.
I finished with a challenge. We may not be able to control how COVID-19 continues to affect our working lives in some ways, but each and every one of us can make sure it’s consequences are not used as an excuse for anyone to evade their responsibilities, to those whom they employ. Whether it’s staff or contractors, or to negatively affect how we work together with our fellow colleagues,
understanding and listening to people in all the ways that we’ve looked at through this talk is how we can push forward on positive productivity. We can protect the hard one, right of inclusiveness, diversity, and equality, where they exist and build on them for the future. By putting people in our workforce first, the success will follow.
Let’s not allow COVID 19. To undo the equality and inclusive work that has happened over decades. Let’s turn it into a more positive impact for everybody. Thank you.
We’ll be sharing the resources and how you can take part in the research with non-stop business support and our colleagues. On the link that’s on the slide and also be taking questions. I do hope you found this useful and I’d welcomed an opportunity to talk to your organizations about how we could actually make a difference and really make our work environments more inclusive.
Thank you. And thank you to WordFest live for putting on this conference and supporting so many of our remote workers.