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Top ways to support employee mental health

It has now been more than four months since the first states started their lockdowns, and even the most stoic of personalities are beginning to suffer the effects. For the overwhelming majority of us, the pandemic has changed virtually everything about our daily and weekly routines, preventing us from partaking in many of the activities we love, and snarling household responsibilities with children and work now demanding the same hours. While it may seem that most of your employees are managing, even if they may not be at their best, the fear, anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion of recent months cannot be denied. Do yourself and your business a favor by making sure that employee mental health needs are acknowledged and met.

Before we dive into strategies for supporting employee mental health however, let’s examine why it’s so important. Aside from the human factor of wanting your employees to be safe and well, burnout and mental health issues within the workforce come at an extremely high price. The American Psychological Association found that workplace stress costs the U.S. economy more than $500 billion each year, and 550 million workdays are lost annually due to stress. Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day. The World Health Organization named stress ‘the health epidemic of the 21st century’, and Stanford researchers found that workplace stress is to blame for 8% of national healthcare outlays and more than 120,000 deaths each year.

The costs of not supporting employee mental health are clear, but what can you do about it? Luckily, there are a number of options ranging from free to a bit more costly. The first, easiest, and most important thing you can do is to speak openly and honestly to your employees about mental health. Let them know that it’s okay to not be okay, and that your company welcomes whole people who sometimes aren’t their 100% put together professional selves. Normalize talking about mental health and genuine responses to wellbeing questions such as ‘How are you doing?’ Ensure that your workplace empowers employees to share their struggles, so that you can provide them with the support they need to help them feel and perform at their best.

Beyond opening the door for dialogue, it’s also important to ensure that employees know what mental healthcare services are available to them. If you don’t currently offer mental healthcare benefits and you have the budget to do so, consider adding this to your benefits package, both for employees and for their families. Either way, supply clear guidelines as to what employees’ options are when it comes to finding a psychologist or psychiatrist, in layman’s terms and in an easily accessible location. Explain what is offered, and how much each service costs out of pocket so that employees don’t have to worry about being surprised with a financially burdensome bill after seeking help. It’s also crucial that you provide culturally competent mental health professionals to meet the varied needs of your employees and ensure you’re helping rather than setting them up for more harm. If your healthcare plan doesn’t include mental health services, consider exploring the numerous telehealth companies that provide therapy via video call on an a la carte basis as a way to support employees who may be struggling.

Another way to assist employees with mental health is to offer opportunities to practice self-care via activities such as exercise, yoga, and meditation. Your company can provide free or subsidized subscriptions to meditation apps to help encourage participation. Alternatively, you can offer yoga or workout sessions via Zoom, or simply curate and send around a playlist of exercise or yoga-focused YouTube videos so employees have something at the ready when they need a stress break. By building these services and practices formally into your programs, you can show your employees that the company values their mental health and that if they need to take time during their day to go for a walk or stretch in order to help their focus, it is both allowed and encouraged.

Last but certainly not least, connect your employees to one another for much-needed support and discussion. Whether it’s pairing people up for virtual coffee dates, creating small groups and providing them with conversation guides to build camaraderie, or creating a mental health employee resource group, human connection is critical during these difficult times. If you’re looking for support in developing these cohorts, check out Workrowd’s platform. We make it easy to organize and manage employee groups, and maximize transparency and access so everyone can get involved where they feel most comfortable. We help your people find their people, which is essential to maintaining the mental health of your workforce as the pandemic continues. Let us know how we can help at hello@workrowd.com.

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Metrics for measuring inclusion & belonging

As a followup to last week’s post about measuring inclusion, we wanted to dive a bit deeper into some important metrics you should consider tracking to build a more welcoming and supportive workplace for all employees. Inclusion, belonging and even engagement can seem like nebulous and tricky concepts to measure, but as the saying goes, ‘what gets measured, gets managed’. The reverse is certainly true, so if we want to see legitimate progress on inclusion in our workplaces, we have to start by assessing where we are today, and setting concrete, measurable goals for where we want to go.

We’re going to focus on four key metrics in this post, but keep in mind that these may or may not be the right indicators for your organization. While the items below are pretty broad-based measures that should apply across most industries, a truly successful approach to inclusion and belonging will always be tailored specifically to your company. As we covered in our post last week, the best first step you can take towards making your company more inclusive is to talk to your employees. Armed with their input, consider tracking some version of the categories below to ensure your program is driving impact.

Engagement

Engagement is a critical measure that many companies already assess via annual or bi-annual surveys, as it has far-reaching effects on productivity and revenue. Ultimately though, if you’re not digging sufficiently into your data to determine how engagement varies across demographic groups, you’re missing 90% of the picture. Feeling included is a big factor in engagement, so while there are a number of reasons why engagement might vary, if you’re finding that underrepresented folx have significantly lower scores, exclusionary experiences may be partially to blame.

