As organizations continue to refine and structure their hybrid work plans and policies, it’s important to stay aware of the advantages and pitfalls these hybrid workforces can create when it comes to inclusion.
A recent study from Gartner found organizations that effectively manage the transition to a hybrid work environment and employ sustainable initiatives can boost inclusion by nearly a quarter. These findings come amid a growing push from businesses to formally and publicly commit to increasing diversity, improving inclusion and addressing inequity.
In order to foster DEI in a hybrid work environment, the report added, organizations must identify the needs of different types of employees, as well as continue to invest in the right mix of financial and physical well-being programs.
It also noted that remote work employees and those in a hybrid arrangement may need to leverage physical wellness programs to prevent them from feeling isolated and overly sedentary. “Organizations need to have a discussion about inclusivity, period. However, the transition to a hybrid way of working creates a new set of challenges to fostering employee perceptions of fairness, belonging, and trust,” Ingrid Laman, vice president of advisory in the Gartner HR practice, told Dice. “In a hybrid world, we have less transparency as to how employees are treated because we are not physically co-located as we were before.”
Marginalized or underrepresented talent are even less visible to senior leaders and other stakeholders in the hybrid environment. “Lastly, in a hybrid world, we can no longer rely on physical, verbal, and other social cues to show people we care about them, and respect their ideas and opinions,” Laman continued. “Unless we are consciously intentional about including others, employees may be more likely to feel alone and isolated.”
Equal Communication and Visibility
Vicky Kennedy, chief strategy officer at customer education platform Intellum, added it’s also easy to reinforce barriers during work meetings that leverage video calls. “This could be as simple as forgetting to dial into the conference number from the office, leaving remote employees out of the loop, or calling in, but leaving backs to the camera, speaking too low for those on the call to hear, forgetting others are on the call, or continuing important parts of the conversation in person after the call has ended,” she said.
Kennedy believes organizations should ensure communication technology is truly connecting all team members to their manager. In addition, all employees should have access to the same information and resources; making sure all meetings and communications are on a “remote-first model” can help with this. It’s also key that all meeting participants always keep communications respectful, which is key to reinforcing inclusivity in the workplace.
“We have had a hybrid workforce for many years, but we’ve definitely seen a significant shift recently with more employees working remotely,” she said. “We’ve put a lot of emphasis on our internal communication strategy this year to take some of those same steps I outlined.”
For example, Intellum launched an internal portal that includes project notes, employee resources, and team information that all can access. “We also use our own communications tool, Tribe, to collaborate with each other,” she said. “And of course, along with a hybrid workforce comes differences in time zones, so we’ve been using more asynchronous communication tools to stay connected as much as possible.”
Bill Mann, CEO at Styra, said his company decided to go fully remote versus taking a hybrid approach because their evaluation showed they would be unable to be fully inclusive if there was both an office-based and a remote workforce.
“We believed the hybrid model would build a hierarchy because people in the office would have more face time and potentially have more say in decisions because they are physically there,” he said. “It was very important to ensure no hierarchy was created between in-office and remote workers. Additionally, going remote has allowed us to open up our talent pool beyond the Bay Area and hire the best people for the job no matter where they are located.”
He pointed to the company’s use of tech tools such as Slack and Zoom to create a more inclusive workplace. “We use Slack’s Donut app, which sets up ‘virtual coffee’ meetings for employees by drawing names and encouraging meet-ups,” he said. “We also have a ‘pet’ channel in Slack where employees share pictures, advice, and more so they can connect with colleagues with a common interest. We have also hosted virtual happy hours and events through Zoom, such as virtual cooking classes, murder mysteries and trivia sessions.”
Garnter’s Laman noted inclusion was an issue in a largely on-site environment and continues to be a challenge in a hybrid work environment. People are simply different from one another; whether those differences are discernible at the surface-level (e.g., gender) or not (e.g., socioeconomic differences), inclusion challenges will persist.
“The hybrid work environment changes the game because now people are no longer co-located or even working at the same time and we can’t always rely on the things we typically do to foster inclusion,” Laman said. “We aren’t always able to physically see one another, observe how people do their work, and don’t have the same opportunities to informally connect as we would do while we are waiting in line at the cafeteria or waiting for the elevator.”
With the hybrid model set to have a long-lasting impact, having an inclusive culture will be necessary for organizations to attract and retain top talent. “This can only happen if there’s an awareness and eagerness to address these issues surrounding inclusivity in a hybrid workplace,” Kennedy said.
More organizations are interested in social community features that can help bridge the gap between in-office and remote employees. “We’ve definitely seen more organizations move to online education rather than requiring employees to attend in-person trainings,” Kennedy added. “I think these are all encouraging signs that companies are seeking to address inclusivity specific to hybrid and remote environments.”