Workplace Equality in Hybrid Work Mode
Increased job satisfaction and productivity, greater employee autonomy, less time spent commuting, and, hence, lower CO2 emissions: those are just some positive outcomes of a switch to work-from-home during the Covid-19 crisis.
With all employees working in similar conditions (confined to their homes and small rectangles of the online meeting interfaces), many of us have hoped that the pandemic would become a new lever of equality at the workplace.
However, as employees return to the offices and companies implement various hybrid work models to combine the benefits of remote work and office life, the question of workplace equality arises once again.
Favoritism in hybrid work organizations
Depending on the company’s remote work policy and corporate culture, employees have been given different possibilities to organize their work schedule and presence in the office. Unfortunately, such flexibility, although welcomed by many, has often led to subconscious favoritism from the management.
An employee that regularly comes to the office is easily available. She can participate in spontaneous meetings and has more comprehensive access to informal exchanges. Yet, those who work mostly remotely may be perceived as less committed and have more difficulties accessing essential information or sharing the results of their work. Therefore, the employees that prefer working from home may miss out on promotion opportunities as their managers — frequently subconsciously — value higher teammates that are physically present on site.
The Underlying Equality Issues behind One’s Choice to Work Remotely
The preference to work from home is typically related to the employee’s family status, gender, race, and health. In other words, not only the hybrid work itself but also the reasons to pursue it are based on inequality.
The organizations that require their employees to return full-time to the office are likely to lose some of their talents, particularly among women and minorities. A recent study has found that 47% of non-white workers and 48% of women would resign or start looking for a new job if not allowed to work remotely some of the time, while only 39% of white men were considering quitting in such circumstances.
Despite nearly half of women with children under 16 reporting not being able to work in peace when at home, caregivers (64%) are more likely to opt-in for a new job with more flexible hybrid working arrangements as opposed to employees who don’t have any kids (48%). Furthermore, 44% of collaborators with children at home believe that returning to on-site work had negatively affected their mental health and, therefore, are more likely to be less motivated and end up burnt-out.
For a majority (60%) of employees, no commute is the top benefit of working from home. Yet, it is usually people who live in the less developed metropolitan districts or residential, aka “family”, outskirts and have smaller purchasing power to buy an individual mean of transportation that struggle the most with commuting.
Last but not least, employees with certain health issues or disabilities may find working remotely more convenient as it allows them to recover faster, avoid aggravations, stay discrete, and reduce health-related stress.
How to Create an Equitable Hybrid Workplace
By bringing more autonomy and flexibility and minimizing geographical barriers, hybrid work can act as a corrective tool to inequities between workmates. It can favor, among other things, a wider mix of professionals by opening up work opportunities to a less mobile working population, including women with children, differently-abled people, and those leaving in remote and rural areas.
Organizations have to act on several levels in order to create an equitable hybrid workplace.
Deloitte’s Dr. Terri Cooper, advises adopting a LEAD framework – listen, engage, acknowledge, do – throughout all business activities. “So many organizations rapidly go into action, but listening is crucial. Everybody’s experience is different, and we need to understand these unique experiences,” – adds Dr. Terri Cooper.
As hybrid work is perceived differently by every employee, getting direct feedback can help managers and HR to engage in a meaningful dialogue regarding inequalities emerging in a hybrid work mode and act on them accordingly.
However, hybrid work also requires finding a new way or place to converse between workmates that are not present anymore in the office altogether at the same time.
Maintaining moments and spaces dedicated to informal exchanges and the free expression of opinions will become a priority for HR in fighting against workplace inequalities. This could be done by providing employees with virtual communication and collaboration tools, organizing frequent topic-based discussions and in-person team-building activities, or setting up digital “suggestions boxes”.
In the meantime, managers should concentrate on preserving social ties between teammates by encouraging the circulation of strategic information and the showcase of individual results. Weekly team and one-to-one meetings can help to not only convey the importance of each employee but also minimize the underlying favoritism towards the office-based collaborators.
Last but not least, hybrid work data can help executives and HR to better understand the roots of hidden inequities and set up a more equitable hybrid work model.
Some digital solutions for hybrid work management can provide information on what group of employees (women, caregivers, minorities) come to the office most frequently, how often teammates see each other in person, how many social connections are lost because of remote working, etc. By combining this data with the information on individual productivity, career growth, and employee turnover rate, companies can optimize their workplace to be more fair and equal.
With all the hustle around the transition to hybrid working, the need to address inequities in new work realities is often left unnoticed. However, as managers favor, often subconsciously, presenteeism and women, caregivers, minorities and differently-abled collaborators prefer to work from home, the workplace inequality gap is increasing faster than ever before.
Building a fair hybrid workplace from the very beginning can minimize favoritism and leverage fairness. This includes carefully choosing WFH rules, providing equal access to the information to remote and on-site employees, creating a safe place for informal exchanges, and pushing managers to show and share the value of every team member.