2021 was a pivotal year for bringing diversity, equity and inclusion into the credit union system. Great strides were made in raising awareness and building commitment. Credit unions rolled up their sleeves and leveraged DEI to improve both internal and member-facing experiences. Now, in 2022, a new opportunity presents itself for credit unions as they assess and redefine what role their hybrid work arrangements and physical workspaces can play in improving the employee experience and organizational culture. As hybrid work policies and office spaces are retooled, injecting DEI can deliver improved staff outcomes, teamwork, sense of belonging and commitment to shared mission.

When it comes to hybrid work and the role of the office, there will be no returning to business as usual. That mold is broken. Credit union leaders must recognize that the ground has shifted, expectations have changed, and attempts to “rein in” or “return” workers to some pre-pandemic state will not prove effective. Take the present moment as an opening to re-think and re-imagine a more holistic, inclusive and equitable set of workplace policies that will position your credit union to thrive into the future. Now may be a great time to include DEI principles from the outset and make strategic investments in your workforce policies and physical workplaces.

First, Listen to Employees

How can credit unions create office environments that foster collaborative and independent work, build community and deepen affinity for the organization’s culture? Leaders should begin by listening to staff. Workplace cultures shifted during the pandemic, sometimes dramatically. Remote work was a game-changer for many. Some staff felt more valued and supported when working from home, and most studies found that women and Black and Latino/a workers were more likely to prefer working remotely. Remote work even increased their sense of belonging. Leaders would do well to understand these shifts and harness their benefits. Developing an inclusive remote and hybrid work program can nurture diverse staff and lead to better outcomes for all. As credit unions inject DEI into workplace design and hybrid work policies, they must also support evolving staff needs and expectations.

Pre-pandemic policies and workspaces were probably not as inclusive as staff expect them to be today. The layout and purpose of physical spaces will change; leaders will experiment with new policies and practices for hybrid work; and staff expectations may continue to evolve. To better leverage the benefits of an increasingly diverse workforce, credit unions should plan for flexibility and include ongoing mechanisms for soliciting feedback.

Leveraging DEI in Physical Workspaces

When it comes to designing physical workspaces, credit union leaders should be intentionally implementing DEI strategies to create an improved sense of belonging and greater collaboration. In a recent Filene report, “Bridging the Spatial Divide: A Guide to Achieving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Physical Work Environments,” researchers found the physical work environment affected staff sense of belonging. Inclusive workplace design can enhance retention, improve business performance, and foster creativity and problem-solving.

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