Get Ready for a Culture Shift in the Workplace
Culture is the way we do things around here, wherever here happens to be. For many of us practicing physical distancing, that place has been our homes for the past month or so. By all accounts, COVID-19 or Coronavirus has changed our world in many ways, some of which have yet to be determined. As leaders and business owners, we need to be ready for, dare I say it, “The new normal.” There is no doubt that like 9/11 and the economic crash of 2008, our nation and our world will change. But we will bounce back. Soon the “new normal” will be, well, just normal. Yet, not every organization or leader will be able to make the transition successfully. If you are a leader, here are a few tips to help you manage diversity and inclusion in the workplace for employees returning to work after COVID-19.
- Consider a back to work transition plan now that will help reorient people to working in the office after coronavirus. Don’t just expect people to produce in the office as if COVID19 never happened. Working from home requires a different discipline and different types of workflow. You will need to transition people for the work at home culture back to the office culture.Social distancing is not a very accurate term for what people are practicing during this global pandemic. If you are like me, you have become more socially connected with people between ZOOM, my family, and social media. Communication and connections are up for some people. People have expressed to me that they are reaching out using video and other technology more than they thought possible. While we may not be able to experience physical touch, virtual connections are still there. Some are experiencing connection fatigue because some of the natural breaks and barriers are no longer there. I have worked from home for years, and I have battled with setting boundaries to separate “me time” from “work time.” With more of my team working from home, I see that emails and phone calls are happening at times most people would normally be off work. People are uber-connected and uber fatigued because working from home means they are engaged more. The old cultural boundaries have shifted and will need to be reintroduced or revamped.What you can do now: Set clear and flexible work from home procedures with the understanding that int the office, there are many breaks, transitions, and water talks that break up the day. Be flexible and realistic.
Consider making counseling or training available to your staff. The emotional strain of the COVID-19 pandemic for some can mimic the symptoms of grief. Don’t ignore the emotional strain physical distancing and cultural change has had on people. Realize that some of your workers may live in abusive or toxic situations that were exacerbated by the various shelter in place orders. Supervisors need to recognize the stages of grief and understand how they may impact team members. If your organization has an employee assistance plan (EAP), make sure you remind your workers about the available benefits they have.Some of your workers will have lost family members, retirement savings, relationships, businesses, and opportunities because of the shutdown. Maybe you or your leadership team have faced the same losses. COVID-19 has caused us to lose many important components of our lives. We must be sensitive to the grief process as leaders. There are five stages of grief. Some folks will get stuck during the stages; some will move through the stages very quickly. Some will face grief in several areas at once. The five stages are:
- Denial—This can’t be happening.
- Anger—I am so mad, and I need someone or something to blame.
- Bargaining—If we only had done something differently. We should have seen this coming.
- Depression—Feelings of sadness, retreat, and regret.
- Acceptance—Coping and pivoting to the new normal.
What you can do now: Check-in with your staff. See what challenges they are facing. Contact a mental health professional and have them do a webinar or online break with your staff. Send your staff a wellness tip sheet with information on how to stay healthy at home.
- Set clear organizational expectations as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The transition means people are moving from, in some cases, a non-diverse home culture, back to a diverse and inclusive workplace. Don’t wait until things blow up. As part of your back to work reorientation address the potential areas of conflict that could lead to problems in your workplace.There is no doubt that COVID-19 has further highlighted the divisions in our country. Organizations that want to be productive and who want to thrive after we begin to relax physical distancing and allow larger gatherings cannot ignore the real and perceived identity-based divisions that have emerged during this crisis. Here are a few of my observations that could be disruptive:
- Xenophobia—there may be cases where Asian people are blamed for the virus or are considered carriers. There are reports that people in Japan and China are blaming Africans or blacks for spreading the disease. Xenophobia will impact how we work and engage with each other.
