The danger of neglecting work relationships

By Joanna Gaudoin

Hybrid working: there is no doubt that it has brought many benefits. New research suggests that Brits value personal life as much as – if not more than – work. And hybrid working has done a lot to provide this balance, including making time for home-focused activities, saving time travelling on packed trains and sitting in traffic jams, as well as often providing greater peace and quiet for people to work uninterrupted.

Unfortunately, hybrid working has also been to the detriment of professional relationships. Fewer casual conversations take place as people don’t see one another around the office as much anymore. As a result, they no longer build professional relationships unless they plan their communication and make a more intentional effort.

Furthermore, being away from the office allows people to ‘hide’ from those they find challenging to deal with, and not dealing with issues rarely has a good outcome.

What this means is that people only engage with those they really have to when they have to;  beyond that, people engage only with those they like and want to connect with.  The fall-out of this, of course, is that they are less likely to engage with those who are very different from them, setting back the good work that has been done as part of companies’ Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) efforts.  Without the ability to practise some of the lessons of EDI – such as listening to diverse/adverse opinions and perspectives – inclusive culture development stalls and, worse, might even devolve into pockets or cliques of ‘birds of a feather’.  The more ‘similar’ people stay in their own groups, the more they lose out on the benefits of diversity of thought within their organisation. There is even the possibility of them forgetting the true benefits of EDI and perhaps even questioning the need for it.

In other words, one of the unwanted consequences of hybrid working is the deterioration of EDI efforts and on an individual basis, potentially closing oneself off from diverse thinking.

Given the efforts most companies are making to advance EDI, it is worthwhile encouraging our colleagues to spend some time as individuals considering whether this is what is happening in their own working life.

How to encourage action to work more inclusively

One simple way to assess whether hybrid working is impacting someone’s own working relationships, is for that individual to track who they engage with and how frequently. You might suggest that they try this over a span of two or three weeks and compare it to the circle of people they had engaged with in previous times when everyone was at the office more regularly. You might also suggest that people consider whether there are fewer informal interactions with colleagues, and to also compare the quality or depth of those interactions to previous times.

Once this assessment has been done, and if people find that their circle of interactions has narrowed and perhaps become more homogenous, here are a few steps you can suggest to them to make a change. These actions will help people form closer relationships and be more inclusive whilst still benefitting from hybrid working:

1. Consider overall how you are spending your working time. Are you making enough time to connect with others and collaborate on challenges together?

2. Consider your most immediate relationships at work – the ‘obvious’ people you need to engage with. How positive are they? What are the dynamics at play? If less than positive, what can you do to improve them? Even small things, like calling up someone for a virtual coffee, can make a big difference! Focus on 2-3 relationships at a time.
3. If you are a team leader, are you spending enough time on managing and developing your team, and where relevant, managing upwards too?  It’s vital to understand how your team are getting on at work – how they are working on what they need to do of course, but also any blockages or frustrations they are feeling.  Making time to discuss their career development is also important.  When this doesn’t happen, people don’t feel valued and it is now a major reason why people are easily tempted to move on. Try to make specific time for both these types of discussions; if that is within a regular catch-up, then it’s key to ensure that enough time is put aside.  In terms of managing upwards, remembering that your boss is human too will help build the relationship, as well as considering their agenda and key current focus.
4. Think about people in the wider business who can help you in the broader sense. This might be from a day-to-day perspective like helping deliver a better work product, or from a longer-term perspective like progressing your career. Who are those people?  Are they aware that you exist, and what you do?  Generally speaking, outside your own daily interactions, people won’t be aware of you and of what you do unless you build relationships with them. You should consider that those who don’t know you may ultimately make decisions about what you work on and your next role, so it’s important to focus on these more strategic relationships.
5. Think about whether you are only really making time for people who you like or who are similar to yourself, with similar views and life experience. Are you being less open to the contributions of people who are different to you than you were when everyone was in the office? Is there anyone who might challenge you more and get you to consider new ideas and different ways of thinking? How might embracing a more diverse dialogue benefit the business and your own work? How might this wider circle of contacts benefit in turn from more interaction with you?

