The world of work has changed; why inclusion matters in the new, modern workplace

Inclusion in the Workplace

Caroline Arnold is a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at EW Group, specialising in equality, diversity, and inclusion, as well as unconscious bias.

You may wonder why inclusion matters in the workplace, so let me tell you a story. Years ago, if you had a meeting, perhaps with the team, your boss, or even an interview with a recruiter, you could be certain it would take place in the office; in a meeting room, both out of sight and earshot of anyone else.

This has drastically changed over the past decade, with the rise in open workspace, co-working, and flexible or hybrid working. Often, the local coffee shop or café with decent Wi-Fi will be the meeting point. Many of us have been known to nurse a coffee for hours, treating the place as an office itself.

Much more recently, due to the coronavirus pandemic, remote working has been thrust into the spotlight, and the office is now your living room, dining room, or kitchen – and it looks like this is set to continue. Your housemates or family are likely to be around, but as everyone is in the same boat, through necessity it is now an accepted part of modern work; this is the new co-working.

One consequence of this shift is how those private conversations – the interviews, the appraisals, the performance reviews – are now being had (and heard) in far fewer formal spaces. This is why inclusion matters in the workplace.

(Lack of) inclusion in the world of co-working

I can distinctly remember two exchanges from working with others around. One was a disciplinary meeting between a manager and an employee, in a booth in a shared corridor. The other was a series of job interviews held face-to-face in an open lounge area, with various other people busily working around them.

These are not uncommon scenarios, and even now, with the ‘co-working’ of working from home, perhaps with your housemates’ appraisals, or your partner’s interviews, such would-be confidential meetings are taking place in an open space, with all to hear. This has some real implications from an inclusion point of view.

Why inclusion matters in the workplace

Inclusive recruitment

Interview candidates may feel exposed and unable to talk openly about themselves, their background, and what they can bring to the new role. It can make them feel uneasy about sharing information when it comes to probing questions; yet another reason why inclusion matters in the workplace.

For those who become extremely anxious about interviews, it only adds an extra layer of stress and worry. Clearly, this would put these candidates at a possible disadvantage from the start, and fail to provide a platform for truly inclusive recruitment.

Inclusive talent management

For existing employees, no HR or 1:1 manager and employee meetings should be held in an open and public forum. The ‘private booths’ you see in shared offices rarely are private. And it is highly likely that at least one person on the Zoom call isn’t able to find a space with no one in earshot.

This again adds extra stress to an employee who is there to discuss a private matter, especially if they have been building up to approaching you about a problem or concern. Knowing people are around, able to hear what they have to say and see their emotions, is highly stressful and likely to reduce the likelihood of a real, open conversation. Furthermore, stress in the workplace is proven to impact a business’s productivity and bottom line.

If it’s a performance review, a potentially emotive conversation should never happen where an employee feels vulnerable and open. Managers must be aware of their employee’s dignity and mental wellbeing.

Let’s not hinder workplace inclusion with the new normal

The aforementioned conversations should always be arranged in a private room where the risk of being overheard and disrupted is negated. And in the new normal, this will require some clever calendar booking, to ensure privacy in the home environment, but it is worth taking the extra time to be mindful of this and to book them in correctly.

If we do not get this right, we risk employees (or potential recruits) not being honest and open about their challenges, concerns, or even aspirations. It is especially of concern for private matters, where not only can a passer-by to the meeting be a problem, but in the new world of screen sharing and work messaging, a rogue screen share could reveal confidential information.

So why inclusion matters in the workplace has a great deal to do with the need for a degree of confidentiality. A major part of creating an inclusive workplace is to root out overt discrimination and often more greatly embedded unconscious bias. Staff must be allowed the ability to privately raise concerns to allow for this to happen, something co-working and homeworking environments could be hindering.

Six top tips for being inclusive in a co-working environment

Hopefully, it is now clear why inclusion matters in the workplace. Here are my tips for maintaining inclusivity in a co-working environment:

  1. Always book a private room (whether in the office or at home) for meetings such as performance reviews, 1:1s or private discussions. If you have access to a quiet space at home, you can avoid being interrupted or distracted by family or housemates
  2. Do not conduct face-to-face interviews in an open co-working environment or if privacy cannot be guaranteed at home for virtual meetings
  3. Be aware of having conversations overheard which could be considered sensitive
  4. Think about your brand; in a co-working environment, people will be coming and going all the time – remember these could be your clients, customers, or competitors
  5. Think about the well-being of the individuals you’re meeting with; ask yourself how comfortable or awkward you might feel having this conversation in an open forum
  6. Undergo inclusion training; this will provide much more in-depth advice, and increase a business’s awareness of how to be more inclusive

To learn more about healthy habits for working remotely, make sure to see our working from home guide. Diversity and inclusion have never been so far up the agenda. And with the unprecedented challenges – including remote working, financial and employment insecurity, and uncertainty – caused by the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that organisations prioritise inclusion. EW Group has almost thirty years of experience in building more inclusive organisations. Chat to our team to explore how you can progress your inclusion journey through diversity and inclusion training, conducting a diversity audit, or leadership coaching.

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