As pandemic restrictions ease, it’s clear that one big change to the way we work is here to stay: hybrid working,with a mix of remote workers and some working out of their offices. However, these environments run the risk of creating new inequities and exacerbating those that already exist.
For example, one concern employees have about working remotely is that they may be overlooked for promotions or other opportunities because they are not as visible as their on-site colleagues. Unfortunately, fears about possible inequity and bias favoring on-site workers may be warranted. A study found that 64% of managers view in-office employees’ performance more favorably and are more likely to give them a higher raise than their remote colleagues, even though data indicated that the remote workers were more likely to be the higher performers.
A new Gartner research further comes up with an interesting concept that organizations that effectively manage the transition to a hybrid work environment and employ sustainable initiatives can boost inclusion by 24%.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the ways organizations fostered inclusion were designed for a mostly on-site world, including employee resource groups (ERGs) and their sponsorship of in-person events. Hybrid work affects four of the elements that make up inclusion: fair treatment, diversity, belonging and trust.
“Inclusion may be compromised in a hybrid work environment due to lack of visibility,” said Ingrid Laman, vice president, advisory in the Gartner HR practice.
He added, “In a hybrid work environment, unfair treatment may go unchecked as employees have less visibility into how others are treated; trust can erode due to a lack of transparency.”
An HBR article recommends a number of ways to maintain sustainable, inclusive approach in a hybrid workplace. “First, create a positive recruitment and onboarding experience by providing new hires with the right technology and support and implement a buddy system to replace the informal learning that typically takes place in the office. Second, bridge physical distance by making smart use of digital tools to keep people connected. Third, increase psychological safety to enable people to speak up when they experience interpersonal conflict. Fourth, break up in-groups by identifying “weak ties.” Finally, monitor who gets promoted and why to identify patterns that favor one group over others,” said the report author.
McKinsey researchers define inclusion as the degree to which organizations embrace all employees and enable them to make meaningful contributions. In a new report, the consulting major suggests, “An inclusive work environment doesn’t just happen; it requires sustained effort (see sidebar, “Inclusion, defined”). Stresses from COVID-19 and extended isolation are driving a range of negative emotions in employees. On top of that, recent prominent examples of racial injustice have affected many employees in ways that cannot be left behind when work begins. This is especially true for Black employees. While the systemic nature of racism demands systemic action, individual actions are an important part of supporting employees and ensuring they can continue to make meaningful contributions. Team leaders have an important role to play.”
Gartner too recommends CXOs to enact sustainable inclusion initiatives that focus on addressing elements of exclusion that employees experience on regular basis via the following strategies, such as diversity mentorship programs, in which employers need to provide a viable networking infrastructure that enables underrepresented talent to build growth-focused networks and for mentors to better understand the barriers to advancement they are facing.
“At the office it’s easy to introduce yourself to a senior colleague when you bump into them, but in the hybrid world, organizations must ease the effort required to participate in networking programs and help facilitate connections,” said Laman.
Employees who work remotely or in a hybrid arrangement may need to leverage physical wellness programs to prevent them from feeling isolated and overly sedentary. Employees whose families may have been adversely impacted by the pandemic may need to leverage financial wellness programs, Gartner said.
Check performance evaluation and promotion criteria are expected to ensure they are objective, provide equal opportunity for advancement, and don’t inadvertently disadvantage remote workers.
Gartner research shows that candidates and employees place a premium on being cared for by their organizations. To foster belonging in a hybrid work environment, organizations must identify the needs of different types of employees in order to continue to invest in the right mix of financial and physical well-being programs.
The move to remote working has the potential to be catalytic in redefining how leaders make others feel connected and valued. Physical distancing could inadvertently be the impetus to increased emotional and social connection between team members and collective feelings of being heard, known, and respected. Leaders who take action can ultimately increase the level of inclusion and belonging among employees, even after we enter the next normal.
These inclusive practices not only make leaders more effective but also unlock the potential of teams and organizations. Achieving these goals, however, requires thoughtful and targeted action, says the McKinsey report.
While leaders should reflect on what might be holding them back and encourage their teams to do the same, ultimately, everyone in an organization should contribute to building a more inclusive and effective working environment.