Retention

A significant piece of the puzzle as to why we haven’t been able to move the needle on building more diverse organizations is that while companies have made efforts to diversify their hires, many folx from underrepresented groups elect not to stay after coming onboard. If you examine your retention data and find that you’re losing folx from underrepresented groups at a higher rate than their peers with more prevalent identities, focus on designing your exit interviews to truly find out why. Odds are, exclusion and discrimination are contributors.

Happiness

Employee happiness is often viewed as unscientific, but the numbers don’t lie: ” One study found that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees. When it comes to salespeople, happiness has an even greater impact, raising sales by 37%.” Measuring employee happiness as part of regular surveying efforts can help expose which segments of your workforce may be struggling with exclusion.

Inclusion & Belonging

Last but certainly not least, you can actually measure inclusion and belonging directly. Ask your employees to rate how strongly they agree with statements such as:

  • I feel like I belong at my company.
  • Perspectives like mine are included in decision-making.
  • I can voice honest feedback and be taken seriously without fear of backlash.

Do this regularly and monitor how changes to your programming correlate with changes to employee responses. As with the other metrics, be sure that you’re segmenting the data in order to surface all of the insights from different groups within your company.

Inclusion can be a difficult thing to influence, especially when your company may not have actively paid attention to it in the past. It can help to have a proven partner to align and guide your process. Workrowd automates ongoing surveys while also providing tailored recommendations and programming support to help you launch initiatives that actually drive change within your organization. If you’d like more information on the content of this post, or about Workrowd, reach out to us at hello@workrowd.com.

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Quick tips for measuring diversity and inclusion

As the current uprising against systemic racism in America continues to unfold, many companies find themselves either questioning how to proceed, or questioning how to deliver on new commitments to diversity and inclusion. All of this questioning is justified; unlearning and undoing centuries of oppression is complex and difficult work, albeit urgently needed. Some companies have a dedicated staff member(s) to work on parsing through these deep challenges, while others have largely foisted this onto the plate of HR teams that are already stretched thin with adapting to COVID-19 on top of their typical workloads. Particularly for those in the second bucket, we wanted to share some of what we’ve learned about managing and measuring diversity and inclusion to help jumpstart your progress.

The first step for those just starting out is to ensure you fully understand the difference between diversity and inclusion. While often paired together, they are distinct issues that must be addressed separately. Diversity refers to the composition of your workforce. Companies today measure diversity by tracking the number of employees who identify as members of various demographic groups based on race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, etc. There is a trend in the tech community of reporting these numbers publicly each year, and tellingly, there hasn’t been much change over the period since this practice began. That is the danger of focusing on diversity without putting in as much if not more effort to foster true inclusion. While workplaces can be inclusive without being diverse, it is the rare organization that can retain a diverse workforce without a strong commitment to inclusion. It’s crucial to ensure that your company is measuring both diversity and inclusion, individually.

Once an organization has committed to going beyond simply counting workers who meet predefined demographic criteria, the next step is to establish a baseline for how employees experience inclusion at the company. While out-of-the-box surveys can give you a sense, if you really want to understand how your company is doing today, it’s imperative that you speak with employees. Hold focus groups to learn about employees’ experiences, collect feedback from your employee resource groups, find out what sorts of exclusionary experiences your people are having so that you know what questions to ask when you put out the call to the larger group. If you don’t assemble your survey with an eye towards what your employees actually experience on a daily basis, you won’t get a complete picture from the data. Distribute the questions you assemble to all employees, and consider offering a raffle or other prize opportunity in order to maximize your response rate.

Now that your employees have completed the survey, it’s time to analyze the data with a focus on intersectionality. Just examining the data at face value may show you that one group experiences more exclusionary incidents than others, but all of the detail within each group will be lost. This will drastically reduce the effectiveness of any intervention you design in response. For instance, while women overall score one way, and Black employees score another, what is the experience like in your workplace for Black women, and how is that impacting your retention rate? Your results may initially indicate that LGBTQ+ employees feel included, but without cutting into the data, you might miss that your workplace in fact feels deeply exclusionary to trans folx. In order to actually make progress on inclusion, you have to stop looking at team members as checkboxes and begin focusing on whole people with many diverse identities and experiences.

Once you have your inclusion snapshot, it’s time to devise a strategy to improve your scores. Odds are strong that your employees are going to report varying levels of inclusion, so you have to be prepared to potentially face some difficult facts. After determining your course of action, you’ll similarly need a plan to measure your progress. Many companies have taken to conducting point-in-time engagement surveys every year or every two years. If you truly want to change the inclusion landscape within your organization, a much more agile process needs to be in place with check-in surveys delivering data at least once per quarter. Armed with these updates, organizations can shift their programming accordingly in order to maximize results.

