Decorative pattern

Do ‘back to the office’ plans exclude women and minorities?

October 2020

By Jasmin Pakbeen




An article in The Guardian thinks that a return to the office may negatively impact women and BAME employees. Here we look at why that might be, and how any employee can continue to work productively from home.

A return to the office?

Towards the end of the summer, the government ramped up its messages encouraging workers to return to the office, driven in part by a fear of the devastating impact on local businesses of workers staying away from city centres. As a result, many businesses began putting into action their plans for tentative office openings.

However, by late September, coronavirus cases were rising again, and this message was reversed in an announcement on 22 September. Although this is clearly not good news for the sandwich shops, newsagents and other businesses that rely on a steady stream of commuter customers, it might be a positive for women and BAME workers.


In an Guardian article on 13 September, the chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), Ann Francke claimed that a return to the office might also see ‘a return to “white middle-aged males” making important decisions in the office, while women and people from ethnic minorities are excluded at home’.

With a recent survey by the TUC showing that two in five mothers do not have the childcare they need to return to the office as some nurseries, childminders and wraparound care remain unavailable, there is a fear that those populating our newly-reopened offices will be senior leaders – and as Francke says, ‘we know that those senior leaders are largely white men’. She believes this risks ‘[reinforcing] the kind of exclusionary, lack of diverse culture at the top of organisations’ that has been seen – and widely criticised – previously.


An equitable return to the office?

A survey carried out by health insurer Vitality, quoted in Cover magazine, echoes this, finding that women ‘feel less comfortable than men with returning to the workplace’, in addition to many ‘admitting they are unable to return due to caring responsibilities’.

Maybe our new circumstances provide the opportunity for a fresh start?

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, titled 3 ways to enhance gender equity as we return to the office, has suggestions around ways that our return to a form of ‘normal’ working could be used to re-set the dial when it comes to gender un-equal working practices.

Offices should keep working parents in mind, it recommends – for instance when designing sick leave policies, which should recognise that ‘sick’ days are frequently used to cover children’s illnesses rather than their working parents’.

Senior management should lead by example when it comes to making family life ‘visible’ in the office – for example, not being afraid to talk about the need to leave early to be home for bath time; or the need to take a morning off for sports day. Family commitments should be prioritised and spoken of openly.

Lastly – and perhaps most importantly – the article suggests that organisations adopt ‘expanded and creative flexible work arrangements’. The lockdown has evidenced the effectiveness of homeworking, to the extent that many employers expect never to return to 100% office-based working.

It cites a recent survey of Chief Information Officers, where 71% agreed that a new appreciation for remote work arrangements will be a significant factor in their future plans for office space and technology.

All of which sounds like an opportunity to make sure your flexible working arrangements are up to speed. Can you create a combination of in-office and homeworking that enables all your employees to benefit?


Making remote working as effective as being in the office

One thing that has sometimes hindered adoption of homeworking has been the challenge – whether real or perceived – of accessing the systems and documents needed to work efficiently. Businesses should identify any requirements as part of their back-to-work due diligence, and ensure they put in place the long-term solutions that will enable this blended remote and in-office operation.

For marketing teams looking to improve their ability to collaborate remotely, a few simple steps can help:

  1. Ensure your communication is on point. Communicating is more important than ever if you’re working in different locations. Look at tools like Yammer, which can be a quicker and less cumbersome way than email to initiate conversations, get answers and brainstorm ideas. We’ve probably all got a bit tired of video meetings, but Zoom and other video call solutions remain a good way to share ideas.
  2. Ensure your projects have an assigned leader, clear action points and defined responsibilities. This is particularly important when you’re collaborating as a remote team – it can be easier for actions to fall between the gaps.
  3. Collaborate effectively when creating new materials. Version control is particularly important when remote teams create and review materials. Not only will better version control save you time and unnecessary work, it reduces the risk of regulatory compliance breaches, branding inconsistencies or other errors.
  4. Whether working in the office or remotely there are real advantages for everyone to have easy access to up to date, approved material to use, refer to and collaborate with colleagues. It is a sure way of ensuring accuracy and saving time.
  5. Look at creating a central asset library, accessible to everyone who needs to use, update or approve marketing collateral, to make sure content, logos, colours etc are always on brand.
  6. Explore the tools available to help you. Solutions that include branded templates allow users to focus on content rather than fonts, headings and colours for creating, updating and repurposing material quickly and easily. Smart templates with granular approval chains speed up the approval process so that marketing and sales material can reach audiences sooner.

Solutions like this come particularly into their own when people work remotely, but will also help to make your project management more efficient, and marketing compliance processes more robust, if and when we return to the office.


Effective solutions for remote collaboration

For now, remote working remains the norm. And with many arguments for the retention of some flexibility here, to support people with caring responsibilities, or just to help those who have found working from home far easier and more effective, we have to expect that a full return to our old ways of working isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Follow some best practices for effective remote collaboration, and your marketing team should be as efficient as it’s always been – with the added benefit of providing a more equitable working environment.

Perivan’s Enable platform is a market-leading solution for marketing collateral production and is ideally set up to support remote and flexible teams. Enable makes it easier for your marketing team to collaborate wherever and whenever they work. 24/7 remote access means documents can be worked on from anywhere at any time, supporting increased flexibility in working practices and enabling those with childcare or other responsibilities to work outside standard ‘office’ hours if they want to – without any impact on productivity.

To find out more, visit our newly upgraded website.


Nothing in this document should be treated as an authoritative statement of the law. Action should not be taken as a result of this document alone. We make no warranty and accept no responsibility for consequences arising from relying on this document.

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Decorative pattern