The inclusion challenge of post-pandemic hybrid working

24 August 2021 4 min. read
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The pandemic and the shift to home working have had mixed consequences in terms of inclusion and diversity. We know that diverse colleagues have fared worse in terms of wellbeing, development, profile, security and progression. At the same time, many organisations have found that employee engagement survey results indicate a marked drop in indicators around bullying, harassment and discrimination.

If nothing else, working from home removed some of the traditional forums of inequality – and virtual platforms may have helped by level the playing field of contribution. There has been equality of disconnection and remoteness – and some traditional power bases have been disrupted.

But the move to hybrid or blended working opens up a new domain for inequity. Simply put, there is the potential for in-office ‘haves’ and remote ‘have nots’.

Paul Brady, Senior Associate, PDT Global

Whilst organisations increasingly recognise that people can be productive, collaborative and creative from home – and that once seemingly impossible approaches to flexibility seem utterly realistic – we have to recognise that there is a power dynamic at play in the hybrid model. Power associated with better technology, access to seniors, visibility, gossip and insight, and social networks. Is hybrid working just a new playground in which inequity and disadvantage will play out?

There are positive steps that organisations and leaders can take to redress the power dynamics at play in blended working and give minorities the chance to seize the best of the gains of the last year and build competence in the new world of work.

Recognising that there is a power imbalance at play in hybrid working is key. Noticing where there is advantage and disadvantage is crucial, along with making reasonable adjustments to ensure that access to power, influence, technology and connection is fairly distributed.

Taking a systemic approach to work allocation and mapping who gets access to seniors and the interesting opportunities will uncover where inequities may be playing out. Meaningful problem solving and collaborative working may be confined to in-office colleagues, and this can have an impact on the motivation and profile of at-home colleagues.

Patterns of work will be complex, and a critical starting point is charting and analysing how people are working and where. The use of technology can help to keep a grip on access and availability.

Upskilling team members is also a vital component. Competence in hybrid working is a new skill set that hasn’t been addressed in most organisations. Some team members will have a natural ability to navigate the blended landscape: maintaining networks, sustaining visibility, and seeking opportunities for collaboration and access to rewarding projects – whether at home or in the office. It is important to ensure that all colleagues are fully conversant in this new capability.

In practical terms, the power imbalance is often most visible in team meetings, with at-home colleagues noticing a second-class experience. Level the playing field, consider having everyone join team calls from their own computer at their own workstation. It may seem odd to deprive at least some of the team of the chance to be face to face but there is a positive payoff in terms of equality of experience and potential for contribution.

Contact days and contact sessions are already being used by some hybrid teams as a way of compensating for the lack of equal social engagement. Dedicated time is set aside for social engagement and collaboration. This is not to say that no work takes place, it simply recognises that there are different approaches to productivity and everybody should have social access.

The final element worth considering is associated with psychological safety and a speak-up culture. We are all navigating our way through the new ways of working and we will only really know what works when we have experimented in our individual teams and organisations. As we experiment, we will get things wrong and right; but we will get things more right when we have a culture that allows people to speak out about how they are feeling and how things are working.

An atmosphere where colleagues are heard, where they feel safe talking about their experiences of hybrid working and where adjustments are made will surely help. Behavioural design, skills development and psychological safety can help us prevent hybrid working becoming the new playground of inequality.

An article by Paul Brady, a senior associate at global diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global.