Written by Bianca Baldo
All things change, and we change with them – this Chinese Proverb rings true for me in a post-COVID-19 work environment. In recent times, our definition of work and working conditions has shifted to adjust to the new reality of social distance and workplace safety. It has blurred the lines between work and private spaces, highlighting new opportunities, challenges, and solutions that must consider familial constraints, mental health strains, exclusion, inequality, and economic uncertainty.
Throughout this process, these solutions will need to reflect diversity, inclusion, and equity, which in turn will affect the overall health and prosperity of the workplace. It presents a unique opportunity to rethink traditional norms and how the present model of working from 9-5 in an office affects various employees differently. In some cases, this model exasperates existing inequalities in society.
Can bias limit innovation and growth?
The current workplace model needs to change, but we carry unconscious biases that might limit our ability to see beyond our own perspective and reducing our problem-solving capacities. These biases exclude innovative thoughts outside of the established norm by promoting a one type fits all approach to scheduling and work locations. The restrictive approach fails to consider how innovative practices can have a positive impact on the way people negotiate work/life constraints and how the workplace can successfully grow and benefit from embracing different perspectives, visions, and ideas. Using a GBA+ approach can be a powerful tool to bring about more positive workplace conditions that reflect the actual workforce and its needs. For more information on GBA+, intersectionality, and identity factors, come check out my recent article Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+): Helping facilitate successful meetings.
Can COVID-19 and the She-session affect your bottom line?
Understanding the economic impacts of COVID-19 from a GBA+ perspective, and what type of employment conditions will best promote and retain the brightest and most competent workforce during these times can be the difference between a failed or successful transition.
Research undertaken by Statistics Canada shows that women’s experience is still being shaped by their caregiving roles and/or their employers’ presumptions of these roles. Issues such as affordability of childcare, single care responsibilities, personal or family reasons are often cited as reasons why women tend to leave the job market more often than men. These trends are multiplied by the recent wave of layoffs and self-removal by women themselves to tend to family matters. We have seen from recent studies that COVID is affecting women, particularly racialized groups, newcomer communities, Indigenous women, and those with disabilities.
“We know from our studies in the past, women continue to disproportionately carry the burden of caring labour and domestic labor at home…Many of these women leaving the labour force will be involved in childcare and homeschooling. Others will be caring for relatives who are ill.“ (Andrea Gunraj CTV news)
These findings point to the double burden being experienced by parents and caregivers during the pandemic, and this is amplified by identity factors such as gender, age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic, and others. Meaning that members of the workforce are particularly vulnerable to burnout, mental health concerns, and absenteeism and could benefit from targeted support to counter these burdens.
By adopting a GBA+, diversity, and inclusion perspective to workplace and schedule flexibility, you can set policies that best support your diverse workforce. Ultimately, increasing your chance to attract and retain talented employees regardless of their diverse identities. Also, strategically positioning your business in a competitive advantage by being at the forefront of innovative human resources. By implementing alternative work arrangements, you can maximize employee happiness, efficiency, and growth.
Growing beyond COVID-19 – Best practices to equitable work environments and schedules.
1. Inclusive communication for success.
As the saying goes:
“Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand. – North American Indigenous proverb – Tribe Unknown”.
Workplaces that engage in frequent and inclusive communication with their workforce are more likely to adopt practices that best support the attraction and retention of qualified people. An inclusive communication approach engages your workplace, creates opportunities to share and understand different unseen barriers, and develops alternatives in partnership with others. Consider employee input early and be open to adopting flexible solutions based on feedback received.
Importantly, there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all, and understanding the diversity in your workplace through consultation and engagement will go along way to finding solutions that support employee wellness, innovation, and growth.
2. Promotion of flexible working environment catered towards diversity factors.
Based on our commitment to GBA+, inclusion, and diversity, Intersol Group has been exploring different workplace models, working environments, and schedules that come with different benefits and challenges to different employees faced with diverse family-work balance issues.
Working from home.
One interesting effect of the current pandemic is that it has normalized the idea of working from home. We are seeing great flexibility and creativity in problem-solving relating to work arrangements.
Working from home has many benefits, including better work/life balance as fewer hours are wasted on commute time and stress. Personally, I have appreciated this gained time to prepare home-cooked meals for my children and eat together as a family.
It also has an advantage towards increased inclusivity, as it means that HR has access to a large pool of candidates regardless of the physical location of the office. A diverse workforce brings light and new solutions to old problems, encouraging innovation, and industry best practices.
Working from your home and office with safety considerations.
As we move out of social confinement and the businesses kick start their activities, different hybrid solutions are being implemented to encourage working from home, while offering employees to transition back towards working in the office safely.
In the article: How to Prepare Yourself for a Return to the Office, Harvard Business Review highlights that
“Seventy percent of (participants) said that several factors are preventing them from wanting to return to work, with 51% citing fear of getting sick as their major worry.”
As a recap, there are various gender, race and ethnicity, and socioeconomic considerations at play from a managerial perspective.
- Fear of using public transportation and having no reliable solutions for childcare or homeschooling are real preoccupations when deciding whether or not to return to the office.