We know this is a lot to manage, so consider leveraging technology as a resource to help you reach your goals. There is a growing market of inclusion software providers, from bots that will monitor Slack for exclusionary language to platforms like ours here at Workrowd, designed to streamline the surveying process, make data-based recommendations for policy and programming changes, and which offers template initiatives to help shorten your time-to-launch for new inclusion efforts. We hope this article helps as you look towards building a more inclusive workplace for all employees, where you’re measuring not just diversity but also inclusion. As always, if you’d like to learn more you can visit us at workrowd.com or reach out directly at hello@workrowd.com.

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Reopening, but not resuming business as usual

It’s safe to say at this point that 2020 hasn’t quite gone to plan. Entire ways of life have been upended, businesses have been forced to close, and virtually no one has escaped unscathed. Nearly half a million people have lost their lives, and tens of millions have lost their livelihoods. Now talk has turned to ‘reopening’, in all its many guises. States that failed to effectively mitigate community spread in the first place are now dealing with the consequences of their actions in the form of spiking cases. Even many regions that did shut down are now seeing rising infection rates. Yet many businesses are plowing full-force towards ‘reopening’ and getting back to ‘normal’. This contradiction has placed HR departments in a precarious position.

Over the course of this crisis, HR has been saddled with an array of challenging and oftentimes contradictory directives. This remains the case now, as they are tasked with designing plans to simultaneously deny social distancing recommendations by bringing workers back to the office while still somehow preventing infection within the ranks. We now have a decent sense of the steps we can take to limit spread, however the risk is still very real, as is the obligation to respect individual employees’ circumstances and needs.

In the context of these facts, it becomes readily apparent that resuming ‘business as usual’ is not an option. The question we now have to confront is: was ‘business as usual’ ever serving us well in the first place? There’s a strong argument to be made in the negative. ADP announced in mid-2019 that only 16% of employees were fully engaged. Around the same time, a CNBC poll noted that a full third of U.S. workers seriously considered quitting their jobs during the preceding three months. If the ‘normal’ we’re all dying (quite literally in some cases) to return to was so great, then why were employees so unhappy?

For better or worse, the physical aspects of ‘normal’, such as clustered seating, mask-free meetings, etc., will not be returning for some time. Perhaps then, as we sort through what our workplaces will look like during the next stage of the pre-vaccine world, we should take some time to consider the facets of work that could stay the same but really shouldn’t. A number of employers took the pandemic as an opportunity to step up for their employees in a way they hadn’t previously, opting to pay hourly workers even if they couldn’t be on-site, providing ample flexibility to support working parents, and more. Can we carry this mentality of actually respecting employees as humans with wants and needs through into what must be the ‘new normal’, rather than resuming the status quo of unhappy, disengaged employees laboring for uncaring organizations?

We like to think the answer is yes, but it will take some work. While some companies have revolutionized their relationship with employees for the better in recent months, others have caused theirs to further deteriorate. In those cases, the trauma and fear will be all the more intense as employees return to potentially unsafe working conditions for companies that have demonstrated undeniably that they do not care about them or their well-being. These organizations will inevitably see the damaging results of this across productivity, engagement, and retention, but for their peers who made the effort, this moment holds a golden opportunity to make real strides towards building a happier, more engaged workforce.

Two key skills HR can help leaders and managers to cultivate during this difficult time as we move towards reopening are empathy and respect: empathy to understand employees’ unique situations and needs, and respect to be willing to support them through it. We do not yet know the full extent of how the mental and emotional trauma of the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns will manifest for employees and their families, so we must remain agile and responsive to their needs. Whether that comes in the form of a flexible return to the office strategy that allows employees to determine when they’re comfortable/able to come back; training around empathy, mental health, and resilience to help employees bounce back and stay well; and/or adapting your benefits package to the new circumstances, it will go a long way towards helping your company, and your individual employees, come out on top.

We know that People teams are juggling more than ever right now, between the pandemic, racial injustice, and shifting business priorities amidst economic uncertainty, not the least of which includes reopening. You don’t have to go it alone. If it would help to have a partner in the effort to develop support systems within your employee population, as well as offering training around the critical issues of today, we hope you’ll reach out. We’re always available at hello@workrowd.com and look forward to helping you build a stronger, more employee-centric ‘normal’ that drives business results.

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Cultivating safety & inclusion for LGBTQIA+ employees

Happy (belated) Pride month! Given that up until last week more than half of U.S. states provided no official employment protection for workers on the basis of LGBTQIA+ identity, it’s critical that we follow that victory with concrete steps towards making our workplaces truly inclusive for all employees. There are so many different identities and lived experiences within this community though; how do you ensure you’re supporting and meeting everyone’s needs? We’ve outlined some of the issues you should consider in this post.

