How to make your work-from-home experience equitable and inclusive

This is a guest post by Marcie Hawranik is the President and Founder of Canadian Equality Consulting. As an expert in gender equity, GBA+, diversity and inclusion, she brings insight in how an organization can build a healthier and happier workplace by engaging the entire workforce.

Are you or your staff currently working from home during COVID-19? Working from home can be incredibly hard especially if the transition happened suddenly and was not accompanied by deliberate measures or policies to prevent negative impacts.

Take the time to understand challenges

The best way to measure the challenges and opportunities for your employees during this time is by conducting a short employee survey. The survey should evaluate the struggles, mental health, and inequalities that employees may be experiencing and provide information in order to mitigate these negative impacts and establish a solid foundation for your workplace and workforce to thrive.

Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in measuring challenges using an employee survey, Canadian Equality Consulting has a free survey template available, which can be requested via their website.

Here are some additional guidelines to make your work-from-home experience as inclusive as possible:

Set expectations

During times of uncertainty, expectations management is critical. Having unclear expectations can result in conflict, disappointment, and exclusion. Here are some useful steps you can take to make sure you, your colleagues or your staff are all on the same page.

  • Determine and share how often you will communicate with each other.
  • Create and share a team schedule outlining your estimated hours of work to ensure your colleagues know when they can contact you for support.
  • Set Boundaries. It can be incredibly hard to unplug while working from home. Encourage your team and colleagues to set their own office hours and ignore work emails outside of those hours. It is important to be intentional about our personal lives, mental health and working hours.
  • Adopt a project management system to track and monitor the steps and outcomes of projects with your team such as Trello,, Slack, Google Drive, etc.
  • Establish estimated response times and include them in your signature line or out of office notification to ensure your colleagues and clients know when to expect a response from you.
  • Ensure everyone has the tools that they need to be successful in their working from home environment. This may include providing laptops, computers, or online project management tools. It may require the re-allocation of budgets. It could involve having an ability and accommodations expert available to ensure the needs of all employees are effectively met.
  • In sharing expectations, it is important to normalize disruptions in our new work environments. COVID-19 has resulted in schools and daycares closing across the world and parents are struggling working from home awhile also taking care of their children and in many cases, home-schooling them. It is important to ensure that your colleagues know that this is expected and okay. As a leader in your workplace, you can even dedicate extra time for your meetings to accommodate disruptions or to introduce family members and pets.

Grow an inclusive culture

  • Evaluate what contributed to a positive work culture prior to COVID-19. This will allow you to determine what elements to maintain while social distancing and what can be no longer continued.
  • Celebrate wins in your workplace, whether they be celebrating the completion of a project or general shout-outs of appreciation. This includes continuing to celebrate birthdays and holidays. Informal celebrations can have a big impact on workplace morale and inclusion.
  • Ensure that decision-making is thorough and does not exclude people. You may have to make decisions very quickly during this rapidly changing time, however, ensure as many people that will be affected by the issue are involved or consulted. Excluding people during the best of times is bad and excluding people (although unintentional) during times of crisis, is even more detrimental.
  • Find ways to diminish loneliness and isolation. Many employees, especially those without a partner or children are isolated at home by themselves. This can be alleviated by holding virtual happy hours, coffee morning chats or water cooler conversations. These online gatherings have no agenda, are free flowing and are meant to be informal. When organizing these sessions, be mindful of time differences.

Virtual meetings

  • Keep your video on.
  • Send agendas in advance to provide time to prepare.
  • Ensure someone on the call is taking notes to be distributed after the meeting. Our culture tends to place note-taking and administrative tasks (“office housework”) on women and other marginalized populations. You can ensure this does not happen by rotating responsibility.
  • Live caption your meetings on online platforms to ensure that everyone can effectively follow the conversations whether that be employees with varying abilities or to be able to follow along in loud or very quiet environments.
  • Share check-ins at the start of meetings to get a sense of how colleagues are feeling and coping.
  • Continue or start EDI (Equity-Diversity-Inclusion) moments at the start of meetings, whether that be by asking all attendees to share their chosen pronouns or sharing an ‘EDI’ moment at the start of meetings (adaptation of the popular ‘safety moments’).
  • Follow the rules of POAG for every meeting – ensuring that the Purpose, Outcome, Agenda, and Ground rules are clear for everyone.
  • Maintain one-on-one check-in meetings with employees. This will help you understand the feelings and challenges and how you can better support each employee.
  • Continue learning for all – allowing professional and personal development can be a good change of pace for employees that are struggling to focus on work during this time. This is a good time for continuing EDI learning in an online format. Canadian Equality Consulting has a variety of EDI e-courses available.
  • Create fun themes for meetings with costumes or virtual backgrounds. Allocate time for each employee to explain their costume or significance of their virtual background.
  • Working remotely has become the new normal. COVID-19 has forced workplaces to realize how effective working by distance can be. Allowing employees this flexibility in the workplace is one of the main factors that can lead to greater diversity in your workforce. Let’s continue this trend and make sure no one is harmed or excluded in the process to be as effective as possible.
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