UK Blog - Three Minute Read

How to build an inclusive workplace


Kat Parsons: building inclusive workplaces for organisations post-pandemic

Why the return to the office can build a sense of belonging

How has hybrid working impacted the way your business supports its employees? Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Kat Parsons, explains why the workplace is a crucial component in building an inclusive company culture and ensuring staff wellbeing.

The hybrid working model we’ve seen emerge from the pandemic has been made a permanent fixture for many organisations. Needs and expectations of workspaces and working life have permanently shifted, and as we adapt to this change, we’re rethinking the role of the workplace and its relevance in the new world of work.

It can be easy to overlook the touchpoints of office life that bring us together, chats by the coffee machine. Team lunches. Charity bake sales. Easy access to a listening ear. But the value of these moments became apparent in their absence during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. On the flip side, cutting out the commute, spending more time at home, having greater flexibility around where and how we work are undeniable benefits of remote working. There’s no doubt that hybrid working can offer us the best of both worlds. The question is: how do we bridge both worlds to strengthen bonds between colleagues and ensure that everyone feels a sense of belonging?

Connecting and collaborating

At ISS, we’ve been considering how evolving ways of working are closely linked to our quest to become the ‘company of belonging’. While ‘Inclusion’ recognises that we must go further than simply hiring diverse employees: we need to create a ‘safe to be you’ environment, where those in the business are free to be their authentic selves. ‘Belonging’ takes this a step further. It means that you, as an employee, know your voice will be heard, welcomed and championed by others in the business. You’re empowered to speak up.

This includes efforts to support colleagues to work remotely—and with 30,000 ISS employees across the UK and Ireland, some initiatives do have to be implemented remotely. But in-person contact with colleagues can be crucial in safeguarding mental health and wellbeing. Physical distance can lead to psychological distance, which is one reason why the return to the office is so important. It’s easier to see the changes in somebody’s mental wellbeing when in the office; it’s more difficult when viewing them as a snapshot on a computer screen.

Many people I know plan ahead for their days in the office—ensuring that those are the times without back-to-back meetings when they can walk around and rekindle connections with people they haven’t seen for a while. It’s that sense of connection, collaboration and networking that you just don’t get remotely. When you see people in a two-dimensional format, you might not get a full sense of what they are actually like. So, when it comes to ‘bringing your whole self to work’, that extra dimension can let colleagues know who you are.

Alongside campaigns around race, gender and ability, we’ve created Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to help foster an understanding between communities and encourage allyship. In-person contact can optimise ERGs too—although these also benefit from the breadth of perspectives that remote access can bring. These are designed to share employees’ voices, which is crucial to business success. If you're not asking all your colleagues the right questions, you're not going to understand what challenges exist in your business. 

Belonging means knowing that you, as an employee, have a voice that will be heard and welcomed—and that there are others in the business who will champion you.”

Kat Parsons, ISS Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging

Encouraging change

I’ve noticed some businesses making big claims around changes and developments. But often these changes don’t reach all levels of the business—and that’s something we’re taking steps to avoid.

For example, we’ve recently focused on menopause support. We had to make sure that we didn't just say, “All right, we’ve done that now,” tick the box and move on. We needed to ensure that support reached people that were working either on ISS sites or remotely, and ask ourselves: did everyone benefit? Is there anything we could do better with similar campaigns in the future?

It’s important to ‘be the change you want to see’. That means not only representing yourself but also being a role model for others in the back-to-the-office world.

Understanding your own privilege and power is key—for instance, supporting conversations around topics such as menstruation, men’s health or mental wellbeing—whether or not you’re directly impacted by it. It’s crucial that people in a position of privilege are comfortable with having those conversations, so others can be comfortable having those conversations as well.

The more time people spend back in the office, the more these interactions take place. As this happens, the office becomes a more creative and vibrant space where people feel safe and empowered to bring their authentic selves to work.

Read more from our Welcome Back to the Workplace series

Welcome Back