The fight for LGBTQIA+ rights has been advanced by leaps and bounds in recent decades, from the long but ultimately victorious fight for marriage equality to the aforementioned Supreme Court decision that finally afforded LGBTQIA+ employees equal protection under the law. While these are undoubtedly extremely important steps, there is still a great deal of work to be done. The current administration has rolled back a number of protections and rights for transgender people, and as of 2019, 16 states still had anti-sodomy laws on the books.

While there are obviously still a number of structural barriers preventing equal access and opportunity for LGBTQIA+ folx, there is nothing preventing most companies from building a more inclusive environment and championing LGBTQIA+ employees. In order to do so, organizations must consciously build LGBTQIA+ inclusion into all aspects of the business across policy, training, and culture. From adding preferred pronouns to email signatures and company profiles, to allocating resources towards increasing the number of LGBTQIA+ hires, there are myriad ways to advance inclusion and improve the workplace for folx who identify with this community.

On the policy front, one of the key steps you can take is to articulate clear guidelines around harassment and discrimination specific to LGBTQIA+ folx. While a blanket policy might be sufficient to meet the needs of many of your employees, in the absence of LGBTQIA+-specific guidelines, it can be easy for valid claims to be disputed and for these employees to be denied the support and protection a truly inclusive workplace should provide. Be explicit about what anti-LGBTQIA+ behaviors, language, etc. will not be tolerated, and provide well-defined processes for employees to lodge a complaint. It should go without saying, but it is imperative that you then follow up on complaints swiftly, transparently, and with the discretion required to respect the harmed employees’ wishes.

Another key step towards making your workplace more inclusive and welcoming for LGBTQIA+ folx is to ensure that your benefits package includes programs and services tailored to LGBTQIA+ lifestyles. Offering healthcare that provides choice of physicians, mental health services, transition support, etc. is imperative if you want to back up your words with action. Family planning and reproductive care should be inclusive of all gender identities and family structures, and life insurance must account for the same. If you’re unsure of whether your current benefits package is meeting the needs of your LGBTQIA+ employees, simply ask them. Invite them to identify gaps in your benefits plan, then take steps to fill them. More so than changing your company logo to feature a rainbow theme during Pride Month, ensuring that your LGBTQIA+ employees are safe and healthy will truly contribute towards building a more inclusive workplace.

In addition to policy changes, your culture must also be supportive of LGBTQIA+ team members. Offer opportunities for employees to learn about the many identities and individuals who comprise this community. Ensure that everyone knows that LGBTQIA+ discrimination will not be tolerated. Highlight the many talents and successes of your LGBTQIA+ employees through employee spotlights on your website, or panel events where they can share their experiences. Implement targeted LGBTQIA+ hiring initiatives to increase representation within your company. Identify LGBTQIA+ professional organizations and nonprofits in your city and support them whether through donations, volunteering, promotion, or other means. Create an employee resource group to build awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues within your organization and provide a space for employees who identify with this community to connect and collaborate.

No matter what you do, start by listening and learning. Make sure you understand the challenges that LGBTQIA+ employees face at your company and in the workplace in general so that you can respond in a way that is sensitive, supportive, and effective. If you’d like a partner as you strive to build a more inclusive workplace, don’t hesitate to give us a shout at hello@workrowd.com. Whether it’s help with standing up an LGBTQIA+ employee resource group, or connecting you to consultants who can assist with other needs, Workrowd is here to help ensure that every organization can work towards greater inclusion for all employees in a way that’s both compassionate and data-driven. Let us know how we can support.

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Transforming how we practice workplace inclusion

For the first time ever, almost all of the books on the New York Times bestseller list are focused on race in America. In contrast to previous incidents of widely publicized police murders of Black people, increasing numbers of White folks are taking this moment to educate themselves on the far-reaching impacts of racism within our society. Not only is this exciting from a social progress and civil rights perspective, but this is also a crucial opportunity to overhaul the way we approach workplace inclusion.

Traditional diversity and inclusion efforts have primarily focused on two types of interventions: 1. One-off trainings e.g. unconscious bias, being an inclusive manager; and 2. Diversity-focused hiring initiatives. To date, neither of these have yielded much progress. Information presented in trainings is rarely integrated into the company’s daily processes, and more often than not these sessions simply allow organizations to check a box that they made some level of effort. On the hiring front, employees who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) continue to leave organizations at two times the rate of their non-BIPOC leaving company demographics largely unchanged.

