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HR

How to ensure that your hybrid work policy is inclusive

Posted by Kanika Sinha

March 8, 2022    |     6-minute read (1124 words)

Hybrid work, loosely defined as a flexible model where employees work partly in the physical workplace and partly from home or elsewhere, appears to be here to stay. Such an arrangement is likely to become the norm for some employees, according to a BBC report, a finding seemingly echoed by the hybrid models being rolled out by many Silicon Valley tech companies

However, hybrid work arrangements run the risk of creating inequities and exacerbating preexisting ones, HR leaders caution. That means businesses introducing a hybrid policy need to ensure fairness and cultural cohesion among a distributed workforce. In this new work setup, ensuring all employees experience an inclusive workplace will foster engagement and productivity.

Breaking it down

Inclusion fosters business success: Inclusion is important not only because it impacts employee engagement, but also because it benefits the company’s bottom line. According to Gartner, businesses that have diversity and inclusion strategies in place see:

• An increase of 6.2% increase in on-the-job effort.
• An increase of almost 3% increase in individual employee performance.
• An increase of 5% in employees’ intent to stay with the business.

Separately, a June 2020 McKinsey report finds that cultivating an inclusive workplace leads to better outcomes, boosts productivity and supports business goals. Further, building a culture of inclusion can help businesses win the talent war, increase retention, improve decision-making and strengthen relationships with customers, per McKinsey.

Hybrid work culture brings new challenges: While hybrid work affords opportunities for businesses, it comes with an inherent challenge of striking the right balance of community and cultural cohesion that comes more naturally with an in-person workforce. While in-office employees may interact face-to-face on a daily basis, ensuring that remote team members feel a sense of camaraderie and belonging is tricky. The nature of remote work also makes it difficult for HR leaders to identify such blind spots.

Inclusion matters now more than ever: In the words of McKinsey partner Diana Ellsworth, "stresses from COVID-19 and extended isolation are driving a range of negative emotions in employees, [and] … during times of crisis, the focus on inclusion becomes even more critical.”

How to foster inclusion with hybrid work

An inclusive hybrid work environment doesn't just happen; it requires a sustained effort on the part of business leaders, not to mention ingenuity.

Systemic efforts, like identifying unconscious bias in business processes, are a prerequisite for an inclusive hybrid work environment. But the behavior of individuals who make conscious inclusion a daily practice — both leaders and peers — is equally important.

Here are seven actions for HR leaders to build inclusion in a hybrid work environment:

1. Broaden the definition of flexibility. While four-day workweeks, work-from-home Wednesdays and similar programs provide a nod to flexibility, they may leave some employees out of the equation. Businesses that allow employees to decide when and where they work will be rewarded with dual benefits of employee loyalty and higher productivity.

2. Demonstrate empathy. Showing care to people in a distributed team is challenging. Managers should embrace the opportunity to share more about themselves, such as talking about important people or pets in their lives. This contributes to an environment where team members feel comfortable being open and sharing more about themselves, in addition to helping leaders to better support colleagues.  

3. Ask for and acknowledge team members’ needs; act accordingly. Managers can’t effectively advocate for employees without understanding what hurdles they face. Leaders should conduct regular check-ins and ask team members to share potential distractions or challenges they are dealing with, and then take appropriate measures to address those concerns. 

4. Encourage diverse perspectives, participation. Managers should harness the power of their teams’ diverse perspectives and foster an environment where all voices are heard. To ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute to virtual meetings, managers need to work to keep attendees from defaulting to observer mode by creating a rotating schedule of call facilitators. Involve every participant by asking for their opinion at least once, taking care to acknowledge their input. Further, managers can acknowledge and celebrate the value that different opinions play in getting the best solutions.

5. Make time for remote team building. In lieu of in-person, impromptu engagement, it’s important that managers actively facilitate connections across the team and make efforts to promote cohesion. Virtual coffee chats, happy hours, breakfasts and other team events are a few tactics managers can implement to encourage bonding among the team.

6. Be intentional about mentoring and development. Managers of remote teams are challenged with the need to think of employees beyond their immediate go-to network. This can be mitigated by experimenting with new ways to allocate opportunities, such as keeping a running list of employees and their goals, and consulting it as projects arise. This can help develop and support talent who might otherwise go unnoticed.

7. Have employees set individual inclusion commitments. Everyone should play a role in creating a more inclusive work culture. Managers can reinforce this value by establishing accountability and encouraging experimentation with new behaviors. For instance, they can ask each team member to commit to trying an inclusive practice each week and then celebrate positive changes at an end-of-week reflection.

How some businesses address inclusivity in hybrid setups

From Zoom parties to coffee chat pairings, companies are showing considerable ingenuity in digitally connecting employees. Here’s how some popular businesses are prioritizing inclusivity in a hybrid environment.

Adobe: The software company uses communication tools like BlueJeans, Slack and Microsoft Teams to facilitate collaboration among distributed employees. It also hosts events like “Hat Day,” in which employees were encouraged to wear creative hats to a virtual happy hour, and  virtual Adobe field trips.

Goldman Sachs: In the summer of 2020, the financial services firm welcomed 2,800 remote student interns, who were encouraged to introduce themselves to one another in an off-the-wall and memorable fashion. Introductory videos and blogs highlighted fun facts about the intern class and helped further build a sense of community.

HubSpot: The software company hosts virtual water cooler events that encourage employees to chat and interact beyond Zoom business meetings.

LinkedIn: The professional networking firm adopted a creative approach to keeping interns connected virtually by sending each one a candle that smelled like their team’s office

Verizon: The wireless network operator has made communication a core component of its shift to remote work. Managers are encouraged to check in frequently with their teams, and company executives hold video calls with low-level staff members to learn about them as people and support positive relationships.

Takeaway: A successful hybrid work culture requires a concerted, lasting effort to foster inclusion and improve the employee experience. Organizations that get it right will outpace their competitors regardless of what the future holds.

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