Has all our hard work gone to waste?

Starting many years ago with some forward-thinking employers and changes to health and safety regulations, we all began to make our offices, stores, depos and sites more inclusive physical environments. Over the last 5 years we have seen the large majority of workplaces being designed with inclusion in mind. But was it all too late?

Now as a Senior Inclusion and Diversity Consultant you might gasp at me saying “was it all too late?” but hear me out. Our members’ offices have:

  • Prayer rooms
  • Quiet spaces for mindfulness, breastfeeding and relaxation
  • Gender neutral toilets
  • Shower facilities
  • Wheelchair accessibility
  • Kitchen facilities
  • Breakout spaces with sofas and comfortable meeting areas
  • And lots of incredible technology which connects us with people around the globe

However, whilst we very slowly made all of these changes, we were changing the way we work. Now we can work anywhere and everywhere, (as I write this it is 7am and I am on a train from Leeds to London) many of the spaces we work in; trains, coffee shops, tubes, planes, etc. aren’t equipped to be inclusive environments.

Two experiences have inspired this blog, firstly a woman I was speaking too who needed to express breastmilk and felt she had to sit in the unclean train toilet to do so and secondly a man who laid down his pray mat in the vestibule between carriages to complete his prayers. I admire both of these people for making the most of the situation that they were in and continuing with their lives but it really got me thinking.

If flexible working and travel are becoming more part of everyone’s lives how do we take the improvements we have made to offices to create inclusive environments for flexible and remote workers? How long will it be until there’s a prayer/mindfulness space on a train?

Additionally, to the physical space, how can we psychologically include remote workers? As I am a remote worker myself, my team and I have to make extra effort to phone each other, have FaceTime lunch dates, and build a relationship. But psychological inclusion runs deep, it’s the eye contact you get from people, the hug or hand shake from a colleague after a bad day, the answers to ‘does anyone know how to…?’. This is very difficult to emulate with remote workers, however hard we try. Maybe the next generation of future line managers need their learning and development to also cover inclusive leadership of remote teams.

If you have any good ideas on replicating the inclusive physical environments of offices into the changing world of work, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Rosie Clarke - Senior Diversity and Inclusion Consultant