Hybrid working threatens to create a two-tier workforce, where those regularly present in the workplace are treated differently to those who – either by choice or necessity – work remotely. Inclusion matters more than ever.
Hybrid, as a term, is imbued with confusion. Why? Because many organisations are vague about what it means. Simply, hybrid working has resulted in non-identical access for all. As a result, it has pulled the topic of inclusivity to centre-stage. We know that an ‘ inclusive organisation embraces all employees and enables them to make meaningful contributions, with equitable access to resources’. However, when the limitations driving people’s ability to choose where to work are not equitable, their access to resources is undoubtedly impacted.
Why is Hybrid Working an Inclusion issue?
A hybrid way of working exposes issues which exclude and limit people, and which may have been hidden before. Some examples of these:
We know that the lockdown experience has impacted women’s careers more than men. A May 2020 IFS & UCL Study found that mothers are more likely than fathers to spend their working hours also caring for children or elderly relatives. Similarly, the campaign group Pregnant, then Screwed found that 57% of employed mothers believed that their childcare responsibilities during the pandemic will (or already had) harm their careers.
For those with disabilities or long-term health conditions, returning to the office may be impractical, undesirable, or even impossible with the virus still circulating.
Access to Opportunities
The Office of National Statistics found that employees working from home were less likely to receive bonuses or pay rises. Also, 3 in every 10 employees received no training to support professional development while working in a hybrid way. For people starting new jobs during the pandemic, we have regularly heard their difficulty in asking those ‘tap on the shoulder’ or ‘silly’ questions. It's because they don’t seem worthy enough for scheduling a Zoom call. Those ad-hoc moments can be the difference between comfort and discomfort in the first few weeks of a new job.
We don’t have the solutions yet (and that’s okay!)
These issues are troublesome, but there isn’t a finish line for hybrid working. Hybrid is more complicated than working fully remotely or from the office and will test the norms for most organisations. Companies don’t know what’s coming next. And wishful thinking of leaders to ‘return to normal’ should not shape the immense opportunity awaiting us. It’s clearer than ever that there is a strategic and urgent need to be adaptable and resilient in the face of the unknown to overcome these issues.
To explore inclusivity, we must ask the right questions
The most obvious question for many is ‘How many days should I work in the office or remotely, per week?’, but it may not be the right question to ask first. By focusing upon the activities people perform we can gather more informative answers to help navigate how hybrid suits our work and represents our people, best. Alternative questions could be:
- Which activities are better completed remotely, virtually or physically together?
- How can meeting culture support an equitable and inclusive experience when not everyone can be physically present?
- Do elements of our culture support a two-tier workforce?
Even before the pandemic, the degree to which people believed that their organisations were inclusive ranged dramatically, and face to face interaction could often mask other inequities. Hybrid working has largely removed this mask, exposing inclusion as a core topic to be explored.