Traditional work schedules have never been perfect. The “9-to-5” was first established in the early 1900s with the Fair Labor Standards Act, which was intended to stop the exploitation of factory workers. It was a necessary intervention for the well-being of the workforce back then.
A lot has changed since then. Black people, Indigenous people, people of color (BIPOC) and women now make up a significant portion of the modern workforce. Both the people and the job roles have changed dramatically since the 1900s — so why are we continuing to work the same standard schedule?
Also consider the pandemic, which has the potential to be a great workplace equalizer. COVID-19 has forced workplaces to restructure the who, what, where, when and how of working together.
And as we know from our research, restructuring events are critical moments that can either exacerbate or reduce inequity. It’s time for another necessary intervention – flexible and hybrid work – to promote the well-being of the workforce.
How hybrid work supports diversity, equity and inclusion
Shifting to a remote or hybrid work model opens the door to diverse talent. The world remains heavily segregated, and not every race or ethnicity can be found in every city, state or country. Remote work means you can attract top talent not just locally, but globally.
Reduced stress for people of colorWhat’s more, remote or hybrid work has been shown to make a significant difference in Black employees’ workplace experiences. In a study by Future Forum, Black employees reported less stress working from home, with 97% of Black knowledge workers saying they want to remain partially or fully remote for the foreseeable future.
The removal of a physical workplace also removes barriers to physical accessibility. Challenges like public transport commutes, noisy offices and lack of workplace customization are eliminated when employees are given the freedom and flexibility to work from home.
Supporting employees with disabilities
With hybrid and remote work, employees have more flexibility to establish personal and family safety plans that work for their circumstances. Our analysis of employee surveys revealed how working from home has helped employees with disabilities by improving their health, productivity and enjoyment at work.
Maria Town, the president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, says that hybrid work has accelerated working arrangements that support people with disabilities.
“Prior to the pandemic when people with disabilities requested remote work it might have taken months to even get a conversation around the accommodation,” says Maria.
Fewer ivory towers
Even remote meetings can be a levelling experience. Everyone is a bubble on a screen, with no office “castles” protecting senior leaders — everyone has equal access. Hybrid and remote work has also done away with the grand corner office and even parking spots reserved for directors and executives.
How to create equity and inclusion in the hybrid workplace
1. Broaden your definition of flexibility
Four-day workweeks, work-from-home Wednesdays, and similar programs offer some flexibility, but still leave some people out of the equation.
Rigid flexibility is still rigid and doesn’t apply to everyday life for every employee. Trust your employees to decide when and where they work, and you’ll be rewarded with employee loyalty and higher productivity.
2. Invest in remote-forward advocates
There can be many hurdles in working remotely if you’re not intentional about it. Spend as much time and attention designing an online office space as you would for on-site.
And don’t just throw your employees into the mix. New tech tools may seem like a productivity godsend, but they might not work for everyone.
"Trust your employees to decide when and where they work, and you’ll be rewarded with employee loyalty and higher productivity."
A best practice: choose one person from every department to be your remote tools point person. Ensure this self-managed team is diverse and truly represents all employees.
They receive training and then offer input on how best to design the tool, and the overall online experience, for their team. They can also act as a liaison for any questions, concerns, and tips or tricks.
3. Train managers on how to manage in a hybrid setting
When employees work different hours in different locations, it adds new complexity to being a people manager. Driving purpose and connections across virtual teams should be a manager’s focus in the age of hybrid.
There are three main behaviors managers will need to dial up in a hybrid work environment:
- Take the time to understand why your employees want the hours/locations they’ve chosen. Maybe they want to work from home on Fridays to visit the masjid for afternoon prayers, or to have the most productive day, they need physical therapy for a chronic condition in the mornings. The more you know about your employees’ why, the more you’ll be able to support them.
- Have open and honest communication with your direct reports. In a survey by MIT, the most commonly cited obstacle among employees was hearing different messages from different parts of the organization. Ensuring a unified message will make employees feel more connected, wherever they are.
- Balance giving employees autonomy while also being supportive. In a flexible hybrid work environment, employees should feel confident deciding when and how they work, and to make work-related decisions on their own.
However, they should also feel able to ask their managers for help when needed, and comfortable sharing their stresses. Managers who demonstrate empathy (again, by learning their employees’ why) will be better positioned to achieve that balance.
4. Check in regularly on who is, and isn’t, getting promoted
Employees who are less visible tend to get promoted less than those who work in an office setting. This is despite studies showing that people who choose to work remotely are actually more productive.
But distance bias means that often the employee who is physically closest to the decision-maker wins out when it comes to new opportunities.
"Distance bias means that often the employee who is physically closest to the decision-maker wins out when it comes to new opportunities."
In an autonomous, hybrid work environment, managers need to ensure that projects and promotions are distributed by performance, not visibility.
5. Make the most of employee resource groups
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) bring together employees with a shared characteristic — and there’s no limit to what those characteristics could be.
At IT firm Chegg, employees created an Invisible Disabilities ERG for those with disabilities such as OCD and anxiety, learning disabilities and chronic illness that were exacerbated by the pandemic.
ERGs give people a platform within the company. Managers would be wise to encourage space for them within the organization at large, perhaps by giving them the chance to share at a company-wide meeting, allotting budget and assigning an executive sponsor.
And keep in mind: If there are enough people at your organization to form a particular ERG but no executive sponsor that fits the bill, then maybe it’s time to give a second look at your hiring and promotion practices and course correct.
How inclusive is your hybrid workplace?
Our employee survey and analysis tool can help you create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace and unlock better team collaboration.