At the fourth annual PDX Tech Writing Supermeetup, panelists Zhou Fang and Betzabe Villareal of PDXWIT spoke about the impacts of the pandemic and working from home on members of different communities and shared strategies for how employers can maintain team cohesion and inclusivity in a remote atmosphere. Drawing on their experience in tech and DEI, Zhou and Betza shared advice on how to ensure that all team members feel supported and encouraged while they work from home.
The Disproportionate Impact of the Pandemic
Zhou and Betza’s presentation highlighted the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on marginalized communities. They shared insightful statistics on how the pandemic has magnified existing structural inequities for women, underrepresented ethnicities, LGBTQ, and people with disabilities. Employers and leaders must recognize how the pandemic disproportionately impacts different groups, which creates hurdles to working remotely.
Challenges of Working and Studying from Home
Zhou and Betza also spoke about the numerous challenges associated with working and studying from home, which many of us are all too familiar with. This includes the lack of socialization and the sense of isolation that comes with remote work. Communicating via email, Slack, and other digital tools doesn’t foster the same sense of belonging and community as in-person interactions in an office or around the water cooler. Constant Zoom meetings are also mentally taxing. Studies show that video conferences contain extra requirements compared to in-person meetings, such as more of a need to show interest and sustain eye contact as well as an absence of non-verbal cues. As Zhou and Betza pointed out, access to home office resources also varies and some employees may not have a dedicated workspace or a reliable Wi-Fi connection. Other people may have to combine their responsibilities as a parent or caregiver with their work. In many ways, remote work has resulted in blurring boundaries between professional and personal environments.
Zhou and Betza shared several strategies to help team leaders reduce the difficulties of remote work and foster trust, community, awareness, and empathy amongst their team members, including:
- Role model vulnerability
- Encourage members to describe their work preferences
- Check bias when providing feedback
- Create remote/virtual community events
- Reach out to team members and constantly ask about their needs (Keeping in mind that members of different cultural groups have different needs)
- Screen for cultural awareness
- Establish clear video conference expectations
- Prepare resources to support employees and offer team benefits and perks (Such as therapy access, office supplies, free meals, and mental health days). Benefits make a big difference in quality of life, allowing employees to continue to work and be effective in a remote environment.
They also recommended strategies for team members to help them thrive in a remote atmosphere, reminding everyone that flexibility is key. Both Betza and Zhou advocate for flexible work hours and redefining the traditional 9-5 workday. Betza reasons that as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter when. A UK study found that flexible work hours improve productivity and employee well-being and prevent burnout. They also advocate for more inclusive remote meetings and making video optional.
Zho and Betza’s presentation showcased that employers and team leaders need to pay more attention to inclusivity while operating remotely. Being flexible with work hours, providing benefits and accommodations, and constantly reaching out to team members and checking on their needs can improve the remote working experience and increase productivity. As they reminded us, it’s important to be able to adapt and be flexible in this new working environment.
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