Can Hybrid Working be Inclusive?
By Lisa Gallagher, director and co-founder of Flexibility Works
Hybrid working now looks like the future for many of us. The pandemic has proved people don’t need to be in the office to be productive, and the hybrid model - of some office days and some home working - is absolutely expected by many employers and employees alike as we emerge from the pandemic.
But concerns about whether those in the office will be treated differently to those at home are bubbling up in the media and in our conversations with employers. Can hybrid working really be inclusive?
The plus side
On the very significant plus side, hybrid working is what many workers say they want. Our research shows almost half (45%) of all Scottish workers who weren’t furloughed say they’d like more home working in future, and it’s easy to see why. Saving on travel time and costs, seeing more of our families, nipping out for the dentist or a school-run, walking the dog at lunchtime and being home to take deliveries all make the balance between work and home life more harmonious.
While from an employer perspective, 61 per cent told us they expect to offer more home working. The benefits for businesses include cost savings on office space and travel, and reductions in their carbon footprint too. As well as recruiting from a wider geographical and more diverse talent pool.
Flexible working, such as home working, can be a force for good. It can help people enter the work force, stay in work and progress to better skilled or higher paid roles. Increasingly, flex is seen as an issue for anyone and everyone, not just for working mums, and all this helps close the gender pay gap, as well as creating more equal and inclusive workplaces for everyone.
Even the UK Government is considering legislation to ensure everyone can ask for remote working – with employers needing a good business reason to say ‘no’.
But after the hype and fanfare around hybrid working, we’re now starting to tease out some of its thornier issues, one of which is whether it will inadvertently create a two-tier workforce.
We know that women still do the lion’s share of childcare and tend to work more flexibly than men to accommodate this. And it’s likely that as we move into a more hybrid way of working, we’ll find more women working from home, while more men go to the office.
This split extends beyond gender too. Those with disabilities or long-term health conditions are more likely to work from home, and anyone who’s caring for an older relative or partner or has other commitments outside of work.
The fear among some groups is that those who can be in the office will benefit from better relationships with colleagues and managers, and will be offered more juicy projects, insights and ultimately, promotions. While those who are at home and less visible risk getting ignored and passed over.
But while hybrid working may be inevitable, a two-tier workforce doesn’t have to be.
There are things employers can do - must do - to avoid this, so people get the flexibility they need without paying a professional price. This makes business sense too because employers benefit from whole teams developing and remaining motivated and productive, not just one part of them.
Here are our top, practical suggestions to make hybrid working inclusive:
Set up a team protocol
Managers don’t need all the answers. Involve the whole team in discussions about objectives/deliverables and how, when and where people are working and how to contact them. Be clear about who is available when and where. Use digital diaries and e-signatures as reminders. The team can agree how frequently everyone needs to meet face-to-face formally and informally and set core hours/slots for this when everyone can attend. The protocol can be reviewed regularly as circumstances change, and helps everyone feel included and informed.
Invest in training and support for line managers
Just because managers have had to manage more remote workers this last year doesn’t necessarily mean they feel confident in doing it, or that they even really understand the value of working more flexibly. Training ensures managers understand the benefits – on both sides – and that they establish positive, two-way communications with remote workers. The onus should be on both sides to check-in/update.
Encourage honest communication
Whether it’s personal, or all-company, greater communication and honesty has helped firms weather the pandemic. Wellbeing is fast rising up corporate agendas and it all starts with being able to have a conversation. If someone has a problem, or an idea, they need to feel confident in sharing this to make improvements and avoid misunderstandings and resentment.
Model ‘good’ behaviour from the top down
Ensure you have senior buy-in and normalise remote and flexible working by showcasing executives working this way. A blog by a senior manager on why they work from home, shared on your internal communications channels, shows other employees what’s considered ‘normal’.
Think about job design…
Understand that some roles are dependent on location or time – or not. This can open up new ways of thinking about how best to provide choice and control for your employees. Look at both existing and new roles and work out what flexibility is possible. Take a ‘flex first’ approach to job design, assuming flexibility unless there’s a genuine business case not to.
…and career progression
Managers and HR teams need to think carefully about career progression with a more flexible and hybrid workforce. Promotions are usually dependent on experience of specific projects or tasks, and these opportunities need to be available and accessible to remote and flexible workers too.
If this isn’t quite enough, why not book a place on
our hybrid working workshop? This 2.5 hour session is designed specifically to help
managers effectively and more confidently manage home and office workers.
Or check out our complete range of support and training options.
For more information, or to book, please contact us on 0141 378 8330 or firstname.lastname@example.org