May 10, 2022 | 6-minute read (1078 words)
Hybrid work, informally described as a flexible paradigm in which employees work part of the time in a physical office and part of the time from home or elsewhere, appears to be here to stay. According to a BBC study, the setup is likely to become the norm for many employees. This seems to be confirmed by the hybrid models being adopted by many Silicon Valley tech companies.
However, HR leaders warn that hybrid work arrangements carry the potential of generating disparities and intensifying existing ones. Businesses implementing a hybrid strategy must assure fairness and cultural cohesiveness among their dispersed staff. Providing an inclusive workplace for employees will boost engagement and productivity in this changing work environment.
Breaking it down
Inclusion drives business success not only because it affects employee engagement, but also because it enhances the company's bottom line. According to Gartner, businesses with diversity and inclusion strategies see the following benefits:
• A 6.2% increase in the on-the-job effort.
• An almost 3% improvement in individual employee performance.
• A 5% boost in employees' desire to stay with the company.
Similarly, a McKinsey analysis published in June 2020 found that developing an inclusive workplace improves outcomes, increases efficiency and helps companies achieve their objectives more quickly. According to McKinsey, fostering an inclusive culture can help companies win the talent battle, enhance retention, improve decision-making and strengthen customer relationships.
While hybrid work offers organizations new opportunities, it also poses the problem of how to establish the correct balance of community and cultural cohesiveness that comes more readily with an in-person staff. While in-office employees may connect face-to-face regularly, ensuring that remote team members experience a feeling of belonging and camaraderie is difficult. It's also tricky for HR executives to spot such issues because of the nature of remote work.
More than ever, inclusion is critical: ""Stresses from COVID-19 and extended isolation are driving a range of negative emotions in employees, [and] … during times of crisis, the focus on inclusion becomes ever more critical."" says McKinsey partner Diana Ellsworth.
How to make hybrid work more inclusive
It takes a concerted effort on the part of business leaders to create an inclusive hybrid work environment.
For an inclusive hybrid work environment, measures such as recognizing unconscious bias are especially salient. Individuals who make deliberate inclusion a daily habit, both leaders and peers, play an equally vital role.
HR leaders should take these steps to promote inclusion in hybrid work:
1. Extend the scope of the term "flexibility." While four-day workweeks, work-from-home Wednesdays and other similar programs promote flexibility, they may exclude some employees. Businesses that provide their employees the freedom to choose when and where they work will reap the rewards of increased employee loyalty and increased productivity.
2. Show empathy. Taking care of people in a scattered team is difficult. Managers should take advantage of the chance to reveal more about themselves, such as talking about significant people or pets in their lives. This helps leaders better support colleagues and creates an environment where team members feel comfortable being open and sharing more about themselves.
3. Identify and respond to team members' needs. Managers cannot effectively advocate for employees unless they are aware of their challenges. Leaders should perform regular check-ins with their teams and ask them to discuss any potential distractions or issues they're facing and then take necessary action to address those concerns.
4. Encourage involvement and a diversity of viewpoints. Managers should leverage the potential of their teams' different views and create an environment where everyone is heard. Managers must work to avoid attendees from defaulting to observer mode by implementing a rotating schedule of call facilitators to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in virtual meetings. Involve everyone by asking for their feedback at least once and making sure to acknowledge it. Managers can also recognize and celebrate the importance of many viewpoints in arriving at the best solutions.
5. Set aside time to form a virtual team. Managers should actively enable relationships throughout the workforce and attempt to create cohesion in place of in-person, impromptu participation. Managers can use virtual coffee talks, happy hours, breakfasts and other team gatherings to enhance team bonding.
6. Be deliberate in your mentorship and growth. Managers of remote teams face the issue of thinking about people beyond their immediate network. This can be avoided by trying different ways to assign opportunities, such as keeping a running list of personnel and their objectives and consulting it as new projects occur. This can aid in developing and nurturing talent that might otherwise go undetected.
7. Encourage employees to make individual commitments to inclusion. Everyone should do their work to make the workplace more inclusive. Managers can promote this value by holding people accountable and encouraging them to try new habits. They may, for example, invite each team member to commit to attempting an inclusive practice once a week and then celebrating great results during a weekly reflection.
How some organizations deal with inclusion in hybrid environments
Companies display significant innovation in digitally connecting employees, from Zoom parties to coffee chat pairings. In a hybrid culture, here's how several well-known companies prioritize diversity.
Adobe: To facilitate collaboration among distant personnel, the software company uses communication systems including BlueJeans, Slack and Microsoft Teams. It also sponsors activities like "Hat Day," where the staff was encouraged to wear creative hats to a virtual happy hour and virtual Adobe field trips.
Goldman Sachs: The financial services firm accepted 2,800 remote student interns in the summer of 2020 and they were urged to identify themselves in an unusual and memorable way. Fun facts about the intern class were highlighted in introductory films and blogs, which contributed to a stronger sense of community.
HubSpot: The software firm holds virtual water cooler events to encourage employees to talk and socialize outside Zoom sessions.
LinkedIn: To keep interns engaged digitally, the professional networking company sent each one a candle that smelled like their team's office.
Verizon: As part of its shift to remote work, the wireless network operator has prioritized communication. Keeping regular check-ins with their staff is highly recommended for managers and corporate executives to arrange video conferences with lower-level employees to learn more about them as individuals and to foster healthy relationships.
Fostering inclusion and improving the employee experience requires a long-term commitment to fostering a hybrid work culture. Regardless of the future, organizations that get it right will outperform their competition.