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Harnessing diversity and inclusion in technology key in 2021

Prioritizing diversity and inclusion in collaboration technology can help companies maintain their cultural touchpoints -- even during a pandemic.

Businesses were not prepared for the large-scale shift to work from home due to COVID-19, but as with any disruption, it comes with pros and cons. This trend has been underway for some time but mostly on a voluntary or exceptional basis. Not all lines of work can be remote, but where it has become the norm, hiring practices are being rethought.

The ground rules and expectations for employee performance have definitely changed, not just for the existing pool of workers who are now home-based, but for new hires as well. One of the biggest challenges facing businesses today is building and nurturing a culture that makes the organization more than just a collection of atomized employees.

Businesses are as competitive as ever, but in these pandemic times, other factors beyond the bottom line must also be considered. Many remote employees toil in less-than-ideal working conditions, while safety concerns around COVID-19 overshadow everything. At the same time, some businesses are just hanging on to survive, and the isolation of work from home presents mental health and wellness challenges.

Adding diversity and inclusion in technology to fill void

These are just a few of the stresses that didn't rank as concerns prior to COVID-19. As a result, it's no longer enough just to consider a person's skill set for a job -- regardless of whether the person is an existing employee or a new hire. Culture has a central role to play, and in 2021, that means diversity, inclusivity and being socially conscious.

To varying degrees, some of these goals are mandated by law, but culture and shared values cannot be legislated. Culture, for example, is the byproduct of organic human interaction. But working remotely presents a serious challenge to sustaining the workplace culture. This is where unified communications (UC) and collaboration platforms can help fill the void. While your organization's culture cannot be totally replicated in a virtualized, distributed environment, these tools are a decent proxy, especially for supporting greater inclusivity. Let's examine three ways collaboration platforms can help your company maintain its cultural identity.

Businesses are as competitive as ever, but in these pandemic times, other factors beyond the bottom line must also be considered.

1. Greater accessibility

With work from home, physical barriers present at the office fall away. All that's needed to be productive today is a PC, broadband connectivity and a good set of collaboration tools. This opens up the workforce to those who, because of physical or social challenges, might face accessibility barriers or not otherwise be as productive in a physical office environment.

2. Mitigating language barriers

Today's digital economy is borderless, and with many businesses operating worldwide, their workforces have become global as well. This model can be supported effectively with branch offices. But, with work from home, businesses can scale further and faster, and that's been the reality with COVID-19. Internet technologies are the key driver here, but collaboration platforms add another important layer.

First of all, workers not fully versed in your native language -- but still able to follow along -- can collaborate without needing deep conversation. Video combined with chat can work well, especially when using visual prompts, such as gestures. With the aid of AI and machine learning, UC platforms can help these workers learn and develop the language as they go, especially as real-time transcription and translation tools are added to the mix. When these newer diversity and inclusion in technology capabilities are adopted, language issues cease being a barrier to participation, thus enabling businesses to support a more globalized workforce.

3. Maintaining a respectful environment

The workplace has never been so demographically complex, and collaboration platforms can play a key role enabling and sustaining participation from everyone. Multigenerational workforces are now the norm, often spanning three or four age brackets, each of which communicates in its own fashion. Digital immigrants rely more on legacy applications, like telephony and email, while digital natives favor mobility, text and video. Without UC, this technology mishmash could become an unproductive Tower of Babel, but when these tools reside on a common platform, workers can seamlessly shift across modes and still respect differing communications preferences.

Demographic vectors other than age -- among them gender, race and faith -- are also becoming more diverse. The more harmonious a company's culture and environment, the more productive its workers will be, and with diversity being a fact of life in 2021, this is not easy to do. As noted, policies to support diversity can be mandated to a point, but differences will not always be respected.

On one level, diversity and inclusion in technology platforms can keep things in check via informal channels and modes, such as short-form chat and emojis. Using these tools can enable people to push back safely when behaviors -- unwittingly or not -- start crossing lines. Furthermore, these digital modes are logged, providing a trail should these behaviors become more problematic and require a more formal response. Clearly, there are many sensitivities here that are beyond the scope of this tip. What is most important, however, is understanding that UC collaboration tools can be a form of self-regulation that will permit differences to be respected and enable employees to focus on the tasks at hand.

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