How can you make sure your business adopts hybrid working in an inclusive way? HR consultant Gemma Dale outlines how to include employees from diverse groups within your hybrid work strategy.
For more guidance on implementing hybrid work, make sure to download Gemma's 10 step hybrid working action plan:
As with other forms of flexible working, hybrid working arrangements have the power to support inclusion in the workplace. When implemented without due consideration for equality, diversity, and inclusion, however, hybrid work may also reinforce old problems and even create brand new ones. So, how can we make hybrid inclusive for everyone?
The inclusion challenge
Research into the outcomes of remote work undertaken before the pandemic can give us some insight into the potential issues that could arise in a hybrid working environment. Unfortunately, from both a career progression and pay perspective, working remotely can lead to people being “out of sight and out of mind”, with those who work in-person being favoured over those who do not.
Example: Gender inclusivity
Several surveys suggest that in general, women want to work from home more than men – most likely because they will arrange their domestic and childcare responsibilities (of which women tend to do more) around their work. This has led to fears that there will be a gender divide in the offices of the future. If such fears were to be realised, this may have a negative impact upon women’s career progression.
Example: Age inclusivity
Hybrid work is not neutral. Some employees cannot work from home, perhaps because they do not have a suitable home working environment. More senior and well-paid workers may have fewer problems with this, whereas younger workers or those on lower incomes may face greater difficulties. Younger workers have also been reported to have found greater difficulties working from home during the pandemic.
However, it’s not all bad news. Hybrid work brings with it great potential too.
The potential of hybrid working for inclusion
The lack of quality flexible working is one factor that contributes to the gender pay gap. All too often, flexible work can lead to career and pay stagnation overall.
Hybrid working opens the labour market to people who might otherwise be excluded from it, including those who would find working in an office (or commuting to one) difficult or impossible. It’s not only the gender pay gap that is a problem; we also have a disability pay and employment gap here in the UK.
Providing opportunities to work in a hybrid way can therefore help those who want or need to work flexibly to balance work and other needs and responsibilities, whether they are a working parent, a carer, or they have a disability.
5 ways to ensure inclusion with hybrid work
Hybrid work is so new that the potential challenges laid out here are still theoretical. Over time, we will learn more about its outcomes through research and employee feedback. In the meantime, organisations who have implemented hybrid work need to be mindful of the potential risk areas (such as confirmation bias for workers who are in the office more often and the potential for toxic virtual communication) and take proactive steps to ensure that hybrid work is implemented and managed in an inclusive way. It is possible that issues will arise: through monitoring, these can be identified promptly and action taken to address the problems.
Here are five practical steps to support inclusion in hybrid work:
1. Set up monitoring systems
Set up monitoring systems to review promotions, pay awards, recognition schemes, and internal role changes – how do hybrid workers compare against any office-based counterparts? Check that in-person workers aren’t outperforming remote employees.
2. Review access
Monitor who has access to hybrid working opportunities. The opportunity to work from home should be based on the nature of the work that an individual undertakes – this is especially important to avoid discrimination claims.
3. Hold focus groups
Hybrid work policies and practices may well be designed by HR teams or senior managers. It is important to bring in voices from a variety of groups, especially those who may benefit from, or be exposed to risk by, hybrid work arrangements. Talk to working parents, to carers, to disabled employees, or those from BAME backgrounds about how and why hybrid is working for them.
4. Provide training
Train managers in how to manage hybrid workers effectively. This training should include reference to the potential for unconscious bias against flexible workers, how to manage meetings in an inclusive way, and how to assess performance fairly in ways that do not favour in-person work.
5. Be digital first
When some employees are working in the office in-person and others are working from home, it is important to create a level playing field for communication, collaboration, and employee voice. Share information online for everyone, and when one person is working remotely, everyone should join a meeting online regardless of location.
Taking some of these steps can ensure that hybrid work helps rather than hinders progress towards truly inclusive workplaces.
For more information and practical guidance on implementing hybrid work, download my 10 step hybrid working action plan:
Written by Gemma Dale
Gemma Dale is an experienced senior HR professional, CIPD Chartered Fellow, HEA Fellow, and a regular speaker and writer on a variety of HR topics. Gemma is the co-author of the book 'Flexible Working' published by Kogan Page in 2020. She is also a lecturer in the Business School at Liverpool John Moores University and runs her own business, The Work Consultancy.