12 tips to foster equity in the workplace
Hybrid working presents challenges to workplace diversity, equity and inclusion as well as opportunities. So how do you create a level playing field between remote, hybrid and in-person workers?
Hybrid and remote working aren’t going anywhere. Although many employers may have been hoping that their teams would return to the office soon – a recent survey showed that 83% of managers want their employees to be office-based for at least three days a week – employees are enjoying the freedom and flexibility that remote and hybrid bring.
Flexible working has also helped people create a better work-life balance. And as the Great Resignation has shown, many are now prioritizing the option to work wherever and however they want to, when deciding to take or keep a job. According to research from McKinsey, more than four out of five employees who have enjoyed hybrid working patterns over the past two years say they’d prefer to keep them.
So, business leaders need to integrate hybrid into their overall strategy, and make sure working practices are in line with it. And that includes creating workplaces that are diverse, equitable and inclusive.
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How can hybrid working create a more equitable workplace?
When it’s integrated effectively, hybrid and remote working can tackle and resolve many of the traditional barriers to equity.
It removes geographical barriers to work
From an employers’ point of view, hybrid working offers a wider geographical recruitment pool, with increased access to remote talent. It works for employees too, as they’re not restricted by having to work in the same area – or even, in some cases – in the same country as their employers. This means opportunities for skilled, highly paid work are more widely available, regardless of where people live.
It helps break down gender inequalities
Women still take on most of the caring work at home, which can make working to a traditional, office-based timetable difficult. This imbalance can force women to leave work altogether, or take up lower-paid or casual jobs, contributing to the ongoing gender pay gap. Hybrid and remote working has the potential to even out these inequalities, leaving senior roles accessible to women alongside their childcare or other domestic responsibilities
Hybrid working increases opportunities for employees with disabilities
A study by Lancaster University shows the majority of disabled workers value the opportunity to decide where they work. In fact, 70% said being confined to office-based working negatively impacted their physical or mental health. People appreciated more autonomy and control of their schedule and environment, which allowed them to manage their own health and wellbeing. And 85% also said they felt more productive working from home. They valued the greater accessibility and more appropriate and individually tailored support, allowing them to concentrate on work and compete for jobs and careers on a level with other colleagues.
Flexible and hybrid work reduces the opportunity for unconscious bias
Unconscious bias is a traditional limitation on equity and diversity. And it’s something that’s possible to overlook, even in the most forward-looking businesses and teams. When Deloitte surveyed 3000 employees, more than 60% reported bias in their workplace, underlining the need for organizations to improve on their inclusivity culture. But with so many people working away from the office, many of the visual cues which can foster bias, like looks, dress and age, are less evident.
Hybrid work and DEI workplace challenges
Although hybrid and remote working has introduced more individual choice and flexibility, it’s not an automatic guarantee of a more equitable workplace. There are several barriers to equity in hybrid working that employers need to address.
Inadequate work from home environments
Not all homes are equal when it comes to remote working. Some employees might be disadvantaged by a lack of space, light, digital connectivity and not having the right equipment.
There might also be technical challenges, and often opportunities for remote workers to contribute are lost as soon as a virtual meeting is over. Technical issues can also affect the effectiveness of hybrid team members, and not only through missed or dropped meetings. Managers or those physically on-site may choose not to involve remote workers for fear the technology will fail, while employees may choose not to contribute for the same reason.
Remote workers, and those who work away from the office for the majority of the time can experience feelings of isolation and exclusion. It’s often difficult to keep contact with the rest of the team from a distance. Remote working can separate people from the overall goals of the business and company culture, and cause them to feel as though their contributions are not sought or valued.
Less access to leadership and management
According to Envoy, a huge 96% of US executives admitted to noticing the contribution of employees who were physically in the office more than those working remotely. This proximity bias suggests that where work is done affects the reception and acknowledgment it gets from managers. This can limit offers of more exciting or challenging work – and subsequent career progression – to those physically closest to the business’s decision makers. What’s more, the study also suggests that almost half of hybrid or remote employees aren’t aware that this could be affecting them.
Remote workers can also miss opportunities to connect with other levels and sectors of the business which could lead to upskilling or advancement. And they may have less access to leadership. For managers, this represents lost opportunities to spot and maximize people’s skills and experience, and create future strategy around the best talent.
Being left out of social events
The social aspect of work matters. For many people, especially those who live alone, contact with work colleagues may be most of the week’s social interaction. If it’s lost, it can lead to isolation, depression and stress. It can also escalate issues which managers would notice in person, but may not flag when they don’t see their employees face-to-face for weeks at a time. Where some employees are in the office more than others, this can also lead to a sense of ‘them and us’. This is damaging for teams as a whole, and instead of building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace, it actually hinders it.
Employees who’ve been away from the office for a long time can feel so disconnected – through lack of communication, or possibly because they’re already marginalized by gender, cultural differences, or disability – that they actively choose not to return.
How to build equity in the workplace
The challenge is how to maximize the benefits of hybrid working and ensure DEI for all. Here are 12 tips for achieving true equity in the hybrid workforce:
Support work from home environments
Make sure everyone has equal access to a suitable working environment, for example, by providing furniture and equipment.
Get to know your team
Make a point of finding out about every employee individually, ask their opinions, and remember to check back with them regularly. Use surveys to canvass everyone’s requirements and goals, and plan decisions based on individual needs.
Make and build connections
Between remote and on-site workers. Link people in the office with people at home, and make sure they work together and take responsibilities equally.
Use communication and sharing platforms to ask questions, check on progress, listen to suggestions and respond with actions.
Focus on team building
Create time for team building activities that bring people together.
Acknowledge difficult situations
Be ready to deal with individual problems as they arise, and bring everyone back into the team.
Allow ‘camera off’ and meeting-free times
To make sure that remote and hybrid workers aren’t suffering from always being expected to be available on screen. But be aware if anyone is consistently in ‘camera off’ mode, as this may be a sign that there’s a problem.
Set up in-person events
Use awaydays and social get togethers to give everyone a chance to meet and get to know each other.
Use mentoring to make sure each person’s progress, interests, and professional development goals are understood and considered.
Where people are away from the physical heart of the business, it’s more important than ever to make sure that decisions and strategy are available for all to access and add input.
Invest in technology
The better the technology, the more engaged and inclusive your remote and hybrid workforce will be. Using VR and AR can create exciting, engaging, and inclusive onboarding, meetings and training, no matter where people are.
Make all resources equally and easily available to everyone
This includes research materials and background information, as well as technology and equipment.
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