Business Unusual: Equity in the New Business Climate

Introducing: Business Unusual!

Here at Ruby, we’ve been cooking up a series dedicated to bringing expert insights right to our customers, and the small business community at large. In this installment, Ruby’s own Jill McKenna interviews Katie Augsburger of Future Work Design. They focus on building equity in the workplace during a crisis. Watch the video or scroll below to read the transcript!

Jill McKenna:

Hi! My name is Jill McKenna, I’m the Campaign Marketing Manager at Ruby, and today I’m speaking with one of our subject matter experts, Katie Augsburger from Future Work Design. Katie is an amazing HR expert and thought leader with 15 years and more of experience. And I’m going to let Katie explain what Future Work Design is and what her work is.

Katie Augsburger:

Thanks, Jill. This is super fun to have me in your studio. Is that what we’re calling these?

Jill McKenna:

It’s called my bedroom.

Katie Augsburger:

And thanks for coming to my basement. Yeah, so I founded Future Work Design with three other women and we focus on helping organizations with strategy, customer experience, employee experience, all with an equity lens, and centering equity in the design.

Jill McKenna:

And I imagine you’re probably pretty busy right now, is that right?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah. I think I didn’t necessarily know what was going to happen when this all started. I thought that, I think for like a lot of people, I thought, “Well, this is it. This is the end of everything.” But I’m heartened to see that a lot of organizations are taking this moment to rethink how they want to be as employers when everything starts to come back. So that’s good news. That’s good news for all of us.

Jill McKenna:

And how do equity design and strategy play into current events, or how are you seeing them play into current events and what businesses are experiencing right now and for their companies going forward?

Katie Augsburger:

I think most organizations care deeply about wanting to be diverse and wanting to be a good employer, but I think this particular moment is highlighting that each of our employees has very different and vastly different experiences and it behooves us as an organization to take the time and effort to see what they need and to create an organization that’s going to meet those needs because we want them to be successful. We want to grow their careers. We want people to feel valued and we want their value in the organization. To me, what I’m seeing, of course, when crisis happens there’s a lot of bad things that are highlighted, but also a lot of amazing things about how we want to show up for each other. And I think the thing that I’ve seen most is this is truly a humanity crisis and that’s bringing out our need for connection so people are doing deep work to make sure we’re connected with each other.

Jill McKenna:

That makes sense, and we work a lot with small businesses, sole proprietors, a lot of folks in the home services industry, the legal industry, medical, all sorts of small businesses, from tattoo artists to orthodontia. And so we are hearing from our customers a lot of what you’re echoing and a lot of the same concerns, which leads me to my first question for you, and I’m going to read it so I get it right. In your work right now, with so many companies small and large, you’ve identified a fairly universal theme as being in different boats on the same water. Can you speak to managing individuals right now, managing to the individual and keeping expectations real for both employees and customers?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah. So I will admit someone way smarter than me came up with this analogy, which is that we are in the same ocean in very, very different boats, which means that this is an experience that’s happening to everyone, but based on your identity, based on who is in your house, based on your role, you’re experiencing this really different. You might be a frontline worker, you might be sitting at home caretaking with children, you might be home bored with no work to do. You may be caring for a sick loved one or you yourself might be sick, and so each one of us is going through a very different experience right now. And what becomes really difficult is when we’re managing an organization with so many different people experiencing this event so drastically different.

Katie Augsburger:

And so it can be hard for an organization to feel like, how do I then create an experience that is equal for everybody? I want to be fair and I want to be equal to all my employees. And I’d like to give you permission to let that go right now. This isn’t a moment for equality. This is a moment for equity, meaning that yeah, things are going to be unequal. There’s going to be people who are going to need extra support, extra help right now, but that is what equitable means, which it means that we’re going to make up that difference of all of the barriers that are in people’s lives that can make it difficult and we’re going to do our best to remove those and that might mean extra care, extra time off, it might mean extra support. It might mean we move some of the job functions around. But that’s what is probably needed in your organization because people have different needs right now.

