Following the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns, the way we work has changed dramatically. While affected to different degrees, both men and women have struggled to create a new work-life balance as the boundaries between the office and home were erased. This has forced companies to go back to the drawing board to build a positive and inclusive work environment where their employees can work to their best.
Speaking at the inaugural Sri Lanka Internet Day conference, Head of Inclusive Diversity at London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) Sri Lanka, Bani Chandrasena, shared examples of initiatives LSEG is exploring to build such a work environment. Many of which have also been adopted by other companies in the tech industry and offer a foundational blueprint for other industries to build upon.
The challenges of working from home
Before the COVID-19 lockdown, both men and women had clear boundaries between work and home. While women also faced a greater burden of managing the household, companies like LSEG had support systems in place to make it easier for them. Even outside of work, there were other support systems like employer assisted childcare, in-laws and domestic help.
These support systems helped women establish boundaries to build a stable work-life balance. But when the lockdown came into effect, these boundaries were erased and many found themselves isolated from their support systems.
Bani described it saying, “The period was especially challenging for working mothers. Suddenly, helping kids with their homework, cleaning the house, and being a supervisor at the office all had to be done at the same time. We had support systems in place for working mothers and fathers at LSEG, which were not accessible with the lockdown and employees had to rely on extended family like in-laws”.
Building an inclusive work environment in the COVID-era
To tackle this issue and help maintain an inclusive work environment, LSEG started by reaching out to managers and helping them ensure that they supported their teams to create boundaries between their work hours and home life.
These efforts started by dispelling misguided assumptions such as, “Working from home means the team is available at all times”. From here they went onto ensuring that evaluations were outcome-based and foregoing micromanagement approaches in favour of placing trust in teams. This is a journey our managers are going on, learning to review and manage teams’ performance on outcomes which is definitely a more productive way to measure.
Additionally, LSEG had also launched initiatives introducing mindfulness to its employees. “COVID made people realise how important mindfulness is to their well-being,” stated Bani. The company had also set up a dedicated line of communication to assist employees with any issues they might face while working from home with special emphasis on emotional and mental wellness.
The blueprint for a post COVID work environment
LSEG conducted several internal surveys amongst its employees to learn how they felt about working from home through the period of the pandemic. Bani shared that the survey results showed 80% of LSEG employees wanted to continue working from home part of the time. A figure that she believes reflects the sentiment of the broader tech industry.
“Even after restrictions eased following the first wave, the tech industry was largely still working from home. It was only 10% of their workforce that might have come to the office,” explains Bani. For the tech industry, this large scale work from home experiment forced by the pandemic has allowed us to go back to the drawing board and learn what’s necessary to build an inclusive work environment that supports a better working style.
The blueprint offered by LSEG and the broader tech industry provides a foundation for other industries to also build inclusive workplaces. Yet, Bani acknowledges that each industry is unique. Hence, companies outside the tech industry seeking to replicate the inclusivity of LSEG must acknowledge the unique challenges of their industry. Returning to her time in the apparel industry, Bani pointed out that hiring a woman meant ensuring companies had to offer safe transportation and keep other support mechanisms in place to ensure an inclusive workplace.
The next frontier that LSEG is exploring in its quest to build an inclusive workplace is flexibility with work; hours you work, where you work from and the types of contracts. LSEG is now actively exploring different models to offer its employees greater flexibility when required. In turn, the company aims to attract and retain female employees – exploring how to bring women back into the workforce who have taken a break from their career after maternity leave and breaks due to other reasons.
Ultimately, when we return to the office, Bani believes that things won’t be the same. The pandemic has forced companies to revisit how they work. For LSEG, it was an opportunity to revisit its foundations, build upon existing initiatives, and create a more inclusive work environment. The company’s efforts now offer a blueprint for others to emulate. Optimistically, Bani said, looking to the future, “A lot still needs to happen for employers to be more flexible in creating these inclusive workplaces but believes that the tech industry will drive this forward.”