Since the pandemic, many people have understandably wanted to focus more on non-work activities, which is important. However, positive professional relationships are vital, as none of us can work alone.  More than that, we can all benefit from connecting with a variety of people with different experiences, values, beliefs and assumptions.  And if people notice that EDI efforts are dissipating as a result of hybrid working, this may be used as yet another reason to recall people into the office on a more regular basis – and who wants that?

As companies are gearing up for a busy time, this is the ideal time to consider the above points and how you can influence  your own and others’ more fulfilling and productive professional relationships, even as we all continue to work remotely for part of the time.

Suggested Reading


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5 Steps towards building Inclusion for remote teams

One size does not fit all – Adapting EDI Strategies for all

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Anyone travelling through one of the world’s major airports in the last five years will have noticed one of HSBC’s ‘Together We Thrive’ posters, advocating a global outlook adapted to local markets and cultures.  When I saw the posters for the first time, they immediately spoke to me.  They said that, although we might be different in many ways, we are part of the same world and want the same from life; that although we’re more similar than different, our differences matter and we benefit from embracing them; that while an idea can be global in outlook, it won’t work unless adapted to local differences.

This is how I think about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy. No matter how big the company – and how global its outlook is on EDI – its implementation needs to take into account local traditions, legal systems and economies. This is as true for international companies with offices across the globe as it is for national companies with offices across the country. One size does not fit all and EDI strategy and practices need to be adapted to take local culture into account. Just as general corporate values that reflect the overall company culture need to be adapted to the culture and behaviour of each office or even team, EDI strategy implementation also needs to be adjusted.

But what does this mean for organisations that are managed centrally from one region?  What do they need to do to appeal locally and achieve their EDI ambitions?

We have worked with a number of global companies that have grappled with these questions and we suggest the following approach:

1. Start with a broad-brush EDI outlook
A good EDI strategy underpins a company’s business mission and vision and reflects its values. In other words, the EDI statement (upon which the strategy will be set) should be as broad and encompassing as the business mission and vision.

Take Apple, for example. Its mission statement is to bring the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software and services.

Apple’s Diversity Statement supports this mission, as follows:

Different Together
At Apple, we’re not the same. And that’s our greatest strength. We draw on the differences in who we are, what we’ve experienced, and how we think. Because, to create products that serve everyone, we believe in including everyone.

From this, Apple might craft a global EDI strategy that focuses on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as a tool to (1) improve innovation and (2) better understand the user experience.

From this strategy focus, its top priorities globally might be: (a) to explore the user experience in top markets (in order to create the best user experience), (b) to improve diversity in its research and development (R&D) departments (in order to develop innovative hardware, software and services) and (c) to improve inclusion and psychological safety across the company (in order to draw on the differences and to benefit from the diversity of its people).

These priorities might then form the backbone of its global EDI strategy.

2. Adopt a ‘glocal’ EDI outlook
Once a broad-brush EDI outlook is formed and the global priorities are identified, it becomes important to identify how to implement them locally.

Continuing with the Apple example, then, and following the 3 suggested priorities, it would be important to understand how each of these 3 priorities is going to be implemented locally:

Priority 1: Understanding user experience in top markets.
This is an exercise that will need to be localised to each one of the top markets. For instance, it might involve understanding what products are selling in each of the top markets, what the most common use of those products is in those markets, and how local conventions influence this use. It would then be more feasible to identify any gaps between what users need or want and what the experience delivers.

Priority 2: Improve Diversity in R&D.
This priority will need to be adapted to the markets in which R&D takes place. In this case, the strategy may begin by understanding the R&D region and its demographic, and an assessment of the representation of that demographic in the R&D departments. This analysis will allow the company to put measures in place that are specific to the R&D region in order to improve the Diversity of those departments.

