Prior to the pandemic, businesses promoted fairness and overcame discrimination in the workplace primarily through their HR policies and business culture, which was underpinned by the Equality Act 2010.
When the Act came into force, it created the legal framework under which employees were protection from discrimination, with nine core pieces of legislation covering areas such as age, disability, gender, marriage or civil partnership to maternity rights, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation.
In a welcome development, the pandemic, it would seem, has catalysed the focus on equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) further still.
As businesses return to the workplace, many are taking advantage of the opportunity to use their business premises to create an even more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace, as occupier advisory partner, David Thomas, discusses.
Whether you are an employer or landlord, you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to your premises to meet the needs of your employees or tenants, as teams are enticed back into the workplace.
With this duty also comes the opportunity to use your business premises to create the most diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace for your people, and this is very much what we are seeing happen on the ground.
David explains: “As we continue to emerge from our home-working cocoons, businesses are embracing new working practices to meet both the needs of their company and their people – be it hybrid working, smart, flexible or TWT working. However, making that transition back to the workplace – no matter the extent – hasn’t been easy for people.
“From the impact of the commute and childcare reconsiderations to the argument over lost productivity and working better from home, workforces across the UK haven’t been backwards in coming forwards about the challenges of a return to the workplace.
“To address these concerns, businesses have been at pains to deliver a much better office experience for their people, and in doing so, are supporting better ED&I in the workplace. But it isn’t by accident, it is increasingly by default.”
ED&I is a key part of their workplace strategies, as well as their HR policy, and businesses are delivering significant improvements to their premises to meet the needs of both a more hybrid and flexible workforce, as well as delivering ED&I improvements.
This is being achieved in a variety of ways. Companies are providing safer mobility for the visually impaired through things like better ambulant facilities, lift access and adjustment of switches and door handles, to the use of contrasting colour.
Avoidance of single sex toilets for the transgender community, quiet, air-conditioned rooms for those going through the menopause, areas designed for introverts and extroverts to do their best work, locations near nurseries to support new parents – all of these things are now being built into office specifications.