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Hybrid Workplaces: 3 Ways to Make Them Equitable for Everyone

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member and HR Bartender Sharlyn Lauby. 

As we're hearing more about vaccines, it's only natural to talk about people gathering together. Of course, that leads to a conversation about employees coming back to the office or similar workplace.

It reminded me of an article published on Business Insider a couple of months ago about how ”œZillow is adopting a hybrid model of work, but its CEO says it's trying to prevent one major downside: a two-class system where those who come into the office are viewed as better employees. It's true that hybrid workplaces could perpetuate inequities. However, organizations have the ability to create hybrid workplaces that don't. It will take a lot of hard work and resources to do it successfully.

Many organizations entered the pandemic with a small number of remote workers. The reasons those workers were remote varied greatly. For some, it could be related to parental or caregiving responsibilities. Or maybe it was a high-performing employee who relocated, and the company didn't want to lose them. Possibly both. It would be interesting to know how many employees (prior to the pandemic) were told that working remotely would severely limit their career opportunities. My guess is there weren't that many ”“ if any at all.

In many cases, remote employees were told that they could work away from the office as long as their productivity didn't suffer, and they would be available to come into the office as needed. While there was a bit of a learning curve, managers were able to manage one or two remote employees without too much difficulty.

The challenge with the hybrid model is that it means large-scale change. It's a new way of thinking about the workplace. There are three areas that organizations need to address:

  • Leadership: The management team needs the equipment and tools to effectively lead a remote workforce. They need to be able to hire, build positive working relationships, set performance expectations, coach, mentor, get/give feedback, and more. Being a manager is a hard job. Being the manager of a remote team is also a hard job. But it's not impossible. It does mean that organizations need to give managers training and resources they need to effectively manage.
  • Employees. Like managers, employees need to have the equipment and tools to do their work from a remote location. A big component of this is technology. Employees need regular access to information, learning, as well as the other members of the team. That doesn't mean all day video calls. There are wonderful pieces of technology that allow employees to collaborate and share information. Organizations will need to build the technology infrastructure for employees to remain productive.
  • Organizational workflows. Let's label all of the policies, procedures, and guidelines that we use to get work done as ”œworkflows”. With a remote workforce, some of those workflows need to change. It's a big task to reevaluate how everything gets done. And it might be easier just to say, let's just do it the way we've always done it. However, the exercise of reviewing workflows could be a very good thing for the business. The result could be a major streamlining of processes and greater efficiency.

Creating a hybrid workplace is a big job. Think of it as creating an employee experience strategy. Or changing company culture. But it can be done. And it can be done well. The organizations that make the commitment to creating equitable hybrid workplaces will be the ones that are able to attract, engage, and retain the best talent. Because those organizations will have figured out how to maintain company culture with a hybrid workplace.

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