- Political ideology—there is a significant divide between republicans, democrats, and independents on the cause of the virus, the impact of the virus, and the response to the virus. No matter your political view, the reality is we all must deal with the consequences together. Remember, anger is one of the stages of grief. Deal with the real-life impact COVID-19 is having with your team and organization, not whose political party is better.
- Racism—some studies have shown that the virus has been more deadly to African Americans and Hispanics. That does not mean that other groups are not impacted or that all lives are not equal. Neither you nor your organization can solve years of systemic oppression and discrimination that has occurred in this country. You can focus on how you lead and the systems in your organization.
- Be empathetic
- Practice culture competency in your workplace
- Ensure equal access to information and benefits
- Examine your current policies and procedures for implicit bias
- Audit your workforce to ensure you are practicing diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels.
- Ensure at-risk groups have the appropriate safety gear and other protections in place (this means EVERYONE should have these protections in place). It is about elevating everyone.
- Accessibility—be mindful of workers and clients with special physical, or other needs. If they are working from home, ask yourself, “Can they access information, and do workers have the tools they need?” When you make accommodations, make sure you review both HIPAA and ADA guidelines with your HR department.
As more people work from home and meet via video conference, be mindful of your content delivery. Can older clients get online? What accommodations are you making for those with hearing and visual challenges? Can people dial into video chat? As we figure out how to deliver our goods and services during and post COVID19, we consider our team members and our clients.
What you can do now: Remind workers about the diversity and inclusion expectations of your organization. You may even want to review your social media policies during this time. Firewalls that exist in the office don’t exist at home. You don’t want an offensive quarantine TikTok video or social media post costing your employees and you. Some employees may need extra training since many are spending extra time online. There is never a good time to ignore workplace cultural competency.
- Get your offices sanitized regularly. Get with your janitorial team and see what type of disinfection services they can provide. Also, you may want to provide hand sanitizer and masks after COVID-19 in your office as part of the new normal. It will be important that we all practice good hygiene, such as hand washing, wearing masks if we have to work when we have a cold, and staying home if we are sick.One culture shift that will impact us all will be the importance of health. Reassure your staff that coming to work does not mean compromising one’s health or the health of others. Considering accessibility, the inclusion of workers and clients with special physical or other needs, you may have to be extra “clean” with your products. Immuno-compromised staff may need sanitized work areas. Until we have a cure or vaccine for COVID-19, health and hygiene are going to be priority items as we interact with clients, as workers come into the office, and as you deliver products. When making accommodations be sure to review both HIPAA and ADA guidelines.What you can do now: Help employees set up a clean workspace. If employees handle sensitive data, make sure they “clean-up” their home workspace to keep confidential information out of the wrong hands, off the camera, and off a “hot-mic.” Give the tools they need to work safely from home.
- Apologize if you made mistakes. The transition into physical distancing was a big unknown. Guilt will not help you or the organization move forward. Communicate with staff and customers to mend broken relationships or undo the harm of decisions made amid chaos. Don’t dismiss the damage. Own your mistakes, apologize, and make things right as we embrace the new normal.Saying that chaos and uncertainty impacted us all would be an understatement. COVID-19 rocked our world. The nation was not prepared for the length of the shutdown or its impact. Some companies took on the transition like champions. Other companies sank like rocks. The economic stimulus package provided some relief, and employers that fired staff our shutdown were able to reopen. There may be hard feelings when we start getting back to normal. Going back to the grief cycle, many of us may be looking at the mistakes we made while others are pointing out blame for our decisions.What you can do now: You can apologize. It is never too early to right wrongs. Pick up the phone or get on a video chat.
There will be life after the lockdown. In this environment, cultural competence will be an essential business leadership skill. Post COVID-19 leaders will need to know how culture and identity will impact the workforce and their clients. The ability to shift and respond to cultural changes will ultimately determine if survive, thrive, or fade away post lockdown. Some of us, as leaders, will have to embrace new identities and employ more inclusive practices as we hope to stay relevant in the 21st century.
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