How to facilitate an equitable return to the workplace

August blogs

On June 26th of 2020, YW Boston convened over 400 participants for a lunchtime webinar to discuss how business leaders could prioritize more equitable outcomes in their COVID-19 reopening plans and in their workplace in general. One year later, this remains a critical conversation as many organizations are just now considering how to bring employees back into the physical workplace. What have we learned over the past year? What positive lessons can we bring with us? What questions should leaders consider as they design plans? What opportunities are there to push for increased equity in the workplace?

These questions have been front of mind for the members of the DEI Community of Practice, a partnership between YW Boston & the Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA) which creates community among Boston’s diversity, equity, and inclusion professionals. During a recent meeting, they discussed how they can create an equitable plan for returning to in-person work. Discover what you should take into account as your organization crafts its return to the office plan, by reading their tips below.

Leverage this moment to strengthen culture, camaraderie, and inclusion

To many staff, the idea of returning to the office causes stress. These moments of high-stress are opportunities for those in leadership roles to signal their commitment to inclusion and teambuilding. Some examples of this include creating town hall meetings, resources to reorient staff to the workplace, onsite celebrations, and video tours of the workplace for staff hired remotely during the pandemic. You can also strengthen inter-team culture by intentionally scheduling teams that frequently work together to be on site on the same days.

Meet the diverse needs of employees

Don’t set blanket expectations for all employees. Instead, establish clear criteria for who can remain fully remote by role and by personal circumstance/preferences. And for those working at home some or all of the time, make financial supports available for staff to have ergonomic home workstations.

Consider employee’s concerns regarding microaggressions, bias, and safety

For many employees, working remotely has meant a reduced pressure to code switch (the practice of shifting the languages you use or the way you express yourself in your conversations) based on their social identities. It has also resulted in fewer experiences of microaggressions and bias at work and during their commute. And, according to a study by Future Forum, a research group formed by Slack Technologies, just 3% of Black professionals want to go back to the office full-time in comparison to 21% of white employees. Employers need to weigh these concerns as they bring employees back to the workplace. How will this inform who can work remotely or in a hybrid structure? And, what strategies will be in place to address bias?

Anticipate and address potential inequities

Try to get ahead of any inequities that could surface as a result of new policies. Here are some things to consider:

  • Offering training for managers to supervise hybrid employees with a focus on “what does productivity look like” when supervising staff in person, hybrid, and remote.
  • Monitoring the performance evaluations and career progression to identify if face-to-face time advantages employees, leading to inequitable outcomes. As DEI leader Tara Spann wrote in a 2020 article, “Check your biases. It used to be a common belief that people working from home were not as productive or did not work as hard as their in-office counterparts…Moving forward, leaders must get comfortable with the idea of “remote work as real work” and create structure to ensure that everyone is treated as part of the team, whether in the office or elsewhere.”
  • Bringing an equity lens to changes in workplace layouts, as many organizations move to a “hoteling” concept where staff move day to day.

Solicit employee voice and keep the conversation going

Research suggests “heterogeneous groups were more likely to make ethical decisions than homogenous groups,” but diversity can only contribute to that decision making if it is given a voice. There is great benefit in doing the work to ensure you are hearing how individuals are experiencing this unique moment at every level – the questions below can help you get started or deepen existing discussions:

  • How might the decisions we make reflect on how we value our people, each other’s time. How our espoused values finding life though our work and workplace culture?
  • How are managers soliciting information about how people are doing and what they need? People’s concerns should not be a surprise. If they are, what process has existed (or needs to exist) to ensure communication, and how can it be leveraged to inform?
  • How is leadership ensuring that all voices, across racial, gender, sexuality, economic status are truly being heard?
  • Much of the focus is on the needs of white-collar workers who have been remote since March 2020. Many employees did not have the privilege to work remotely and have been in the physical workspace all along. How are you surfacing their needs, priorities, concerns?

Ultimately, crafting an equitable plan for employees to reenter the office requires many of the skills an inclusive workplace. Inclusion organizations hold ongoing, honest conversations and analyze their policies and practices to ensure equity. YW Boston supports organizations through their DEI journeys to ensure that when an unprecedented challenge arises, such as crafting a policy for working in-person, staff have the skills they need to embrace it as an opportunity. So, if you are finding that your organization needs to build its culture and competencies in order to make these big decisions, be sure to reach out for support from our DEI Services.


About YW Boston

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and F.Y.R.E. Initiative, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.

Whether your organization is large or small, you’re just starting out with DEI, or are further along on the journey, YW Boston will work with you to find the right solutions. YW Boston offers a variety of DEI Services designed to create lasting change. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at  

About InclusionBoston 

InclusionBoston advances diversity, equity, and inclusion by partnering with organizations looking for improved results. Using our advanced assessment tool and the latest research on behavioral and organizational change, we partner with organizations to create an action plan and provide them with the resources needed to drive lasting change. Our customized, evidence-based approach builds internal capacity and promotes cultural change while supporting organizations throughout their journey. YW Boston also offers one-day workshops where participants explore frameworks, develop knowledge, and engage in dialogue.  

Ready to unlock the power of diversity in the workplace? Click here to learn more about InclusionBoston and request your free consultation.