Remote Working – Win with Inclusivity and Sensitivity
Priya Patra

“When everyone is included, everyone wins,” said Jesse Jackson, American civil rights activist.

On 22 March, India entered the first phase of the lockdown. Since then, we have witnessed unprecedented changes, which we never imagined before — be it be our approach to business, our way of working, or our approach towards life. As a manager, I had to keep the lights on under stress of team instability and ensuring self-care, all escalated with concerns over health and safety.

Now, as we near the end of the fourth phase of the lockdown, I look back to see how I have fared as a manager on being an inclusive leader:

1. Virtual workforce: On 23 March, we flipped the switch overnight from being physically present in office to working from home. I realized that my team, which was consistent in meeting deadlines, became less predictable. Some of the members suddenly went silent, while others were very anxious and stressed.

According to a research by Gartner, only 10 percent of people like to work from home, while the rest prefer working in office or in co-working spaces. An overnight switch is an unprecedented change in behavior and way of working. This may make the team uncomfortable, with the members feeling they are unheard and isolated in these times of insecurity and confinement.

2. Marginalization: As we navigated through the first week under lockdown, still trying to meet our basic psychological and safety needs, I noticed some comments being passed on our onshore coordinator, who was of Southeast Asian origin.

Since COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China, there have been incidents of xenophobia and discrimination across the world. Such incidents can influence the team to marginalize members from Southeast Asian origin.

3. Self-isolation: A week later, I realized that my database administrator — a veteran in the project — was no longer engaged. He would miss team meetings frequently and when he attended them, he would not participate actively as he had done in the pre-lockdown phase.

Older generations, who are used to face-to-face meetings, may find it tough to adjust to the new normal of virtual connections and collaborations. They could be stressed because they are most impacted by the disease or they may have trouble adjusting to at-home virtual collaboration tools.

What could I have done better to be a more inclusive leader? What techniques can a project manager leverage to improve diversity and inclusion? Here is what I have learned from the eight weeks of lockdown:

1. Identify your quarantine persona: Working remotely is strikingly different from working remotely under quarantine. There is stress, anxiety, and some amount of panic. It is also about managing kids and household chores, while trying to remain productive. This can influence one’s persona.

You should identify your quarantine persona and introspect to see how it affects you, your team, peers, and managers.

2. Look for blind spots: Uncover self-conscious and unconscious bias. It could be due to a combination of factors such as ethnicity, race, creed, societal upbringing, generation, religion, sexual orientation, education, marital status, or physical ability. Post self-awareness, we can bring about sustainable behavior changes via “peer coaching circles”.

3. Interrupt and address:
Take time out to address any racist remarks you encounter. Find out the intention behind such remarks and provide facts about COVID-19. Coach the person to rethink their actions and the impact that these comments can have on the team.

Diversity and inclusion are necessary for resilience and recovery of business and life. Lack of inclusivity means we miss out on stellar ideas of new ways of working. This would also mean loss of goodwill and the ability to recover from crisis. Diversity and inclusion are not optional, but are a must to stay ahead of the curve.

Priya Patra is program manager at Capgemini. She is an advocate of agile project management and leads the Agile Community of Practice at Capgemini.