Our experience over the past year has delivered great innovations and unlocked our thinking to embrace new ways of working. In many ways, the tentative results have been a more flexible work environment that has added space for people to bring their whole selves to the workplace, whether that has been digitally or in the office — or a bit of both.
But there are growing pains, especially when it comes to fostering equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at work, or while working at home.
We brought together a panel of Colliers team members who represent a cross-section of business streams, locations, services, asset classes and personal backgrounds to assess and measure how far we’ve come in this new normal of hybrid working for EDI, and how much further we need to go.
Director, Project Management on balancing our personal and professional lives in the pandemic
We've been given an unvarnished look into the challenges of being parents or caregivers. Many professionals are also facing limitations of space if living in a small condo or trying to share an office with a partner or spouse. None of this has been great for stress or mental health. It's crucial for us to be approaching our team and work with great empathy.
The blending between the personal and professional has its pros and cons. The challenge is there are no clear rules or guidelines as we unintentionally glimpse into the lives of our colleagues. In one way, we are closer as people as we check-in on our talent to see how they are making it through the day or week. On the other hand, our office culture is suffering because we cannot collectively be together to share a casual water cooler conversation, grab lunch or socialize.
It will take time for organizations to find the balance in the new normal as we try to reintegrate people into a professional work environment, likely treating our offices as a destination that serves purposes like collaborating and connecting. We do not wish to miss the connections and empathy we have built during the pandemic.
EDI in the workplace is continuing to evolve. A more equitable work environment makes space for differences and empowers people to be their authentic selves, while having less hierarchical access to things like better seating, natural light and wellness amenities.
Managing Director, Montreal Brokerage on how new tech can create class divisions at work
One worry I carry into the new normal is that our new tech tools that enable us to work from home are leading to a class system in which those who embrace flexible, remote work will be seen as less engaged and dedicated than those who have decided to work traditionally at the office.
That the differentiator, when all other things are equal, will be that the employees with the ability to easily travel to work and whose socioeconomic situation allows them to be in the office will be seen as harder working and more team-oriented.
We need to recognize that this is not a fair perspective or accurate assessment.
Also, in our industry, diversity is more prevalent at the support and operations levels where women and people of colour have significant representation. Employees at the support level more often use public transportation to work which is challenging for those concerned with exposure to viruses. Conversely those in sales and management positions who require their own transportation are less impacted or inconvenienced. Other factors that require more use of flexible working will be child-care issues, as too often, the brunt of child-care is left to women.
We need to notice and measure these impacts, and fight against inequalities in a coordinated and thoughtful way.
Former Senior Vice President Strategy, Finance and Operations, Brokerage on finding space from work for yourself, and transparent communication
A major challenge during the pandemic has been creating separation from work to focus on personal needs and wellness — and to have some space for thinking and reflection.
Each person has their own mechanisms but may not always feel that they can take that space. It's crucial for leaders to empower teams to find their space, whether that's taking the dog for a walk without guilt, or exercising during the day.
We need to recalibrate how we blend our work and our personal needs.
Another concern I have is about the adoption of so many new tech tools. For example, digital whiteboards, video presentations and digital collaboration tools have kept our businesses operating, but many people are less familiar or comfortable with these new tools — and this is stratifying teams.
In some cases I have seen people tune out when facing technological challenges. We need to drop our assumptions about tech comfort and make space to provide support, either through ‘tech checks’, 'tutorials', or finding non-tech ways to get the job done.
We also need to set ground rules and communicate about work location and hours. Our blended work environments should be evaluated from time to time as situations change. A blended workplace coupled with transparency will encourage people to thrive and contribute, but we must ensure everyone can be heard in the spaces we work. That will create better work and a sense of success and belonging.
Vice President, Marketing, Communications & Research on bringing talent together and respecting family life
In our new normal, it's critical that we find ways to foster connections and ensure that talented people with experience are interacting with new recruits and up-and-comers. Talent and wisdom rub off on people, and it’s tougher to nurture those connections while working digitally or separately.
It's essential for our leaders to find ways in the new normal to bring people (and their talent) together, whether that's by having dedicated and purposeful office time, or coming together on video or Zoom calls in meaningful ways. The more that we can design our workspaces around connectivity and togetherness, the further we can go as a successful organization.
Another thing I've learned during the pandemic is just how crucial it is to be empathetic and understanding about others’ lived experiences. We have many people on our team who have young kids at home. Managing them with utmost flexibility is really important. It takes effort to find ways to allow those team members to bring their whole, and their best, selves to work — and I think the starting point is just having some understanding about what their personal challenges present, especially within this pandemic when every part of life has been tougher.
Vice President, Strategy, Real Estate Management Services on the great upheaval (maybe) becoming the great equalizer
The pandemic has created a great upheaval. Many of our teams have changed in the 18 months since the virus hit. Meantime, work culture expectations have become blurrier, giving us more flexibility to make changes to the work experience. Many existing and new employees had to relearn how to work from home, and will experience a similar adjustment in returning to the office. This gives us a window of “reset” to change or relearn within the new normal, but this could become a great equalizer, or potentially a divider.
Our perspectives on EDI are changing. Obviously, this means leaders and leadership have the opportunity to have an outsize impact. A huge (and very difficult) area of change is disconnecting an individual’s experience in how they found success from how they expect others around them to behave in order to achieve success. An example of this is resisting the urge to generalize your personal experience into how everyone should be behaving or feeling.
This could be anything from: “I worked 80 hours a week when I started out and everyone else should pay their dues” to not being conscientious about balancing their relationship-building between team members who have more in-person interaction with them, and those who have more of a primarily virtual interaction.
One especially harmful bias is holding on to the concept that there is a fixed set of characteristics that makes a person more likely to be successful and defines a leader, such as assertiveness or being highly social. Whether intentional or not, this often leads people to look for others who are similar to themselves when searching for the rising stars, regardless of the specific needs of the role.
When EDI efforts start to show progress, we'll have less reason to exist in organizational silos. When EDI is considered in decision-making the same way that profitability and service are, we will have made great progress, and it will also embed EDI in a way that the journey is always ongoing.
Managing Director, Vancouver Brokerage on fighting against tech marginalization
A common concern that has emerged in this discussion has been the role that tech tools have impacted EDI. Many of us expected that tech tools would become some sort of equalizer. In fact, we're learning that technology and the ways that we communicate are yet another way that people can be divided, excluded or marginalized.
Not everyone responds in the same way to Zoom. For example, it has been shown that women prefer to speak in small groups of three or four people. Therefore large Zoom calls of many people automatically make some people feel less comfortable and less likely to speak up or speak out. Participation gets dominated by those who are willing to express themselves in this setting, meaning valuable, diverse perspectives are getting lost.
The result of these new work habits is that we don’t hear a cross section of opinion or participation. Few of us have been trained on how to host great Zoom meetings, to effectively get the quieter voices a space to be heard, so we're playing catch up with skills and the technology can lead us down some problematic paths.
On the other hand, we also need to improve how we communicate about responsibility during calls. For instance, we need to communicate when and why our cameras should be on, while remaining professional and resisting the urge to be too casual.
We're finding that smaller breakout rooms are a perfect way to make people feel more comfortable speaking, and they should be used more. I think it could also help to have participants take turns in leading video calls to promote engagement and empower individuals.