“The events of the past two years have brought into focus the urgency of addressing the equity, productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of the workplace.”
– Mark Gilbreath, CEO/Founder LiquidSpace
As the Great Resignation continues to apply pressure to the labor market, if you’re looking for ways to entice employees to remain loyal, showering them with perks probably isn’t the answer. Gas stipends, technology reimbursements, remodeled offices with free-flowing kombucha bars – workers simply aren’t taking the bait. They’re looking for something more meaningful from the workplace experience. Topping that list – an intentional approach by their employers to equitability. Focusing on creating the workplace environment your employees deserve – even and especially if they’re working remotely – is your company’s best retention (and recruitment) strategy going forward.
Everyone agrees that hybrid is here to stay. But hybrid work is about more than a strategic mix of office-based and remote options. Hybrid is about more than work; it’s about people and how they’re treated. The hybrid mentality embraces the fact that people have different needs, and that no single office environment can be all things to all people, nor should it be. It rejects bias towards any one workspace over another, or any one set of employee needs over another.
The challenge going forward is to create a successful work experience for all of your employees, regardless of where they choose to work. Fostering equity across the workplace means different things; it means being intentional about inclusion; it means considering the impact of every executive decision to make sure the needs of certain groups aren’t prioritized over others; it means being serious about access and accountability.
And in today’s hot labor market, it may mean the difference between whether your company employs the best and brightest or loses them to an organization that moved more quickly to make equity a priority.
Accessibility and convenience
Let’s begin with the basics. Equity at work involves access – matching each employee to the right environment for the task at hand, when and where needed. This is especially true in today’s remote working culture. Some employees are eager to get back to the office as soon as possible; others prefer working remotely for the foreseeable future. Some employees are expected to be “on-site” once or twice a week on a weekly basis; others may only need workspace episodically, an hour here, a full day there. An equitable hybrid strategy needs to facilitate inclusivity for all of your workers’ needs and preferences.
Technology (and its limits)
It has always been important for organizations to provide the tools their employees need to be productive and stay connected. Without the benefit of proximity and regular in-person gatherings, hybrid-ready video conferencing and messaging platforms have never been more critical to creating alignment and reinforcing an organization’s shared sense of purpose.
Meetings, chat, whiteboard, phone – providing next-generation solutions for the way we office today is essential; it’s also the easy part. Technology can solve lots of problems, but no technology system, no matter how advanced, can ensure an equitable remote and hybrid work environment. Only people have the power to do that.
There are still plenty of ways for the proverbial “loudest voices in the room” to dominate discussions, impose their viewpoints and otherwise suck all of the oxygen out of a room (or on a Zoom call). The difference is their peers are no longer rolling over; they’re looking for work elsewhere. Empathy is the key. Education about, and appreciation for, diversity of opinion needs to be prioritized to create positive employee experiences. Questions to consider on your company’s journey: How are your virtual meetings conducted? How is collaboration encouraged?
Technology is indeed part of the puzzle, but it won’t solve for workplace equity by itself; the right attitude is needed to promote the best possible employee experience.
Health and safety
Health, safety and equity are connected. A commitment to fostering equity in the workplace can improve the health and wellbeing of your employees. Not only that, workers who believe their employees care about their welfare are more likely to be loyal. Discrimination and bias have the opposite effect, corroding morale, allegiance, and even employees’ physical health.
Post pandemic, implementing the latest best practices for facility health and safety is more critical than ever. There are a host of new factors to consider, chief among them vaccination and masking requirements. Leaning on local guidelines and posting masking protocol reminders in plainly visible locations can help reduce confusion.
But equally important is supporting the workplace preferences of your individual team. Some workers may be open to coming back to the office or meeting in-person periodically; others may need more time, based on their own personal circumstances. There is no right or wrong choice, particularly in a public health climate that seems to change weekly.
Promoting inclusion is another way to prioritize worker health and welfare in today’s hybrid workplace. Ensuring participation by employees at all levels of the organization and especially seeking out perspectives from individuals from historically marginalized populations – these are steps your business can take starting today to meet the changing needs of your workforce.
Reject proximity bias
Related to promoting inclusion, but worth highlighting, proximity bias was born of the hybrid workplace and may pose the single greatest challenge to its survival. Even as the pandemic has accelerated the rate of change in how we perceive work and workplace, old habits die hard. Many workplace leaders remain predisposed to their own office-going habits, and the belief that individuals at the office are inherently working harder than people working remotely.
This has been proven demonstratively false again and again these past two years. If anything, the opposite may be true. Work takes many forms and working from an office isn’t always the ideal, much less a guarantee of superior performance. But instincts can be hard to ignore. Companies would do well to reject proximity bias in the workplace, much the way they reject other forms of bias and comparison threat. Where an individual works should have no bearing on how they are regarded by their peers or supervisors, or how their performance is monitored or measured. Providing unconditional support to colleagues is more than the right thing to do; it’s quickly becoming one of the hallmarks of a truly progressive workplace.
While some individuals have seamlessly adapted to the flexibility of remote work, for others the new mode of working has presented a fresh set of challenges, not least childcare and elder care. Larger employers may offer on-site daycare facilities or other, care-related benefits for working parents, but many hardworking parents are on their own.
Discouragingly, if not surprisingly, the burden of domestic responsibilities continues to weigh heaviest on women. In 2020, women exited the workforce in record numbers, with 1 in 4 women considering a downshift in the workforce or leaving altogether. Job losses, too, have affected women disproportionately, with a 3% greater rise in unemployment. For organizations looking to support working moms, flexible working models that empower individuals to choose when they work from a physical office, and even when they “clock in and clock out” during the work week is well worth exploring.
And it’s not only working moms. Many men want to spend more time with their children. Finding ways for men and women to prioritize family needs can benefit your company in myriad ways – there may be no better way for an organization to demonstrate its commitment to employees than by helping them take care of their families.
It may sound like a cliché to say your people are your most important asset, but treating them that way can be a competitive advantage. Enabling an equitable work environment has never been more important than in today’s hyper dynamic workplace world. Shifting to hybrid can be part of the solution; by helping to facilitate equity by giving workers more freedom, hybrid becomes a catalyst for a more engaged, committed workforce. But hybrid only works if it’s implemented with intention and with the genuine wellbeing of your employees in mind.