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How can businesses create an inclusive culture across different time zones?

In the context of the upheaval and uncertainty during the last 18 months, it’s more important than ever that companies bring their people together.

Given it’s Inclusion Week (w/c 27 September), I’m taking a moment to reflect on the efforts we’re making to create an inclusive work environment for all employees – this is even more important for businesses that operate in multiple jurisdictions and times zones, to consider how they can ensure inclusion and belonging are felt across the whole organisation

Getting this right can be challenging. The actions that businesses take to accelerate equity and even what inclusion looks like can vary from country to country. At the same time, different time zones can complicate how organisations communicate diversity messages that both reach and resonate with all colleagues. 

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The pandemic has changed the way we work for many people and, in some ways, has strengthened relationships around the world. With these lessons in mind, there are three key steps businesses and HR teams can take to create an inclusive culture across the different countries they operate in, or in some cases enhance the inclusivity they already have in place.


Leverage technology

Prior to COVID-19 many businesses didn’t use or rely on technology in the way we do now. For some, the shift to Teams or Zoom was a hard adjustment that has now become ingrained in how organisations communicate and work together.

But just because we now can use the technology efficiently for day-to-day meetings, external events or team catch-ups doesn’t mean we should stop there.

Can internal inclusion moments, webinars and firm-wide calls all be arranged at times that suit multiple time zones so colleagues around the world have more choice in being part of the conversation?

And are businesses thinking about how they maximise different functionalities? Can they use tools to poll colleagues in different countries and collate feedback? At National Grid that would include the US and UK, so that perspectives are shared and a range of views expressed.

We’re also using a new software that brings our employee resource groups together and makes them more accessible. It might sound simple, but maximising the technology platforms available to businesses which have been so crucial during the pandemic could help efforts to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion exists in all corners of the company.


Don’t make assumptions

Many of us can find ourselves making assumptions without realising it or meaning to. This could be assuming that a diversity event in one jurisdiction is only relevant to that jurisdiction to taking an inclusion approach in one country and applying that exact same approach to another country without considering differences in cultures or other factors.

It’s important that we try to recognise when this happens and take action, whether that’s providing opportunity for people in different offices to participate in events taking place in other parts of the world or, where relevant, tailoring diversity tactics to take into account cultural differences.

For example, we’ve seen from Black Lives Matter and the tragic killing of George Floyd in the US that what happens in one place can captivate and engage the world – and that it was critical businesses with a workforce split over multiple countries thought carefully about how they supported and engaged with all their people on such a huge issue.


Communicate far and wide

A global sense of inclusion relies on how much we share with and talk to each other across borders and different teams. Businesses can use their internal communication tools to boost how employees interact with each other on diversity and inclusion issues. 

This can be through sharing personal stories from one part of the world to raise awareness and educate colleagues, sharing resources and insights that can help them become more aware of what’s happening in other parts of the world or by highlighting the impact that unequal experiences, discrimination, allyship, honest conversation, can have on individuals.

More broadly, for diversity events or milestones like Black History Month in the US or LGBT history month in the UK to Global Diversity Awareness month, details on these should be available to everyone so that all people have the chance to join, whether it’s to listen in or ask questions. 


Diversity, equity and inclusion must be a global priority 

It can be easy to silo diversity and inclusion approaches to the individual countries that a business has a footprint in. But global companies need to ensure they’re taking every opportunity to enable employees to develop their understanding of diverse experiences and events that impact their colleagues and encourage them to engage with peers on different issues.

Diversity, equity and inclusion must be a global priority where all people, no matter the time zone they work in, feel that they belong and can also do their part to create a sense of belonging for others in the business. 


Natalie Edwards is chief diversity officer at National Grid