Hybrid Work and the Flexibility bias

Speaking with an H&R Leader last week and he expressed an interesting thought related to the new normal of hybrid work models.

Now that employees are demanding and being given the choice of where and when to work, those who benefit are demographically different from those who stand to lose from this “choice.”

I think we can all agree that choice is a wonderful thing. Being able to handle some household chores on our lunch break, avoiding morning commutes and even seeing the kids as they come home from school means that for many of us, we get to really profit from our personal/leisure time.

But that reality is not shared by all employees in all demographics equally.

A friend of mine is a Partner at a top 10 national accounting firm.

Him and his wife have 2 children who are in daycare. She is gainfully employed and building her career in the field of her dreams.

He has the choice to work remotely 100% of the time.

On an evening out last month, I asked why he would EVER go into the office again when all his business can be done by networking directly with clients and working offsite.

His answer to him seemed obvious, to me seemed antiquated but for some employees may seem infuriating.

“When I’m in the office, I get to see the Managing Partner every single day, and every evening he stops by my office to chat as we walk out of work together.”

Now, face time with the boss is ALWAYS a good thing, but is access to this familiarity shared equitably across the organisation?

Of course not, and those who will be most affected by this reality are once again the already marginalised members of our teams. Studies also show that salaries of remote workers grow slower than office workers.

Need to pick the kids up from daycare, nope!

Need to grab some groceries to feed a multi generational household, nope!

To reach your career goals, you’ll need to show face in the office and play out the internal political drama that is presenteeism.

With DEI being the hottest topic in L&D over the past few years, with good and valid reason, how is this future reality going to play out in the face of a hybrid work model that promises equity but delivers disparity in the form of rich white men patting each other on the back as those pawns work form home and miss out on the juicy tidbits being discussed in the office?

The key resides in Leadership being first aware of the trend and adapting with the times to provide opportunities for all employees to feel included in the culture of the organisation.

Now there are variations on the hybrid model, ranging from quasi expected to be in the office to fully remote. For the purposes of this blog, we will concentrate on the model that offers employees the choice of where to work within the confines of work hours.

What can great Leaders do?

In order to get the most out of your team and provide equitable opportunities to a diverse workforce, Managers need to rethink where they best Lead from. The quickest way for an organization to send a clear signal that hybrid/remote work is the future, is for Leaders to be off-site.

Why, you may ask?

Well first off, it sets the trend that a lack of “face-time” with the executive won’t impact your career path, because everyone would in theory be collaborating remotely with their manager, but more importantly it reinforces the message that the office is no longer at the center of decision-making and power. Including those who are offsite as much as those in the office. This is the first step to profiting form this new reality.

Teambuilding and Social events

You’d think that the explosion of remote work would have put an end to teambuilding and social events with your co-workers. Truth is, we have been delivering more training to managers than EVER on how to implement successful team building activities.

Count me in on the 45% of people Twingate surveyed who say they miss the social connections of the office.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

As Leaders we can structure informal communication, which is vital in remote work settings and promotes the desired culture within the company.

Some organizations are repurposing office space as libraries, fitness centers among others. These can be help facilitate social gatherings and teambuilding activities for those who come into the office on any given day.

They can also be used to regroup remote and office workers for Ad-Hoc social events. If that is something you look to implement, be sure to offer equal opportunities to all workers.

  1. Budget for travel. Those who are offsite may need to commute. This takes time and may cost money.
  2. Social means social. Even if organized by an employer, don’t use the opportunity to discuss quarterly sales, future vision or challenges facing the company. This hinders transparency and creates dysfunction.

Benefits and Perks

Happy employees perform better.

Healthy employees are happier.

You decide to offer all employees access to an on-site gym you built.

See the problem?

When dealing with hybrid employees, don’t shoot yourself in the foot while trying to do something great for your team. Maybe offer those off-site employees a health club voucher? Just be sure that all employees have access to the same perks, whether on site or remote.

Asynchronous work

If the goal of a Modern Leader in a hybrid reality is to ensure equitable participation and inclusiveness is the success of the organization, we need to start to understand that not everyone is at their peak performance between 9 am and 5 pm.

This doesn’t mean that as a Manager, you need to stay up until 4 am to be on the same timeline as a remote worker on the other side of the planet, but you can’t expect them to wake up at 3 am to give you an update on their latest project.

Ask your team, when they feel they can perform best and you’ll start to realize the variety of answers one can gather even form a small team. Extrapolate that onto an entire organization and we realize the one size fits all approach won’t work.

Be mindful of results, not the clock.

Set clear expectations and plan for times where there is overlap on your schedule to get updates on progress.

In conclusion, what was not even on the radar of L&D professionals 3 years ago, is slowly creeping into our subconscious and forcing us to face a brutal fact, DEI experts need to be looped into the Hybrid work structure any company is looking to implement.

The cost of not doing say, may be that top talent will realize that remote work options aren’t worth all that much when they have much less opportunities for career advancement and pay raises.