Much of this excess turnover is due to non-inclusive cultures that fail to support underrepresented employees. As discussed in our previous post, the overwhelming majority of BIPOC employees are subjected to daily micro and macroaggressions that prevent them from feeling included and in many cases even welcome in their organizations. From discriminatory remarks in casual conversation to being repeatedly passed over for promotions, the daily strain takes a real toll.

Once-a-year trainings and diversity-focused hiring cannot solve the problem of workplace inclusion when the problem is internal company cultures. With more people finally opening their eyes to the ways that racism and exclusion are perpetuated through systemic means as well as through their own words and deeds, we might finally be able to move the needle on the way BIPOC employees experience work in America. In order to do so however, we have to change the way that we conceptualize and operationalize inclusion.

Per diversity advocate Vernā Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” While some have argued that this is too passive a comparison, as employees should not have to wait to be asked to join in by their employer, the point is that bringing diverse employees to the table is just the first step. We must stop tokenizing people just to improve diversity numbers, because the benefits of changing those numbers come from those employees being able to exercise their full array of gifts to advance the organization on a daily basis. Workplace inclusion is an ongoing practice that requires education, empathy, and evangelism from every employee. The whole organization must be committed to recognizing and uplifting each other, and for many companies, it’s going to take quite a bit of work to get there.

The first step however, is to position employees to actually come from a place of knowledge and understanding in their day-to-day interactions. Rather than focusing on mandatory trainings that can backfire, time-bound efforts (e.g. Black History Month), and other token commitments, help employees get to know one another. Foster camaraderie rather than competition. If you’re a manager, learn to really check in with your employees and encourage your team to do so for each other as well. Offer opportunities to learn about employees’ experiences as a way of changing minds, rather than continuing to fall back on the same old sessions that have gotten us nowhere.

For example, without the historical context of White/Black race relations that many are just beginning to open their eyes to now, it will be difficult to cultivate the depth of empathy that’s needed to build truly inclusive workplaces for Black employees. Accordingly, consider working with one or more of your ERGs to organize an event with a Black historian, and also be sure to offer Black employees the opportunity to honestly share their own lived experiences without fear of judgment or reprisal or, crucially, the expectation that they must share. Invite others to discuss times when they saw or experienced bias, as well as when they perpetrated it themselves. Holding space for people to share and learn from each other on an ongoing basis will do far more for your organization than trying to simply hire more women engineers (which is also an important effort, but one that can only go so far if those employees don’t stay).

Let’s stop doing the same thing and expecting different results. Now is the time for companies to decide whether they want to continue to pay lip service to workplace diversity and inclusion, or if they’re ready to finally put in the effort necessary to reap the far-reaching benefits. If your company is in the second category and is looking for a tool to help support you on your journey, from event ideas and activity roadmaps, to analytics that actually monitor inclusion, visit workrowd.com. We’d love to learn more about where you are currently, and where you’d like to go.

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Combatting anti-Black racism in the workplace

As many organizations have rushed to engage in performative solidarity with the Black community while they continue to support oppressive internal cultures and business practices, it’s time for HR to seize this moment. The industry is in a unique position to play a central role in dismantling the structures that have compounded and perpetuated centuries-old inequities. Given the extent of the issues we’re facing, it’s going to take a lot of work, but the first step towards making change is to name the problem outright. The majority of our workplace cultures are racist against Black folks by design, and we need to first acknowledge that before we can begin to move forward.

It has long been considered unprofessional to talk about race or call out instances of racism in the workplace. This has not only allowed White people and others to remain ignorant to the challenges Black folks face every day, and in many cases to actively participate in creating/preserving those challenges, but it has also denied Black employees a true place at the table. Despite the estimated $8 billion that is spent on diversity and inclusion training every year, Black employees at many companies are still forced to engage in a sick series of contortions to simply get through the day. From covering, in which people can’t bring their whole selves to the office and must pretend to be someone that fits their workplace’s implicit and explicit expectations, to enduring both micro and macroagressions with no recourse, even a light workday becomes completely exhausting.

There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that all of the systems we grow up with in the U.S. are designed to oppress. Anti-Black racism is embedded in our housing system, our education system, our medical system, our financial/economic system, our employment system, certainly in our criminal justice system, and beyond. In our workplaces, what appear to those making them as merit-based decisions are much more frequently based upon a credentialing system that is already stacked against Black folks, coupled with our innate compulsion to favor those who look like us. A senior White person may choose to promote a White colleague based on the ‘potential’ they see in them, when in reality it’s simply that that person reminds them of themselves when they were younger. Compound this with the dynamics mentioned above, and without even touching upon the complex landscape that Black folks with intersectional identities must navigate, the crucible of conditions we’ve created becomes inescapable.

