By Frank Starling
With nearly half of the UK’s workforce working from home, many of us are signing on to our day with our pets, kids, and partners as “in real life” co-workers. Though we may be glued to the screen on calls with colleagues, we aren’t sitting down the hall or across the desk. Without the traditional in-office 8-hour workday interspersed with chats about pets, recipes and current events, how can we engage on the issues that matter when we don’t have the opportunity to bring them up in passing? How do we build inclusivity and trust remotely?
There are a few groups we can learn from who have been doing home office for years, building communities around shared experiences. Before so many of us were forced to work remotely because of the global pandemic, people like Sacha Connor had been doing so for a decade. Having worked at Clorox as a marketing executive, she advocated for remote work, citing the benefits of flexibility and productivity, ultimately shifting the company’s culture to expand its remote workforce. Seeing a need for community development and engagement among the company’s growing number of remote workers, Connor launched ORBIT, one of the first virtual worker employee resource groups (ERGs). The original goals of ORBIT were simple: help remote workers be productive and thrive by building a community to discuss shared experiences. Ten year later, Clorox’s remote workers ERG has over 700 members participating in virtual mentoring, group chats and virtual workshops.
For an ERG created on the basis of virtual work, it may seem natural for them to develop a remote community. But as companies move all aspects of business, including HR, sales, employee engagement and D&I online, that means supporting employee communities online too. Not to bring up Clorox again, but the company is doing some really innovative things with establishing virtual ERGs for communities beyond remote workers. Building on Clorox’s ERG culture, the company’s Black ERG co-chief of staff, Cameka Jackman describes its influence in recruitment, retention and high-level decision-making. It’s not just about bringing employees together, it’s about connecting them with leadership. In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, Clorox’s CEO notably pledged $2.5 million to activist groups.
When Black and People of Color (PoC) ERGs are empowered to continue their work remotely, they have the opportunity to grow in creating anti-racist workplaces – remote or otherwise. We have to equip them with the tools, allies and authority to change hearts and minds. It takes a village to create equity and inclusion and not one single Black or PoC leader will have all of the answers. The pandemic has forced us to question whether our work cultures are fit for purpose and dare I say inclusive. Within those uncomfortable conversations is an opportunity to rebuild, not repurpose. With the right mandate, ERGs can be at the forefront of that change.
What does an empowered virtual ERG look like?
- Dedicated leadership given the professional and financial resources to organise ERGs remotely;
- A clear mission statement, developed within the ERG and distributed across the organisation;
- Regular weekly, monthly or quarterly meetings scheduled during the workday (as this is essential and not extracurricular work);
- Corporate leadership buy-in in the form of an executive sponsor who serves as an appointed advocate for the ERG and its agenda;
- Active allies who regularly attend virtual meetings and encourage other allies to participate.
- Space to rest. Some Black people and PoC can be triggered and tired out by the work. In situations like this, we need to lead with empathy and allow our people to recharge.
Originally posted on Forbes