So much has been said about how hybrid working is a fairer, more employee-friendly, progressive mode to operate in. However, Karl Breeze asks surely this can only be the case if all workers are flourishing under this new way of operating, to an equal extent?
It feels like a breakthrough overall. The notion of working from home, and of employees being afforded choice that compliments their lives, was fought for long before COVID-19 sped up the process. It’s therefore unsurprising that the working world is largely seeing the subsequent transition as a positive move.
But, are we sure that the way in which this transition has been deployed, has benefitted everyone in equal measure, though?
In some cases, hybrid structures can cause larger gaps in diversity, equity and inclusion across an organisation. Those who need – rather than just want – to work from home, may find it more difficult to form connections and collaborate with colleagues and could potentially miss out on some other opportunities for professional growth.
To explain, it is still likely that those aforementioned factors – culture, social, career development, and collaboration – will manifest more often within the archetypal workplace. Those who choose to work remotely almost all of the time will be inadvertently opting out of some of those benefits. When considering the impact that hybrid and remote work will have on inclusivity and diversity, we must account for people who don’t have the same extent of choice about where they work.
In particular, employees who are racial, gender or ability minorities may have to stay remote to protect their physical and mental wellbeing. Many underrepresented groups still experience microaggressions in traditional workplace settings and may have also seen the recent hybrid switch as a protectionist opportunity, rather than a work-life prospect.
In an era where people are encouraged to open up about their mental health – anxieties, depression and a host of hidden illnesses – this option to remove themselves from congested spaces may have also replaced an opportunity to seek help from an employer, to confide in colleagues, or to more tangibly separate their different areas of life.
Of course, much of this points towards general cultures set by an organisation already, and you would hope there were measures in place to assist people from all minority backgrounds, and of all states of health. But, in focusing completely on the process of enacting a hybrid working model, businesses must be careful not to undo some of this inclusivity work, by accidentally ostracising individual team members.
Three steps to championing inclusivity
There is a flipside to the coin, too, for those who do still prefer to work in the office more often than not. Busy workspaces with poor social distancing are likely to be far more anxiety-inducing after recent events. Overcrowded car parks as a result of downsizing could also be a cause for stress. Both scenarios might lead to people arriving earlier to guarantee space – not exactly a pre-requisite for positive wellbeing and equal opportunity, should others have their arrival times restrained by family, home or travel challenges.
What all of this points towards is a threefold approach required among decisionmakers and the C-suite. First, for those really not reading the room yet, adopting an employee-first mindset to actually pinpoint and address different individuals’ concerns is paramount. Secondly, a rethink around how hybrid working is put forward and presented to workers is also needed, so that everyone is truly brought onboard with this pivot.
And then, what workers need, is evidence – proof that this inclusive approach to hybrid working is actually going to play out in reality, so that all can share in its benefits equally.
That is where technology comes in.
All employees aboard
Without ticking all three of those boxes, an organisation is likely to be on a fast track towards harmed reputation, reduced worker performance, heightened discontent among and between employees, poorer retention rates, and, ultimately, risked profitability should key workers revolt.
Digital intervention is therefore vital to showing workers that inclusivity in the hybrid working world is not just an empty promise. This investment into innovation should appear in the form of advanced resource management software that can ensure all workers are reading from the same real-time information pertaining to office space, availability, function and accessibility.
All workers need to be confident that when they go to the office, they already have a desk, a boardroom, a meeting room, or a collaboration space that suits their needs, booked. They want to know that this won’t clash or interfere with others, or that it will not fall on a day that is already going to see high or disruptive levels of foot traffic.
Those with mental health concerns or physical disabilities might want reassurance that their chosen moment to enter the office can be on a quieter day with easier access; or conversely when there is a better social atmosphere if in search of that familiar workplace vibe.
Ultimately, the primary benefit of hybrid working is that it facilitates each individual to carry out their work, to the best of their ability, based on what they deem the best environment to be in, at any given time. With each person envisaging this dynamic in a personal way, the end result will undoubtedly be fluid – and even chaotic – for organisations, and that’s why transparent, clear insight into the real-time state of play is critical as part of workplace development initiatives.
What must not be forgotten across this effort, is how vital such inclusive and clear information will also be to those who have so far felt left behind during the hybrid transition.
Karl Breeze is CEO of Matrix Booking.
Karl Breeze is the Chief Executive Office at Matrix Booking. He is a technologist, cloud computing evangelist and entrepreneur. His passion centres around the ‘new-normal’ office environment and helping organisations to adapt to and embrace the changes and challenges the global pandemic has presented.