Hiding in plain sight.
We live in a world where globalization has meant that the work place is now the real melting pot while outside of the office any and all differences cause friction. Polarization based upon religious, cultural, advocacy or political differences gives rise to group-ism and ghetto-ization of our cities. Bringing this sort of fractured community into the office and trying to make these factions believe in a common corporate vision then work towards common organizational goals… just the sight of that steep trek makes one feel dead. An organization cannot afford to lose so much of time and energy on trying to make warring factions play well in the sand pit. In fact even the larger world outside of corporate offices has so many real problems that trying to make warring factions work together towards common goals of peace, equality, food security, climate protection and so may more altruistic objectives is a full time job. However as a small group at the work place it may be possible to address the problem of antagonism through proper attitudinal conditioning.
Covering, among other things what comes to mind when one hears that word is a seed-coat. One of the wonders of nature is how a seed that is roughly half a millimeter to maybe a few centimeters in diameter turns into a plant or even a tree. It is truly magical how that happens. However this transformation lies dormant under a seed coat, it could lie dormant for ages. Nothing changes with the seed till such time as the correct environmental and physiological parameters present themselves and help crack open the seed coat to then allow the underlying seed to germinate and grow into it’s true potential. Similarly individuals are capable of greatness, they are in most cases restricting themselves behind a seed coat, a covering, to help them stay safe. There can be so many reasons that people choose to hide behind an assumed persona at work, everyone wants to be accepted into the social circles. While uniformity is an age old concept we have come to realize that it is actually does not work so well when we want to maximize every individuals contribution to the organizational vision. Remember normalization in databases and how we all struggled to fit data into specific structures. That was yesterdays relational database approach which we now know has it’s applications albeit limited. Meanwhile the world has moved on to Big data and noSQL, acutely more powerful and capable of much more than the structured nature of of an inflexible RDBMS.
Similarly with humans, for instance, it was at one point essential to have people turn up to work in smart formals with men being expected to wear suits and ties (even in 38degrees C) and women also expected to be similarly trussed up. And that wasn’t even the end of the normalization approach we are not even getting into the way religious, cultural and advocacy leanings had to be left at the door in favor of a uniform outlook. As a result a lot of energy, time and effort used to be spent on the appearance and uniformity exercise. No doubt it looks smart and in some cases, like the armed forces, it may still be relevant. However when you consider most of new world economy the expectation that people who need to think and make things happen on the basis of their thoughts are also expected to maintain a hive mind you realize how detrimental to innovation that approach can be. When it comes to the dress code, food habits, religious or cultural representations, world view on various issues and so many more aspects of an individuals overall constitution it is illogical, not cool to expect everyone to have the same traits. It is not only illogical it is actually detrimental to the organization to work with such a workforce where individuality is not encouraged.
Creativity at the workplace is a highly valued trait and it sits at the center while everything else grows out of creativity, be it innovation or design or execution, product positioning, marketing or sales and support the source is creativity. Creativity does not happen when you put a person under the pump, well maybe it does like we see at Master Chef Australia (not America) however those are infrequent exceptions. A new age organization today needs frequent sparks of creativity, creative ways of solving problems, creative ways of developing new applications, creative ways of marketing a product, creative solutions to customer complaints. It all comes down to how frequently we can access the creativity fount. To be routinely creative people at the workplace need to be allowed to be, just be. A place which is sensitive enough to discourage covering will automatically attract and retain talent that is sensible enough to bring cultural integrity and universal empathy to the workplace. Again two very important terms, cultural integrity and universal empathy, the ability to showcase and carry with you that which is truly symbolic of your constitution and the ability to have enough empathy towards your fellow workers so as to accept what they bring to the workplace as representative of their constitution. So what this translates into is an environment where workers are bringing to the workplace that which makes them feel almost like being at home. Encouraging employees to bring home to work is not viable at all workplaces, for instance it might not quite work out too well for a fire fighter to be juggling formula and fire extinguishers. However at places where the main currency is the brain it can work and should be highly encouraged.
As an example let’s look at how covering works. A mom, or for that matter a connected dad as well, needs to be able to call/take calls from his children while at work without being made to feel as if he/she are not being professional. However more often than not the assumption is that having family plug into work time is not the done thing and employees especially moms tend to have quick hushed conversations cutting off the call with an abrupt “I’m in the middle of my work day”. That needs to be addressed. The employee needs to be made aware that he is considered human even while at work, humans have families and those families come first! There would be a section of people out there who would say “this can be misused”. Well that’s where we circle back to integrity and empathy. You show generosity on your side your employees/reportees will show integrity and empathy on their part. They will of their own accord explain to the family back home about using text messages frequently and calls only for urgent responses. That way the distraction element is reduced. An employee who knows that office time does not mean I am absolutely cut off from my kids is a more secure and confident worker. It works better for the company as well.
There will certainly be flash points, for instance in a country like India and more so in the way things are today, one can imagine what could happen if an employee turns up to work carrying a tiffin-box full of mutton curry. Yes a section of the floor will attack the lunch box to help themselves to the curry and then there would be a section that would frown and scrunch up their noses at the smell they are not very appreciative of. There is no need to tell people what to bring to work and what not to bring to work. Just tell them food is to be had at the designated place and not at the work desk. This is all that is required. Everyone is free to bring whatever they wish to eat and eat it with dignity on a lunch table with their friends who enjoy that specific food. At the same time the personal space of a pure vegetarian worker is not invaded. A win for both sides and a happier way to co-exist. Being mindful can go a long way in addressing the inclusiveness and diversity pledge.
Simple ways in which a more inclusive workspace can be created for employees to be hyper productive in while maintaining their individuality and dignity.