Jill McKenna:

Is there a way that you’re guiding leaders? I mean, what you said, it just strikes me because, of course, we give ourselves this space and this room in our communities. We see our family members who maybe need more, we see our neighbors who maybe need more, but we don’t always give that to ourselves and we don’t always extend it to this expectation of ourselves and others within the business world, because business has been standardized for one way for so long. So, is there a way that you’re guiding leaders at all to give some of that grace to themselves and then extend it to their team members?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah. Well, I like to say, “Never waste a crisis.” So we have been please socialized that the way we do work is everybody gets the same thing. We don’t want to set precedent, we don’t want to give one person one thing and not the other, and that is probably a model that will not work in this new normal. And it’s okay to start experimenting with, “Well, how can this look different?” Maybe my work experience is going to have to be a few hours in the morning, a long break so I can caretake for children, and then a few hours at night.” We’re going to have to get pretty experimental and we’re also going to have to really divorce ourselves from how we used to do things because that model isn’t going to work for us anymore.

Katie Augsburger:

And I think the feeling of tension that we’re all kind of feeling is that sense of, “I really knew how to work well in this old world. I don’t really know how to work well in this new world with all these rules that aren’t formed yet.” And what’s beautiful about that, what’s less scary, is we get to decide and make decisions about that. We’re kind of our own pioneers right now and we can decide how we want work to look. And that might look really, really different. We have to experiment and be able to play in that.

Jill McKenna:

Yeah, and in your work, are you seeing that starting to unfold and maybe solidify as this more, not having such a reactive stance, but a more responsive stance and being more mutable to the changes, and I guess the other part of that is you can’t look into a crystal ball, but how do you see that potentially shaping in the future, that mutability and being open to change, and dealing with the team member in front of you?

Katie Augsburger:

I think I am seeing organizations really quickly pivot to being adaptable. Organizations that have never changed before are like, “Well, I guess in two days, we’re all working from home,” even though they may have been trying to figure out work from home policies for years before then, right? So we’re building that muscle really, really quickly. It just means that we’re not going to snap back and immediately go back to how we were working before. We all know that kind of deep down but we’re not really ready to intellectualize that. And so giving people that moment to say, “We don’t work the same, we don’t think the same, we don’t hold our attention span the same.” Our kids are in our space when we used to drop them off at school and go to work, and that is practically different and we cannot apply those rules that we’ve had for the last 200 years to today. It doesn’t work anymore.

Jill McKenna:

These psychological changes and this that’s happening, it’s not only happening to the individual but it’s happening to our holistic companies and the systems that we have built within it. So how are those reverberations happening for the customer and on their end of experience?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah. I like to kind of reach back to that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right? We are still, even though we like to, “I’m going to use this time to learn how to quilt and I’m going to use this time to practice yoga,” it’s like we’re still in safety and security. We’re still trying to understand how we’re going to keep ourselves safe, how we’re going to keep our bills paid, how we’re going to keep our families safe. And that’s happening for our employees, that’s happening for our customers, and so it requires us to practice deep empathy and slowing down, slowing down your expectations of how fast is a sale going to close versus how fast am I going to get this deadline met? We’re just not operating at the speed that we’re used to. And that’s really hard I think especially in our culture where productivity is so important. We measure everything against how productive am I? And we’re not there, we’re not going to be there for probably a bit.

Jill McKenna:

Thank you. That’s very thoughtful. And it makes a lot of sense and it makes a lot of sense to the things I’ve been reading and something our CEO who is very tuned in with is empathy, and that has helped our organization a lot and I know a lot of other organizations right now for getting through some of these things. Katie, thank you.

Katie Augsburger:

Thank you so much.

Jill McKenna:

Thank you so much.

Katie Augsburger

Katie has been creating and implementing successful human resources programs for over 15 years. Her work has helped organizations win Oregon’s Best Company To Work, Fortune Magazine’s Most Flexible Workplace, and Fortune Magazine’s Top Consulting Firms among others. When not advising clients you will find her pushing her thinking through speaking, podcasts and writing engagements. Katie has a M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction as well as a B.S in Sociology. She is certified as Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) and Certified Compensation Professional (CCP).

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