- Identity factors such as disability and mental wellness could be worth considering as it is harder for people to return to a physical space who experience high levels of anxiety about getting sick. Being aware of these barriers can best equip all involved to develop policies and practices that address these concerns.
- When appropriate and in partnership with those concerned, it is beneficial to create a personalized “return to work plan,” identifying key concerns and solutions.
- Another approach can be to promote flexibility and extend kindness to others. Everyone in your office will be negotiating a return to work at the same time; a little kindness goes a long way.
The hope is by sharing apprehensions, you can ensure a happy and healthy transition towards the office work environment. This process includes having conversations on the new rules and protocols surrounding the return to work. It may also identify that working from the office is not the right option, and accommodations based on identity factors are required.
Personally, it has been important to empower myself during the transition back to work. I started by identifying concerns and managing different responses to feelings and expectations. The feeling of being “lost in the familiar”- returning to an office environment that has become so different – may cause feelings of uneasiness, anxiety, and discomfort. A tip to navigating this transition includes paying attention to your different personal triggers, identifying your responses, and finding calm spaces where you feel safe
3. Scheduling for increased participation.
Forget the 5-9 week; focus on flexible working hours.
These days, individuals are looking for more flexibility in their workweek. Flexible scheduling options include re-organizing daily schedule to complement the other “life stuff” that must be done. These commitments include but are not limited to taking children to doctor’s appointments, caregiving needs, volunteering opportunities, or medical appointments. In this scenario, there are no requirements to be physically at a desk during specific times.
Performance evaluation is based on successfully providing the agreed-upon deliverables within the established timelines.
From a GBA+ perspective, it allows flexibility for people that would traditionally require to take time off or be absent from work to complete their other obligations. It also demonstrates a diversity openness as it recognizes and sets practices around the different constraints of the person to participate in work, and allows them to best decide how to meet deliverables within the allocated time. Personally, it has allowed me to maintain a vibrant career while being present at school and community functions when needed.
Compressed workweek – 4 days (35-40 hours).
As seen in recent news coverage across Canada, the compressed workweek and different employment working models have been gaining popularity. A compressed work schedule allows individuals to work a traditional 35-40-hour workweek in 4 instead of 5 days. As an example, the compressed workweek would allow a full-time employee to work four 10-hour days instead of five 7.5 -hour days. The main idea behind the compressed workweek is that it allows the employee to have additional flexibility and an extra day of rest, encouraging work-life balance. As there is no decrease in hours worked, it does not affect the annual income.
From a GBA+ perspective, identity factors such as gender, age, race, ethnicity, and disability need to be considered before implementing a compressed workweek. The compressed schedule allows people to concentrate activities on the extra day of rest during the week. It benefits workers that have limited care obligations, and that can dedicate the extra hours per day to complete their work.
The compressed week falls short for people negotiating heavy family obligations. The main constraint is that the individual must be available to work longer each day, including during hours that would traditionally be used to prepare food and provide care.
Based on the traditional gender division of labour, this can adversely impact young women, Indigenous, and racialized communities. For example, a single parent with young children may not be able to work during mealtime and bedtime.
We do not want to create new working inequality for those who cannot function within this schedule, ultimately making it harder for some employees, mostly women, but also men, who are providing care for family members. As well, there are financial considerations as this schedule entails daycare costs outside of standard hours of business.
4-day workweeks (30 hours).
The current exploration of best practices in employment has open the gates to the benefits and risks associated with a shorter 4 day with a 30 hours workweek. A recent study from the Angus Reid Institute has found that there is growing support for a shorter workweek. An estimated 53 percent of adults in Canada are embracing the idea of shorter working hours for the same pay.
The burning question is, why would Canadian business, not-for-profit, or government want to pay the same for fewer hours?
The logic rests in our definition of productivity, efficiency, and balance. Traditional ethics around work have pointed towards the committed employee, working long and hard hours to achieve profitability and success in the workplace. This employee sacrifices friends and family for the company and is rewarded for their contribution by receiving personal financial success. This persona is losing favour in many work environments as many workplaces shift their notions of productivity and efficiency.
- Research from the Harvard Business School points towards the lack of evidence to support that employees that worked fewer hours accomplished less or any sign that employees that worked longer hours actually accomplished more.
- Moreover, the evidence shows that overworking employees have significate costs on workplace productivity, stress, and burnout. Particularly, overwork and the resulting stress can lead to all sorts of health problems. This approach is based on the premise that allowing your brain to rest is critical in being productive.
Efficient people tend to be more productive if they allow themselves time to rests and reboot. A rested person is more likely to best perform the task given and can use personal motivation to succeed at work.
As a bonus effect, this scheduling can increase and promote GBA+, inclusion, and diversity practices by creating additional opportunities for many people to achieve a better work/life balance, and reducing access barriers, stress and inequality in the workplace.
Based on these factors, many innovative companies such as Perpetual Guardian are moving towards a shorter workweek, while creating opportunities for their employees to optimize concentration and productivity.
Intersol Group’s current work model includes a combination of working from home with flexible schedules. As part of our ongoing commitment to GBA+ and a healthy work environment, a few colleagues with various work/family situations will be testing a compressed 4 days work week. Our hope is to identify more best practices for workplaces exploring these questions.