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What are the psychological risks of remote working?

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Inclusivity is an essential component in any workplace. It allows employees to experience a shared sense of belonging, which, in turn, enables them to feel comfortable, confident and inspired. Unfortunately, the pandemic and remote working poses an immediate threat to inclusivity.

COVID-19 has led to a sweeping capsule environment – that is, living and working with the same people, in the same place, 24/7. This has fundamentally changed the way we approach work, and how we interact with our colleagues on a daily basis. These changes can lead to psychological risks that directly impact an organisation’s inclusivity.

One of the risks associated with remote working is dubbed ‘psychological closing.’ Due to a lack of stimuli, colleagues close themselves off from one another through less frequent and less rich communication. In extreme cases, this can lead to the development of cliques – an obvious threat to internal inclusivity.


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Organisations may also experience what is known as ‘autonomisation’, in which team members isolate themselves from each other in groups. This can lead to colleagues viewing each other as opponents, rather than partners, and can be a detriment to inclusive practice within businesses.

Another widely reported consequence of the capsule environment is displacement. Team members may feel frustrated with their working environment and, concerned with causing tension in their remote circumstances, may misdirect the blame towards other colleagues who may be members of other teams.

All of these psychological impacts can take away from a business’ efforts to include all members of staff in a way that promotes each employee’s value to the company. Therefore, businesses must take responsibility for understanding these risks and putting systems in place to combat exclusion amongst team members.

 

Mitigating the risks

With inclusivity at the core of post-pandemic priorities, businesses can mitigate the risks involved with these changes to the workforce. Between their leaders, teams, and processes, organisations can ensure their commitment to inclusion for all team members.

Leaders should reinforce every employee’s purpose and value to the organisation’s work, as well as highlighting shared experiences that level the playing field across all representative groups. Discussing and listening to employees’ experiences with the pandemic will help leaders ensure that inclusivity is the top priority as we move back towards in-person and hybrid working.

Internal teams can also take proactive measures to prioritise inclusivity. Employees should encourage each other to express themselves authentically, in order to bring a variety of experiences and skills to their teams. Team members shouldn’t assume that everyone feels included; rather, by emphasising the importance of open and honest communication, internal teams can ensure that inclusion drives company culture.

Finally, inclusion should be reflected as the top priority at the processes level. Being transparent with data regarding recruitment and terminations will help organisations stay in check with their diversity and inclusion commitments. Additionally, developing employee resource groups is a proven way to ensure that all employees feel solidarity in the workplace, and can be an effective tool for mobilising inclusion at the policy level.

 

Moving forward towards an inclusive workplace

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion for organisations, and the post-pandemic world will undoubtedly reflect the learnings and changes borne of the past 12 months. Organisations are presented with a unique opportunity to make substantial change, and to recognise the inherent value of inclusivity to company structure.

 

Binna Kandola is senior partner and co-founder at business psychology firm Pearn Kandola