Alleged diversity and inclusion efforts have gone on far too long without achieving legitimate systemic change for Black employees. While individual companies may have made some progress towards building more inclusive and supportive spaces for Black folks, the overwhelming majority have simply paid lip service because not only do those in charge not feel this impacts them, but in many cases maintaining systems of oppression actively benefits them. Without genuine buy-in from the top to work not just towards being not racist, but becoming actively anti-racist, every day, the movement will continue to struggle. That said, as the role of the Chief People Officer continues to gain sway within the organization, an opportunity may be emerging to drive an agenda that centers rooting out anti-Black racism, and delivers results.

The process must begin with education. Until White people and others are willing to face up to the reality of the ongoing systems, biases, etc. that factor into the status quo, and recognize and admit their active role in it, any ‘solutions’ will be superficial. HR professionals can begin by educating themselves, bringing in Black historians and anti-racism educators to share their knowledge with employees, and most importantly, by having difficult conversations with executives grounded in truth, rather than trying to preserve anyone’s feelings.

Examine your existing protocols (or lack thereof) and how they are enabling bias. Design and communicate explicit policies around the manifestations of racism and intolerance that you will not accept in your workplace. Include specific examples, along with step-by-step processes for lodging a complaint, how it will be handled, and the repercussions those found to be in violation can expect. Then actually follow through on building an environment where people can call out discrimination for what it is without fear of reprisal. Mobilize your entire workforce in the effort to identify and root out racism and oppression.

This may seem like a lot to ask, and maybe you don’t believe that you and/or your company are part of the problem. The fact is though, with centuries’-worth of unlearning and undoing ahead of us, we all have a part to play. As long as Black people continue to be murdered in the streets, in their homes, in their cars, and elsewhere, simply for going about their lives, taking the time for self-examination feels like the absolute least you can do.

We’re actively committed to starting with ourselves here at Workrowd, seeking to educate ourselves and unlearn the world as we know it. We’ve similarly been committed to diverse hiring efforts from Day 0, and continue to seek out partnerships and engagements with Black consultants and Black-owned businesses. As has been the case since our founding, we’ll be continuing to roll out additional educational materials and anti-racist resources through our diversity and inclusion-focused krowds, particularly around employee resource groups, in efforts to get critical learning tools into the hands of more employees. If you’d like to contribute and/or have recommendations for us, please keep them coming. We’re at hello@workrowd.com.

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Tools for remote teams to ensure success

The urgency of the pandemic forced many companies to transition to fully remote work on an unprecedented schedule. Rather than the years-long strategy and contract negotiations most organizations go through in preparation for such a monumental shift, we instead saw timelines of weeks, or even days. This scramble meant that leaders had to make product and equipment decisions on the fly, without the usual due diligence they would conduct to ensure success. While this of course taught us in some regard that those lengthy timelines may not be entirely necessary, it also makes a case for companies stepping back in the coming months to evaluate whether they actually have the right tools to support remote teams.

While many of the tools your company is already using can be repurposed for remote/partially remote teams, it’s important to keep in mind that remote employees have different needs from those in the office. Your clunky intranet from 2010 may no longer be sufficient to keep your team engaged and connected when they don’t have day-to-day interactions to sustain them, or a colleague at the next desk over to ask where a certain form can be found. Similarly, your digital environment may not be optimized to enable the communication and collaboration necessary for your teams to thrive under increasingly virtual conditions.

We know everyone is juggling a seemingly infinite list of deliverables right now, so we took some time to summarize the key functionalities that should be included in everyone’s ecosystem of tools for remote teams. The list is organized by employee need, with potential solutions outlined within the description. While every workplace is different and this list excludes tools that aren’t specifically related to remote work, we hope that it can serve as a helpful jumping-off point:

