A silver lining in the midst of the global pandemic? Remote work inspires more empathy than ever
By Lee Dale
To describe the past two months as ‘transformative’ would be a radical understatement. Practically every organization across the globe is navigating unprecedented and ambiguous upheaval.
As individuals, we’ve adapted our behaviour to give ample space to passers-by, and expanded our vocabulary to include ‘social distancing’ faster than crafty sewers can stitch facemasks.
As we peer into our colleagues’ homes from our new home offices, or share our gratitude for frontline workers, we reassess our relationship with work, and our work’s meaning in the world. Unwittingly, and for the better, this has made us all see what an inclusive approach to work looks like.
For the fortunate white-collar workers who remain employed, videoconferencing and other online tools make working from home the new normal. Unlike most ‘long-game’ transformations with labour—from safety standards to embracing diversity—this change has been abrupt and drastic. We’ve seen the ‘softer side’ of previously faceless institutions and once stoic spokespeople.
The smartest leaders have used this turbulent time to exhibit empathy and explore opportunities in this crisis. While this is no time for ‘egos or logos,’ the pandemic offers time to reflect on how to improve our workflows, hone technological solutions, and better share information and resources.
Whether we witness sign-language interpreters alongside political leaders at press conferences, or appreciate the simplicity of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)’s online application forms, we’ve become acutely aware of the need for clarity, consistency, and inclusivity.
Like all adaptations, we must first accept this reality before we can thrive in what will be a fundamentally reshaped global economy. For organizations, new practices must engage, encourage, and enable all staff, partners, and patrons. These are all principles of inclusive design.
Inclusive design goes beyond accessible services and accommodations. It recognizes an individual’s complex and ever-changing experience and needs.
A familiar example is the sloped curb on the corner of a sidewalk. Initially developed for wheelchair accessibility, this accommodation also benefits parents with strollers, or someone with sore knees—and many others with similar needs.
The same happened with video captions, which make accented speakers easier to understand or keeps our watching from disturbing others around us, but which were initially created to unlock content for the deaf or hard of hearing.
As millions more remote workers experience an upsurge in empathy, it’s time to harness this shifting perspective to create an inclusive approach to delivering products and services. Innumerable studies have proven that to uncover new markets and break through with innovative products, a diverse network of stakeholders and colleagues is key.
The natural extension of this is for more leaders to embrace inclusive design. This means accepting the complexity of the market and the variability of individuals, and connecting intentionally with diverse audiences.
To lead with real insight and innovation, we must abandon the myth of the ‘average’ person.
Going forward, people will expect adaptable, accessible, efficient, and inclusive solutions. This includes ongoing accommodations for remote work, online access, and a more thoughtful consideration of our shifting needs as we move between home, office, and the many ever-changing stages of our lives.
We’ve never experienced anything like this in our world’s history. Now is the time for leaders to embrace this unique opportunity, tap into our growing empathy, and realize the capability of their teams to deliver more inclusive products and services.
Not sure how to get started with an inclusive approach to digital transformation?
From our inclusive public sector work to our insurance, banking, and other private sector work, we continue to develop our inclusive design practice and bring impactful service design and product strategy outcomes to the organizations and communities we work with. Let’s use the unprecedented change we’re facing today to continue to deliver more inclusive products and services for tomorrow.
Originally published at https://sayyeah.com on April 24, 2020.