The need to feel a sense of belonging in the workplace is a necessary component of diversity and inclusion, but often neglected, according to research.
The basic need to belong is "a key missing ingredient in the D&I conversation," researchers behind the BetterUp study, "The value of belonging at work," said in a 2019 Harvard Business Review analysis. A culture of belonging not only allows an employee to bring their authentic self to the workplace, but the study found it's also good for business. "High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days," the researchers said.
Although many companies have implemented telework policies amid social distancing measures, a sense of belonging can still be amplified in the workplace during this time, according to Dan Pupius, CEO of Range, a software platform company that helps remote workforces stay in sync. Enter "windowed work."
Color-coded windowed work
At Range, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. were historically the "core hours'' of work when the entire team was available to collaborate, Pupius told HR Dive in an email. But, "with the new working conditions brought about by COVID-19, even this did not work for everyone, such as our parents with kids at home," he said. That's when windowed work was implemented.
"Windowed work is a way to reconfigure the workweek to make it more flexible by breaking up the week into disjointed work blocks," Pupius said. Each block of time is defined by the type of activity and availability, and coded using different colors, he said.
The color coding on an employees' online calendar communicates their level of availability to their team, Pupius said. "For example, red might be when you focus on the kids and have a limited ability to respond," he explained. "Yellow is when you and the kids are both working but you may need to step away to help them out. Green is for video calls and synchronous communication, such as collaboration meetings, and deep work."
"We've all started to reference the color coding to set expectations around availability, marking them in calendars or the updates we have everyday in our own product," Pupius said.
To begin implementing windowed work, each team member filled out a personal handbook with "contact information, current priorities, preferred working hours, meeting times, what's going on at home, and personal development goals," Pupius said. Each employee shared their handbooks with their entire team, and they are often updated, usually weekly, he added. Then, the process of color coding calendars took place.
Craft moments that encourage vulnerability
But working remotely and using windowed work meant the company needed to place an intentional focus on inclusion and belonging. "In person, we have a lot of informal opportunities to renew belonging cues," Pupius said. "In the absence of interactions in the office we need to intentionally craft moments that encourage vulnerability — as simple as saying 'how you are feeling?' or 'what you're doing on the weekend?,' which leads to trust and in turn belonging."
Every morning, employees answer team-building questions as a part of a written check-in in Range's product, he said. The questions allow employees to learn more about each other through sharing non-work related information — and it can be done asynchronously, which means employees don't have to be in the same place or have the same schedules, Pupius said. Other activities include joining Google Hangouts for informal drop-in lunches and giving "MTV Cribs-style" tours of each other's home during Friday happy hours, he said.
One of the surprising things about remote work is it can "make work environments more inclusive, which means you get more out of everyone, and everyone gets more out of work," Pupius said.
'A glimpse into personal lives'
Working remotely has provided employees at Workhuman more opportunities to experience belonging, according to Sarah Hamilton the director of human resources at the cloud-based, social recognition and continuous performance management platform.
Telework "naturally fostered a more inclusive, welcoming and open environment where people are actually able to bring their whole selves to work," Hamilton told HR Dive. "So that's been really refreshing, from my perspective."
The company has welcomed instances where children showed up in a video call, even at the executive level, and they're considered "new coworkers," Hamilton said. Her colleagues now know her dog well, especially when she barks.
"I think that since we've started remote working, we've gotten a better glimpse into the personal lives [of employees] and into what makes them the wonderful humans that they are," she said. "You're seeing people's houses, which you normally wouldn't see. You're getting to meet family members and pets."
Workhuman offers a level of flexibility for employees, which values their time during the day, Hamilton said. For example, asking managers to record all meetings, and also taking into consideration who really needs to be in attendance at meetings. The company also uses its Moodtracker tool to survey what's important to employees and "what they need during these times," Hamilton said.
Removing a mask
In a telework environment during the pandemic, Randstad, a recruitment and HR solutions firm, encourages employees to be authentic, Floss Aggrey, vice president of diversity and Inclusion at Randstad Sourceright, told HR Dive.
"At Randstad our executive leadership team, the C-suite, is really prompting us to be more authentic about how we feel," Aggrey said. "If your basic needs are not being met, it becomes that much more stressful to have to put on a mask."
A study by the University of Arkansas released Feb. 3 found that employees are more productive at work when they can be their authentic selves on the job. "Randstad is all about inclusion and belonging," Aggrey said. And managers are accountable for upholding that culture, she added. The company's executive leadership has been transparent in video meetings once a week where they've talked about some of the struggles they're having and how they're working through them, Aggrey said.
With a focus on communication, Randstad conducts webinars "almost daily" and even partners with organizations to provide webinars on topics including tips for working at home during stressful times and building resiliency, she said. During the pandemic, leadership has been "very candid and realistic in regard to the state of business and what it's going to take for us all to get through it," Aggrey said. "But the level of communication and empathy, and consistently asking what more they can do to support, has been amazing."
Randstad also focuses on wellbeing by offering free, guided meditations and hosting Wellness Wednesdays, she said. The company has a Facebook group that continues the wellness conversation, where Aggrey has shared photos of her yoga practice.
"Don't just take the business as usual approach when you're talking to members of your team," Aggrey said. "Realize they need a space to talk about things they're going through."
She added, "You can thrive, even right now, working remotely."