  • Easy communication: Chat apps have become widespread across a number of industries to facilitate easy communication between team members. With remote work, staying in touch by way of digital systems has become an imperative. There are myriad chat applications on the market today, each with its own pros and cons, but a quick, text-based tool to connect your employees and enable seamless communication is a must-have to help people do their work and stay engaged with each other.
  • Face-to-face time: While catching up with a colleague in the hallway or kitchen used to be a surefire way to stay connected with coworkers, the transition to working from home has put a full stop to all in-person fraternizing. Your team still needs to see each other, though. They also need to be able to connect virtually with clients, partners, and more, so make sure that whatever system you implemented or scaled on the fly is built for the long haul. Remote work is here to stay so your company needs robust video conferencing software to help everyone thrive.
  • Streamlined file access and management: Studies show that the average employee spends 1-2.5 hours per day looking for information they need. Over the course of the week, this can add up to an entire wasted day. Without desk neighbors to ask for help, and with new ways of working to navigate, remote employees need streamlined access to company files and straightforward policies and processes for how to manage and share documents they create. Ensure that your team has an easy-to-navigate central repository of folders, and user-friendly software to save and provide access to their documents.
  • Simple scheduling: We can no longer pop over to a colleague’s desk to ask how their weekend was and see if they can join our 2pm meeting. Similarly, with so many outside responsibilities encroaching on the workday with children home from school and the need to try to shop at less crowded times, people’s calendars are wonkier than ever. Save everyone the email spam involved in trying to schedule group meetings by enabling easy calendaring and sharing access. Functional calendaring software will not only help your employees manage their appointments, but will help them loop in teammates to keep everyone on the same page.
  • Flexible collaboration tools: No matter the business you’re in, it’s highly likely that your success depends on a great deal of team collaboration. At the very least, ensure that you have screen-sharing capabilities to help your team communicate more easily and effectively. In addition, many companies use a variety of note-taking, simultaneous editing, and real-time feedback tools to help their team effectively collaborate at a distance.
  • Project transparency: Keeping everyone aligned and on track with where a project is now, where it needs to go, how it’s going to get there, and who will be involved when is one of the most critical needs for remote teams. With everyone working in the silos of their own homes, it can be difficult to move projects forward when they require a lot of different pieces from a lot of different people. Whether it’s project management software, daily reporting apps to track who completed what, or something specific to your company’s industry, every team needs a solid plan and product(s) to provide transparency to everyone working on a project.
  • Advanced security: With everyone working from home, it can be difficult to keep all of your company’s information and accounts secure. Now that we have more time to build out the infrastructure for working remotely, confirm that your company has all of the necessary security tools in place, from password managers to remote desktops, to protect your organization from a data breach.
  • Community: Last but certainly not least, your employees need each other. Whether you organize events and initiatives through your chat and video call systems, plan trips for your remote employees to meet once we’re able to gather again, step up your public recognition programs, or something original that you think up, it’s imperative that you find ways to help your team build community and support networks.

As always, the best way to assess what tools your remote teams need is to simply ask them. If you’re looking for a tool that incorporates many of the needs covered in this post and provides you analytics on your people, come see us at workrowd.com. We’d love to chat about your needs, and share some of what we’ve learned about keeping employees connected. You can also reach us at hello@workrowd.com.

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Infusing the post-outbreak workplace with purpose

The conversation around finding purpose at work is not new. For decades now, experts have stressed the importance of building meaning into employees’ days in order to drive business outcomes. Those organizations that heeded the calls have reaped the benefits. A study of hundreds of companies’ stock prices found that the organizations that scored highly on purpose and clarity from management performed much better than their peers. On the flip side, 70% of executives at companies where purpose at work is not a key driver say that employees’ desire for it is impacting HR’s ability to recruit and retain top talent.

As the pandemic continues to revolutionize how we approach work and life, employee attitudes are changing. Pre-pandemic estimates show that 9 out of 10 of people would take a pay cut in exchange for more meaning at work. The fear and stress we’ve all experienced in recent months will likely shift the balance of pay and purpose even further. Similarly, the expectations on employers will continue to grow as employees seek support and flexibility in the prolonged aftermath of this trauma. Companies must be prepared to rise to the occasion, or risk losing their star players at the first sign of regained economic stability.

What does this look like in practice, though? It’s likely that part of the reason so few companies have succeeded in building a purpose-driven workplace is that there isn’t a clear roadmap for developing meaning for employees. Accordingly, we’ve reviewed the research and summarized some of the key steps to building meaning for your team below:

  • Help employees to see the big picture, and how their work contributes to it
    • As humans, we always want to feel that we matter. No one enjoys just being a cog in the wheel. From the first point of contact with a potential employee through offboarding and beyond, ensure that every individual understands the company’s goals and how their work fits in. Help them feel valued through regular feedback, recognition for a job well done, and ongoing communication to keep them up-to-date.
  • Cultivate trust through transparency and empowerment
    • Whether mistrust flows from employee to managers, and/or the other way around, these dynamics make it impossible to build a strong organization grounded in meaning. While trust can be difficult to cultivate, one key step a company can take is to train managers to empower employees. If your staff feel that they are trusted to do their best rather than being micromanaged or suspected of slacking, the majority will rise to the occasion and gain a sense of purpose from it. Similarly, if you are open and communicative, your people will feel that they are truly a part of something larger than themselves, giving meaning to their work.
  • Opportunities to grow and leverage their strengths
    • In order to gain meaning and purpose, employees must have the chance to grow as people. By providing clear career paths, opportunities for learning and upskilling, and new projects for people to engage with, you leave your team no reason to look for alternative employment. They will be excited to learn and expand their skillsets, and will feel positively towards your company as a result.
  • Respect that they’re whole people, and provide benefits tailored to their lives
    • If the myriad interrupted video calls over the past few months have taught us nothing else, it’s that people have full lives outside of work with children, family members, pets, and friends, all with individual needs. Now that we’ve learned so much about each other, don’t leave that information at the door to the office upon reentry. Leverage that knowledge to ensure your employees feel valued and supported as whole people, through work hour flexibility, an expanded menu of benefit options, and wellness support for the whole household.
  • Chances to connect
    • Last but most certainly not least, in order to feel a sense of purpose and engagement at work, people need to care and be cared about by the people around them. Give your team ample opportunity to connect with each other and build the relationships that will keep them employed by your company for years to come. One of the key reasons that people report staying with an organization is getting to work with great people every day. Plan events to help employees build community, provide digital spaces in which they can interact, and encourage socializing, rather than worrying about it. You’ll see it pay off across retention, engagement, and productivity.

