Tuesday, March 31, 2020

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COVID-19 is turning the world upside down, including how and where we work. The shift to working from home has been drastic and widespread. At some point in the future, organizations will have the opportunity to reflect on how this may change future business practices and policies. However, at the present, the focus is on how we support our employees to effectively work from home: providing the right supports and expectations during these exceptional times.

The need to work from home goes well beyond the economic imperatives. Members may be working on projects or providing services that are connected to the essential services that need to be maintained.  Members may also be working on new projects or services that tie directly to the increased demand for critical services ranging from manufacturing to data management to critical information communication. In addition, considering the reality of the mental health impacts of our situation, work can provide an opportunity for connection and purpose, which can be helpful as long as it’s not contributing to the stress and anxiety people may be experiencing.

Like many others at this time, I have been asking myself, as a member of ACEC-BC’s team, what I can do to support our members who are trying to best support their employees, co-workers, and, clients?

As someone who has worked from home for some time, I have a good understanding of what can be done by individuals and managers to make it work. As a professional whose work focuses on equity, diversity, and inclusion within the engineering sector, I have a good understanding of the different considerations that factor in to working from home for different people. As a mom of three young kids and a partner to someone who is an essential worker during this crisis, I am acutely aware of the difference between working from home during normal times and in the current circumstances.

With this perspective, I offer the following to help you support your team members working from home during this time. In particular, I’m offering guidance through an equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) perspective. 

When talking about EDI, I often share the perspective that every person has multiple lenses that layer together to make their own unique experience and interactions with the world. Lenses are different identity factors such as gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, race, religion, geography, education level, economic status, and others. During this crisis, we all still wear these lenses, but I would suggest that there are other lenses that will layer on for different individuals.

Some of these additional lenses connect to an individuals different circumstances related to working from home:

  1. Caring for children: anyone with children likely has them at home with them full time. Although daycares are still open at the present time, this may change at some point in the future.
  2. Supporting others: individuals may be supporting or caring for others, including elderly or immune compromised parents, family members, neighbours, or friends.
  3. Workspace: if working from home was not normal previously, individuals may not have dedicated office space or furniture. In addition, partners or roommates may also be working from home, crowding even those who have a dedicated office space.
  4. Supporting Partners: individuals with partners who are working in essential services and health care may be supporting these partners who are working tirelessly to do what is needed during these times.
  5. Other situations: there are many other scenarios and different combinations of these factors that our team members are dealing with, while working from home.

In addition to the above list, most of us are dealing with different levels of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty about the current and ever-changing situation we are living. 

To be honest, “showing up” for even a few hours of work a day is a challenge most of these days with all the other responsibilities I have to keep my family safe and supported. And when I do get the chance to work, my focus is not necessarily there.  Many of us are feeling this, as are our team members.

In times of crisis and economic pressure, diversity and inclusion can be de-prioritized. The impact of this is not just the immediate, but also the risk that decades worth of gains made towards equality in the workforce will be slow and inequitable in return. By considering how to manage and lead remote teams with EDI in mind, you mitigate these impacts and support your team members. Most of us understand the benefits of diversity on our team: enhanced innovation, effective problem solving, and improved collaboration. I think we can all agree that in the current environment, we need teams that are doing these things well.

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