How Will ‘Hybrid Working’ Effect Inclusivity?
The pandemic has acted as a catalyst in changing ways of working. Organisations have started to reconceptualize the role of the office and now leaders are required to find a way to ensure that people have a safe and productive working environment.
What Is Hybrid Working?
Hybrid working is a blend between working remotely and in the workplace. While flexible working is not a new concept, before the pandemic it was often treated with scepticism and dealt with on an individual basis – often decided upon by a line manager. As we start to emerge from the pandemic, some companies have plans to become entirely remote, whereas other companies are doing the exact opposite.
McKinsey found that nine out of ten companies are likely to opt for a hybrid method that allows employees to come into the office for a set number of days while working the rest remotely. This approach seems to match the wants of employees as a study of 2000 UK workers conducted by BCG found that 67% of employees who worked remotely throughout the pandemic think a hybrid approach to working is best for them.
How Will This Affect Inclusivity?
There are several competing ideas on how hybrid working methods will affect inclusivity. The pandemic has highlighted several inequality issues, specifically the amount of energy used by people of colour, women, and disabled employees to deal with microaggressions in the workplace. Consequently many are reluctant to return to offices. A US survey by Slack Think tank Future Forum found that 97% of black employees want the future of the office to be remote or hybrid. Only 3% of black employees wanted to return fully to the office, compared to 21% of white employees. Part of the reason behind these statistics is that some people of colour prefer working remotely as they can focus solely on their work without being consumed by anxiety about how their behaviours are being perceived by fellow colleagues and management. It is easy to see why people will be reluctant to return to the office in these circumstances.
Hybrid working has an advantage in creating opportunity around location. It can allow people to apply for jobs who would previously have lived too far for the role. Commuting to the office twice a week is more tolerable and affordable than it is to commute five times a week, which expands the talent pools for companies to choose from. This is a win-win for both the organisations and the employees who once would have never considered applying for the role. For companies, this can increase the diversity of their talent pool.
Sadly that is not the whole story. The saying “you must be present to win” is normally used for raffles but sadly also impacts work environments. This impact is driven by proximity bias, which makes us think that people close to us are working harder than those we cannot see. Due to this people who choose to work from home are risking being overlooked for promotions. This may result in less diversity in the company at more senior levels, and people from underrepresented groups have a strong preference for home working. Ultimately this problem lies with leadership and management, as it is their responsibility to ensure that the percentage of people going up for promotions is representative of the mix of employees that they have working for their organisation.
How Can We Make Hybrid Working More Inclusive?
As companies welcome their employees into the office, company leaders need to consider the potential limitations of hybrid working and how they can overcome them to make sure their new ways of working do not limit inclusivity and diversity. Below are some things to consider.
- Give employees the autonomy to organise their own workload;
- Focus on outcomes, not hours as a performance measure
- Commit to including remote workers in all relevant conversations – use your tech
- Have regular 1-1 meetings with team members
- Create your own checklist for inclusive meetings, use it every time!
- Reinvent the purpose of the office as a place for collaborative work
- Set collaboration days for project teams clearly defining when a physical presence is required
- Create opportunities for informal conversations for remote staff (like Lunchclub for your company
- Leaders need to publicly acknowledge that people have all had different experiences during the course of the pandemic. Some people won’t have seen their family for months, some might have lost money and some may have saved more money. Others will have lost family members and some might not have been affected at all.
As organisations move into a new era of work, company leaders must take advantage of this unique opportunity to let go of ineffective old practices and processes. Hybrid working provides the opportunity to reinvent the purpose of the office that will be more open and welcoming.