By Saloni Bhatia, Psychology/Research Consultant
The pandemic forced millions of employees globally into working from home. Of course, not everyone had this opportunity, with front-line workers having to physically go into their job sites. As the pandemic progressed, organisational strategies around employee working patterns evolved too. Some companies like Goldman Sachs[i], for example, have mandated full-fledged return-to-work with all days in the office whilst others like Airbnb[ii] have transitioned to being fully remote (i.e., work from anywhere). A third alternative that is increasingly being implemented is hybrid work, considered as the ‘’best of both worlds’’, incorporating a mix of remote and physical work.
The impact on equity, diversity and inclusion
All these different ways of working impact equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I).
For instance, having to go into the office physically for 9-5 jobs has resulted in many women (who take on the bulk of caregiving responsibilities) having to leave the workforce to manage work-life balance[iii]. The inflexibility of such office-based 9-5 jobs has also excluded people living with a disability from the workforce. Remote working, on the other hand, reduces such barriers for these groups because it offers more time and location flexibility. It can also support social mobility by making more jobs accessible to people living in rural areas and smaller towns. However, a limitation of remote work is that it reduces opportunities for peer learning, negatively impacting career growth, particularly for young professionals who miss out on informal mentoring and feedback. Additionally, it also reduces social connections and can aggravate loneliness.
Due to its ability to overcome several such limitations of office-based and remote work, hybrid work has gained increasing popularity. It permits flexibility, work-life balance, social connections as well as cost savings (for employees and organisations alike). However, one important consideration to make is that of the proximity bias – whether consciously or unconsciously, there is scope for favouritism towards employees who are physically close. This means that those working remotely might not receive equal opportunities to progress[iv]. With evidence that under-represented groups like employees with disabilities and LGBTQI+ employees have a strong preference for hybrid work[v], this challenge requires even more attention to ensure the success of ED&I interventions.
How to effectively navigate hybrid working:
- Set supporting organisational structures: Having clear policies and process aligned to this new world of work, with respect to employee recruitment, development and promotion. This ensures that there is less scope for bias to seep into processes and decision making.
- Be open to experimentation: The impact of hybrid work on organisational and employee performance is still being studied. In addition to this, organisations must undertake internal research to examine the impact of hybrid work within their organisational context as this is likely to vary across sectors, job roles and even at individual levels.
- Clear communication – As organisations trial different work patterns and evaluate outcomes, it is important to provide employees with regular and clear guidance around organisational plans as well as to provide opportunities for development and social bonding.
Has your organisation employed hybrid working yet? How has it navigated the challenges to get the most out of it?
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