An Inclusive Approach

Senior people manager, Mel Abrook, tells us how an inclusive approach with a diverse team has helped the Willmott Dixon IT department support the business in a very challenging time…

As National Inclusion Week draws to a close, I have been reflecting on how our IT team has coped during the past 7 months and the role that inclusivity has played in this. By embracing inclusivity, in its widest sense, our team has not only been able to adapt but thrive in the current situation.

A diverse team

I am very proud to say that Willmott Dixon’s IT team is one of the most diverse teams within our business. Our overall gender split is 65% male to 35% female (compared to our industry average of 12.3%) and our leadership team is 55% female. Our people come from a mixture of ethnic backgrounds and 24% of our people are under 29 year’s old.

Taken across any industry these are positive stats which support complementary teams and better decision making in our business.

Yet, it is a different type of diversity and inclusivity that I want to talk about in this blog post: the importance of being inclusive to people’s differing needs as individuals. This has really come to the forefront during these challenging times and the ability to be flexible and tolerant of one another’s needs has allowed our team to flourish.

A culture of inclusivity

Looking back to the start of lockdown, during this very tough time for everyone, our teams onsite were working incredibly hard to keep sites running as the world around us was shutting down. To support and enable this, the IT team was tasked with ensuring everything could work remotely and people could work successfully from home or on sites under these new socially distanced circumstances. We had to think and adapt – and quickly.

Having such a diverse group of people working to support such a fundamental shift in our working patterns certainly helped us think differently and be responsive to the situation at hand. Everyone really pulled together during this time and our inclusive culture and ability to accept and trust our people to get the job done shone through.

During lockdown it wasn’t just pressure from work affecting our people – the pressure came from everywhere.

As the team changed the way it worked, our people were accepting of each other’s personal situations, tolerant of the difficulties that presented themselves and were flexible with their time allowing some of the pressures to be lifted from one another.

Our people remained productive at work and were also able to fit working around their lifestyle, whether that was home schooling, other caring responsibilities or looking after their own mental and physical health.

Some examples of how we supported individual needs were:

  • Three people had their hours of work reduced with no loss to their pay
  • Two people changed when they could work. One worked in the morning and one worked in the afternoon so they could look after their child
  • One person worked on a different project which meant they could be more fluid about the hours that they worked
  • We encouraged tolerance of people that have children on calls, or dogs barking and cats jumping on keyboards – it’s all part of life – let’s embrace this way rather than fight against it!
  • We arranged socially distancing 121 meet ups for those people who were struggling with the isolation and lack of human contact
  • There was more acceptance of people working at hours to suit them best, so they could manage their home situation

Following the benefits we’ve seen, we’ve decided to make further significant changes to support our people’s wellbeing, one of which is looking at how we can hold our scheduled weekly meetings between 9.30am and 14.00pm, allowing for school runs or even a fitness run!

It hasn’t all been work-focused during this time, many people have suffered with their mental wellbeing, feeling isolated from their friends and team members and so we all worked hard to keep people chatting and socialising, even if it could only be via Teams calls.

People across the department really stepped-up to keep people in touch with one another. A weekly Teams quiz and catch up gave everyone a chance to chat and laugh together and our quarterly team lunch went online, using video, chat and polls to keep people engaged with what was going on across the team and business.

Inclusivity supporting productivity

Importantly, we have seen no drop in productivity from our teams – moreover we have seen many people thrive on the trust and flexibility and become even more productive than they were before.

The main thing for us has been striking a balance for our people in the light of extraordinary circumstances. Supporting people’s individual needs regardless of what they may be, whether it’s ensuring some face to face time (socially distanced of course), providing a friendly ear, or allowing more home or remote working. Being open minded and inclusive to all needs allowed our team to deliver in the most challenging time that most of us have ever, and hopefully will ever, experience.