Nov 11 2021

CDW Tech Talk: Building Diversity and Inclusion into Hybrid Work

Hybrid work demands solutions that allow for equal participation from all employees.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, many organizations pivoted quickly to accommodate a sudden increase in remote work. While that move may have seemed temporary at first, it’s become clear that remote work won’t be going away anytime soon.

Even organizations that have taken steps to bring employees back into the office have realized their plans must now allow for remote work on some level. Many organizations have begun adopting hybrid work models, which bring their own challenges, including both technological and culture issues.

Charisse Brogdon, manager for collaboration solutions at CDW, joined CDW’s Tech Talk webcast to talk through some of the challenges and solutions for helping employees feel connected, engaged and included in hybrid work arrangements.

Equal Participation Is a Critical Component of Hybrid Work

Brogdon began by acknowledging that not all companies are in the same situation right now. “We have customers that are back with everyone working in the office. We have others that are still all remote, and then we have others that are doing a hybrid model,” she said. But regardless of each company’s individual approach, all of them recognize the need for collaboration among employees.

“One focus we are seeing is making sure that the remote attendee feels like an equal participant. For almost any meeting that we're going to have now, at least one person is going to be remote on that meeting. We're doing designs where their remote participant is kept top of mind,” Brogdon explained.

As for technological solutions that can aid collaboration, she mentioned high-quality video systems, good microphones and virtual whiteboarding. She also noted the potential improvements artificial intelligence can offer. “A lot of times, we've been on calls and, suddenly, there's a package being delivered and the dog barks, or you might have someone who's a heavy typist. There are also situations where you can have a child who's on a remote call at the exact same time as you are. Making sure that we're using AI to intelligently reduce these noises, where you're seeing that only your voice is going to be heard, is really crucial.”

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Flexible Work Arrangements Keep Remote Workers Engaged

Brogdon cited flexible work arrangements as a key element in keeping employees happy and productive. “When we're talking about flexibility, it's not just working from the home office, it's making sure that, hey, if I have to run for an appointment or I have to pick up a child from school that I have the ability to take that meeting on my phone and be mobile.”

“It also means the flexibility and taking needed breaks. One concept I recently learned was called digital exhaustion,” she continued. “It turns out that when you're in a room with other people and you're just doing a call and you have other people in a room, you're taking a drink of water. You're writing notes. You know that not all eyes are on you if you're not speaking. But the thing is, when you're on a videoconference call, anyone can be looking at your video at any time and seeing what you're doing that exact moment.

Being on camera for extended periods of time can be mentally taxing, Brogdon said “Brain studies have been shown that even if you take five minutes between remote meetings it really helps  people to think clearly, and it helps reduce stress.”

Brogdon noted that the use of advanced analytics is becoming a trend in hybrid work. “That means that you can see how much time you're spending in meetings. And this is data that only the user can see,” she explained. “Meetings are great for collaboration, but you need focus time to do your actual work. Really using these tools and strategies can definitely help a worker to be more productive, especially in a hybrid work environment.”

WATCH: Learn how a diverse workforce can position your organization for success.

Empathy Is Essential to Building an Inclusive Work Culture

Cisco’s Shari Slate, chief inclusion and collaboration officer and senior vice president of inclusive future and strategy, and Gianpaolo Barozzi, senior director of people experience innovation, joined the discussion to share their thoughts on the importance of empathetic collaboration.

Slate said she believes that empathy is a core part of the success of hybrid work. “Empathy has long been a leadership skill that we all aspire to have, but it's never been more important than it is today. There's a recent Forbes study that says empathy touches everything from innovation to retention to how people feel from an inclusion standpoint.”

From the Forbes study, Slate highlighted the effect of empathy on engagement and inclusion. “Empathy is a massive driver of engagement. What the study says is that 76 percent of people whose leaders are empathetic and who have experienced empathy are feeling 76 percent more engaged than those that don't have empathetic leaders. And in the area of inclusion, 50 percent of people with empathetic leaders have said that their environments feel inclusive compared with 17 percent who haven't experienced empathy from their leaders.”

Creating a Culture of Empathy Can Yield Many Benefits

Barozzi agreed with Slate on the importance of empathy during an era of hybrid work. “Before COVID, 14 percent of meetings included remote participants. In the future, 98 percent of all collaboration meetings will have at least one remote participant. This is why empathy is becoming so critical between participants from multiple locations,” Barozzi said.

Without empathy, he predicted hybrid work environments will involve more burnout, video fatigue, lack of connection and engagement. “But just delivering the best technology and the best training on how to use it, it's not enough. We need to create inclusive, collaborative empathetic experiences in a much more deliberate way. And the question is, how can we do this?”

At Cisco, Barozzi explained, “We started analyzing emerging and innovative experiences, 200 cases in multiple business areas. And we distilled them into a set of design principles. Then we applied those principles to some of the most relevant collaboration use cases in the organization to create a guide that is really enabling our people to create more empathetic collaboration experiences. Finally, we conducted a neuroscientific study of more than 150 people, which proved that the application of the design principles that we identified in the preparation and delivery of a hybrid collaboration session really led to a significant, better participant experience and a higher, positive emotional state where we want to be.”

Leadership Buy-In Is Key to a Healthy Hybrid Work Environment

Brogdon, Slate and Barozzi all agreed that empathy starts at the top, pointing out the need for leaders to listen to their employees.

“I do think that your ability to be transparent and honest and authentic about how you are experiencing your journey from a hybrid work standpoint is critical. It's a critical discussion point for you and your leader. And it's an opportunity for you all to co-create together a path for success for you as a leader and help upstream in terms of how the company begins to take care of the entire community from a cultural standpoint,” Slate said.

“As a leader, regardless of where you sit in the organization — HR, IT, DE&I, a business leader — this is your moment now to take your seat at the table and ensure that as your company is architecting their plan for success and hybrid, that inclusion is the core,” she said. “From a company perspective, the question is, what are we doing as a company to ensure DE&I is at the center of our hybrid experience? From a technology perspective, what technologies are we making decisions on to ensure that we are creating the empathetic experience and journey for our people to be successful in the power of participation with hybrid?”

Barozzi concurred, adding that technology can play a major role in this area. “Continually look for ways to leverage the intelligence and the insight from your digital collaboration platform and provide it to your people, your team and leaders, to understand and act on how they collaborate, how they work together to enable them to become the engine and the ultimate owner of a more inclusive culture in an organization”

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