Priority 3: Inclusion and psychological safety for all employees.
This is a truly global priority that will be implemented very differently in each of the countries and even the individual offices of the company. This is also where most companies fall foul of Inclusion. In many cases, Inclusion and psychological safety are defined by the understanding of those concepts in the country from which they originate. So, in this case, these concepts might be defined according to the understanding of them in the US, where Apple is incorporated. It would, however, be a mistake to apply the same definition and ambition for this priority in each of its other locations.

Adapting Inclusion to regions, countries and even offices is an exercise in listening first. It’s important to understand how these concepts translate, what it means to people there to belong and how feasible some of these concepts are. For instance, it might be difficult to openly declare one’s sexuality in some countries as it might be punishable by law. In this case, insisting on certain Inclusion standards in the office might in fact put some people at risk! This policy, therefore, would need to be adapted by reconciling the global position with the local environment.

Similarly, in countries where most people look the same and have similar backgrounds, it would be difficult to impose measures to increase ethnic representation without additional efforts that may not be usually expected.

In other countries, it might be that people are more pre-occupied with basic needs such as food and shelter, and the idea that people are different and may need to be treated differently is not something that people may have had time to contemplate. In this situation, therefore, things may move more slowly in embracing some of the practices and policies that lead to Belonging.

In all these cases, global ambitions need to be seen through a local lens and be ‘glocalised’, just as implied by HSBC’s ad campaign. By localising global EDI outlooks, EDI becomes more meaningful to people. Bearing in mind that we’re all similar – and yet different – it will allow us to focus on our commonalities while respecting our differences. An approach that is adapted to each country, office and even department while staying true to the overall EDI company message runs the greatest chance of success.

Taking Everyone Along in your EDI Approach

By Sara Bell

If you work in or are interested in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), you’ll see the value in EDI initiatives that create a more equitable and fair workplace. Unfortunately, as advances are made by some, often backlash erodes the gains for all. I would argue therefore that it’s essential to find, establish and maintain an approach to EDI that takes everyone along, rather than creating dividing lines or feelings of anyone being side-lined.

Specifically, I consider the interconnected nature of multiple, overlapping identities or intersectionality as the key concept driving why it’s now more important than ever to take everyone along. Intersectionality means some people are more likely to experience unique and greater forms of exclusion, discrimination and marginalisation. This term was created because of a legal case which examined how a group of workers who were made redundant ended up worse off, not because they were women and not because they were Black, but because they were Black women. So Diversity initiatives that focus on gender or ethnicity alone are unlikely to create a culture of Inclusion for everyone.

I would like to share some strategies for establishing and maintaining an EDI approach that benefits all employees, avoids dividing lines and feelings of being side-lined, and takes everyone along on the journey.

1. Avoiding Dividing Lines
Diagnose the status of your diverse representation using data to ensure you are talking about the real situation in your organisation. By understanding where there are gaps in representation (e.g., the hiring of disabled employees in mid-level sales, promotion of Black women to senior manager positions in technology, retention and engagement of LGBTQIA+ staff in line management positions in finance), you can be specific and factual about where interventions are needed. Focusing on one aspect only will most likely disenfranchise other employees.

Client Example
I recently worked with a tech organisation that had a hiring target for women in engineering. Many of the line managers were disillusioned with EDI and what felt to them like an equation for EDI with a focus on just hiring women. When we looked at the detailed data, women were clustered in one department and there was a lack of Black men as well as women in line management and leadership. I facilitated a data-led workshop with the extended leadership team, for them to determine the targets for hiring as well as retention. The main focus was a detailed heat-map showing the demographics in each team. By looking at more aspects of Diversity and setting more specific targets for areas of the business, the leaders engaged with the process in a way they would any other business issue. The inclusive workshop process helped to include white male hiring managers in the conversation and they started to look beyond the different aspects of Diversity in hiring, and focused on inclusion of all in the engagement and retention of their people. The data and process engaged and included them and removed the binary male or female hiring focus which had caused a backlash.

