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How Can We Create Ideal, Inclusive, and Harmonious Workspaces?

By Metasabia Rigby, RVC Fellow, Powerful Voices

As a Black woman in America who often works under conditions of oppression, I have been thinking a lot about the kinds of work spaces I would feel welcome in and benefit from because I have previously been in work spaces that were not conducive to growth and learning.

My ideal workspace

For me, the ideal workspace has four qualities:

It takes into account differences and complexities in experiences

It allows participants to express what they need to do their best work

All participants commit to adaptability

Laughter, storytelling, and experience-sharing are welcomed

I would like to work in a space that feels like holding a cup of warm tea. I want to feel comfort, ease, appreciation, and relish in the depth of gratitude for the journey it took to have my colleagues around me.

I would like to sit in a circle with my work colleagues and have one person be in the middle. The person in the middle would express what they need to do their best work — what tools, trainings, resources, and policies would bring those needs to fruition.

At the close of each person’s turn, they end by asking the circle, “Can you hold me?”

Those of us on the outside would listen, come to agreements in what areas we are able to hold the person in the middle and would respond “We can hold you.” I believe, even in small nonprofits, we can deliver most to all that our colleagues would ask for in order for them to feel and be successful.

In my ideal workplace, we commit to adaptability. This means we understand and welcome the reality that we all have different sleeping patterns and productivity patterns. I see an environment which allow folks to work remotely two or three days because they can achieve the same amount at home that they would at work, aside from meetings and other group work. I see a place where we are able to take two 30-minute breaks a day and an hour break at lunch and do whatever we choose with the break times. This environment would include one day a week where the entire staff has group activity time, an activity that we all do together that is unrelated to work.

My ideal workplace  is where laughter, storytelling, and experience-sharing come together, here each person feels that they are able to show up as their whole self and know that their colleagues may not understand and share the same backgrounds, identities, and or needs — but they still appreciate, respect, and give grace to each other. In doing so, we collectively build positive relationships with one another.

What stops us from having these workspaces?

Part of why achieving these workspace is difficult is due to  our fear and wariness of acknowledging the racist, misogynistic, ablest, bigoted, and capitalist culture we live in. And yes — this is a lot.

But we all hold in a lot already and are not given the respect and acknowledgment of how heavy some of our metaphorical backpacks are while climbing the hills of life.

However, we can hold each other because we do this naturally anyway.

I have seen people carry babies, mattresses, food, flowers, and tons and tons of experiences of joy, grief, trauma, love, self-love, disappointment, awareness, and hatred.

If we can demonstrate and appreciate the way our bodies naturally hold life, I know that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. These practices of holding each other will encourage intentional and authentic relationships.

Thinking outside of the box

What foundation needs to be built for these ideal workplaces? Transitions and change are difficult, especially because our needs are always changing. How do we hold and guide each other in our individual work and life journeys? How will we ensure accountability? Some folks could abuse the privileges given, others might need strict rules of engagement to the umpteenth degree in order to know that they are doing everything right, and other folks might leave because they do not believe that kind of work environment is for them.

This is why it’s important to get trained together in our struggles with adaptability, transitions, and change.

Workspaces David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom, researchers, consultants at the O.C. Tanner Institute, and authors of, “Appreciate: Celebrating People, Inspiring Greatness,” gave an example of a really harmonious workspace: a baseball field where a bunch of eager kids are gearing up for their Little League finals. In a 2015 Forbes interview, Sturt and Nordstrom say that on a micro-level, a kids’ baseball team has all the makings of a great workspace: Clear vision (winning the big game), a leader who inspires instead of commands (the coach), team cooperation and camaraderie, constructive communication, and appreciation all around (everyone happily cheers for one person’s milestones).

Ideal workspaces can look as varied as our imaginations.

What steps can we take to create these workplaces?

I’ve been fortunate to have seen the benefits of good workspaces, through my work with Powerful Voices. Ideal work spaces are always a work in progress — something we actively work toward.

I personally think that in order to get closer to ideal workspaces, it’s important to establish defined goals and measures of outcome. For instance, team members can have regular meetings in which everyone is given a framework analysis of the dominant culture’s value and belief systems in order to begin creating an equitable and safe environment for people to stay involved, feel safe, and committed to their and the group’s health and growth.

Here are my own proposed steps to get closer to ideal:

1. Start with a survey.

2. Conduct focus groups with colleagues, board members, young people, and community organizers.

3. Meetups with colleagues and two people they trust in advocating for them.

4. Invite a healing practitioner, a bereavement counselor, and a brain and body health consultant to guide a holistic health and people-first workplace.

But what about you? What do your ideal workspaces look like and what steps can you and your organization take to get there?