These are the top strategies we’ve found to help your organization drive purpose and meaning for your team as we begin to emerge from this first (and hopefully worst) wave of the pandemic. Take this opportunity to reimagine your workplace for the better. If you’re looking for new tools to help your people connect, increase transparency and communication, and provide a seamless employee experience, come see us at workrowd.com or reach out at hello@workrowd.com.

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Supporting employees while reopening offices

All clichés aside, there’s no denying that the past months have been challenging on every level. As we enter yet another patch of uncharted waters, it’s important to continue iterating on your People strategy to ensure that employees’ needs are being addressed. Unfortunately, HR teams are going to have more to do than ever as we begin reopening offices, with myriad staffing decisions to be made, workplace policies to reimagine and revise, and extensive trauma, grief, and burnout among team members to manage. Employees may be learning to navigate new familial and/or financial circumstances, different economic climates, and more, and People teams will have to adapt to help everyone remain engaged and productive.

With so much to manage and so many restrictions to consider around reopening offices, it can be easy to let things like employee events and diversity and inclusion fall by the wayside. Ultimately however, this is the time when employees need community and support more than ever. Allowing company culture to evolve unchecked while so many people are emotionally struggling can enable unhealthy dynamics that will take years to reverse. Facilitating more remote work without strategies to keep colleagues connected essentially guarantees breakdowns in communication that will detract from your business goals.

Furthermore, abandoning diversity and inclusion efforts during this critical time has the potential to reverse all of the recruitment work your company has done and make it more difficult to hire diverse individuals in the future. This is a dangerous proposition given that diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35%. As budgets tighten and difficult decisions need to be made, employee programming and benefits can seem like obvious targets. Ultimately though, most companies will find that in the long-term, savings from such cuts will not outweigh the negative impacts on retention and output.

Luckily, there are low-cost ways to offer employee supports to both retain your talent and manage your budget during these challenging times. In the aftermath of the first wave of the virus, a few pieces of the engagement puzzle are going to become more important to employees than ever before, so you can get the most bang for your buck by focusing efforts there. The real key to keep in mind is flexibility. This spans across all aspects of your organization, from wellbeing benefits, including mental health, to remote work options.

For instance, if you can make time to put in the work upfront, you can likely expand the scope of your company’s health benefits without significant expense, enabling employees to do what’s best for their own households. Offering options for additional services, even if the company isn’t financing them, will save employees the time of seeking out providers on their own, relieving stress and ensuring they can meet their needs. Similarly, enabling employees to set their own schedule of being in or out of the office can help them juggle their varied responsibilities through this transition and truly focus on their work rather than worrying how they’ll manage.

On the traditional engagement front, from happy hours and company parties to in-office perks, the model will obviously need to change. The new path forward doesn’t necessarily need to be work or capital-intensive, though. We write a lot about employee empowerment on this blog, and the concept applies here, too. Ask your employees what would be helpful, connect them with each other for support and mentorship, enable exploration within the organization so that if you’re in a position where you have to restructure, you can make the most of the people you already have. None of these strategies require significant budget, but they can go a long way towards keeping morale up amidst the current and upcoming challenges.

Lastly, for those who will miss the classic party approach, one upside of having to organize remote events instead is that it is significantly less expensive than paying for venues, etc. Hold remote happy hours where people bring their favorite beverage and share why; organize small groups to cook or just eat dinner together over Zoom and watch your employees build camaraderie on a whole new level; offer online classes or events that people can attend with their children to offer some relief to parents who are low on time (and likely patience at this point), and develop connections across departments. Double down on your employee resource groups to ensure that your most underrepresented employees feel valued and appreciated.

It doesn’t have to be costly to sustain employee engagement through times of economic uncertainty, but failing to prioritize it inevitably will be. Ensure your employees have what they need as we look towards reopening offices. If you’re looking for an all-in-one platform to build transparency around your programming for every employee, whether in-person or remote, Workrowd can help. Visit our site, or reach out at hello@workrowd.com. We’d love to learn more and see how we can work together.