Hybrid working, Diversity & Inclusion

How hybrid organisations can get the benefits of diversity

Lydia Watson

The thing about D&I initiatives is that they don’t exist in a vacuum. You don’t carry them out for the sake of it, but because it’s part of becoming a bigger, better, faster organisation.

Creating a diverse, inclusive workplace is a major priority for a lot of organisations. For others, right now it’s about learning how to make a hybrid model work. But here’s the thing: it should be both, and they should be tackled in tandem. Because if you get it right, hybrid workplaces are a powerful tool for diversity.

It’s time to accept it: hybrid working is here to stay

40% of workers are expected to stay working remotely, with a large swath of companies either opting for remote-first models or committing to hybrid work. Though while there are good reasons for that, it does hold some risks.

The benefits:

The risks:

Is hybrid working actually good for diversity and inclusion?

It’s important to be realistic. There are some considerable risks to be aware of here: both in terms of creating new biases, and furthering existing inequalities:

  • ‘Proximity bias’ could exclude those working remotely the most, when some managers may view them as less dedicated to their role
  • Women may be more likely to make the most of flexible workplace perks, due to caring responsibilities, so any ‘proximity bias’ could further the gender divide
  • An age divide may emerge, with younger staff preferring the “equalising” nature of the office – especially if they lack the spare rooms and  good WiFi that older employees have

Hybrid organisations can be more diverse and inclusive – if you get it right

  • You can hire those outside of commuting distance, including those who can’t afford city living or can’t commit to a daily commute due to caring responsibilities
  • If a group is underrepresented locally, you can look elsewhere to create a more diverse workforce – plus they may feel more comfortable joining remotely initially
  • For those in minority groups, they can stay in their local communities while joining your organisation without having to choose between “their livelihood and their community”
  • Though the goal is a culture of acceptance, that may not be the reality. From LGBTQ+ workers reporting exclusionary comments about their appearance, to transgender/nonbinary employees recieving harrassment for the bathroom they use, remote work could limit these damaging experiences
  • Inclusion can be helped generally by using online platforms, with studies showing that those previously on the edge can become more central in an online setting

6 ways to become a diverse, inclusive, hybrid organisation

1. Bypass bias, focus on outcomes

How do you stop managers giving points for attendance? By training them to focus on outcomes. That means KPIs that quantify success, so they’re easy to measure. Only then can you keep the playing field levelled, and ensure progression stays fair and equitable.

2. Commit to culture with company events

You’re going to need a new approach to culture, to keep remote and office-working teams connected. Think about ‘away days’, organisation-wide meetings, awards ceremonies, and other occasional mass gatherings so everyone has that shared experience.

3. Combine choice with structure

People want freedom and flexibility – but you may need some rules in place to make it work. Does everyone come in for a strategy session once a month, with ample notice, to stay aligned? Work out what has to happen in or out-of-office, and enforce that…. and only that.

4. Match-make and ‘speed date’

Everyone’s made an unlikely work friend before. Those chance encounters are unlikely to happen organically now, but you can manufacture them – pair up employees to chat, rotate teams for cross-company tasks, and encourage hobby clubs to form.

5. Banish barriers, celebrate differences

When people are at work, make it an inclusive space for all. Consider desk configurations and de-gendering the toilets, make an effort to celebrate all major holidays, and make it a space of mutual respect and understanding.

6. Listen, listen, listen

Your employees know best. Check in regularly on their feelings around hybrid working, around inclusion at work, and on their overall engagement. Create a listening strategy backed by world-leading surveys, and you’ll learn how to make it work for your organisation.

We can help you with the listening part:

It’s time to start the conversation

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