2. Include those who are feeling side-lined
Oftentimes white educated men in organisations feel excluded from Equity, Diversity and Inclusion efforts, yet they hold significant influence over the culture and practices in organisations. We have spoken about true allyship and the role of all leaders in creating Inclusion. Along with a focus on diverse representation and inclusive culture, your EDI approach will be more impactful if you are deliberately including the white majority in your organisation (read here about the Global Majority). Reframing narratives and identities can be unsettling, so why would you not support those you are asking to share power, identity and established ways of working? Support those in positions of privilege to do the work to create Inclusion for everyone. Some examples of ways to do this include coaching and training of senior leadership teams as well as facilitated reverse mentoring programmes for leaders to understand the lived experience of others in their company.

3. Take everyone along on the EDI journey
Genuinely taking everyone along recognises that every person and organisation is at a very different starting point. So the action for the EDI approach is to think about how agile, empowered, viral changes can be part of meeting everyone where they are, and encouraging everyone to move in the same direction of Inclusion. In addition to top-down approaches, bring your employee body onboard and empower employees and supervisors to amplify their voice and experience. One way to do this is to create safe or brave spaces for employees to engage in real discussion, for example in employee forums or network groups. Facilitating experience sharing and telling these stories more broadly in the organisation can help others to understand the impact of their language and behaviour on colleagues with different lived experiences, and they will want to act differently rather than being told to.

We have been speaking this year about the EDI journey, how there are phases to maturity that organisations go through to benefit fully from the creative genius of each and every employee. It requires concerted effort from everyone in the organisation to get there. Wherever you are on that journey, I am sure your EDI strategy can take everyone along. You can progress by ensuring you are using data and listening to everyone’s voices where everyone is taking action each day for a more inclusive culture. You know this creates a more positive and productive workplace that benefits all employees, and helps to promote greater equity and fairness in the broader community beyond your business. Taking everyone along is not just the right thing to do, it is also the safest way to ensure that EDI strategies are implemented successfully.

How has your organisation managed to bring everyone along?

The Best Advice I Ever Received

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

August is a quiet month for many of us.  This gives us a chance to spend time with friends and family. It gives us an opportunity to have fun and perhaps to recuperate, to reflect and regroup before things get busy again in September.

To reflect the more relaxed mood, we bring you a slightly different blog, one that will get you into summer’s laid-back flow.

Today we share advice that 8 members of the Voice team had received and heeded over the years.

Are there any here that will help guide you?

Calming Nerves

I was once given this reassuring advice: ‘When delivering a talk or doing any public speaking, don’t feel the need to apologise for being nervous, especially if it’s your first time. Remember that the audience don’t know what you’re going to say anyway, so just speak and it’ll be enough!’


Chasing the Dream

The best advice I have ever been give is, ‘Don’t chase the money; follow what you want to do’.  Leadership opportunities materialise everywhere.  All you have to do is take them and do the best with them.  The money will then come to you more naturally and you will be a happier person for following your purpose.


Impactful Self-Talk

Instead of saying, ‘I can’t, I am not good at that, and besides that’s just not me’, say ‘How can I do it in a way that works for me? How can I learn to do it in a way where I can bring my authentic self and still achieve those results?’.

For instance, instead of saying ‘I am just no good at writing blogs’, reflect on things you are good at and ways you achieve things in life, then draw on those to find a way you can write blogs. This might be by using voice recording, by writing short blog sections, by using images or a line of poetry to inspire you, or by writing 8-12 pieces in one day.

Strategic Choices

One of the best pieces of advice I was given, and one many of you will also have heard, is to pick your battles. This applies both in the workplace and in family life. Decide what’s really important to you, that you really feel is worth the “fight”. If you try and fight every single battle you will exhaust yourself. Sometimes it’s ok to let the little things go, and to make that decision in itself can be a personal victory.

Free Spirits

‘Learn to let go and see what happens’. This is a version of “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you it will be yours forever, if it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with”.

The Most Precious Gift

The best advice for life I ever received was from my father, over