Addressing Inequity in the Hybrid Workplace

By Anne Bibb

Did you recently, in the last few years, move your company over to a hybrid model? If so, then you may have noticed a plethora of benefits. As this HubSpot article noted, multiple studies and surveys have found that the hybrid working model and allowing employees flexibility regarding where and when they work can benefit employees and entire teams and companies. Studies point to benefits that include fewer sick days, higher productivity, and a happier workforce.  


However, despite all its benefits, one underlying issue with the hybrid workplace needs to be addressed soon: inequity.  


In-Office vs. Hybrid: Is Someone Getting an Unfair Advantage?  

 Workplace inequality is often discussed regarding gender, race, sexuality, and other factors. However, regarding the hybrid model, the concerns focus on inequities that may arise between those who frequent the office and those who spend more time working remotely. Proximity bias places in-office workers at front-of-mind for executives and, sometimes unconsciously and unfairly, puts them at an advantage over their hybrid or remote peers. 


In 2022, the Barco ClickShare Hybrid Meeting Survey found that more than a third of workers had difficulty fully engaging during hybrid meetings. Nearly a third said they found it challenging to make their voices heard during hybrid meetings. More than half said meeting leaders catered more to on-site employees than those attending meetings remotely.  


Of course, while the issue might be a remote/hybrid vs. in-office one, that’s not to say that gender, race, and similar factors don’t also play into this hybrid vs. remote issue. It’s just a fact that those groups that have suffered from systemic inequity in the office in the past — women, people of color, etcetera — are now more likely to suffer further injustice based on how much time they spend in the office. 


According to a January 2022 Future Forum report from Slack, concerns are rising regarding proximity bias that bolsters existing inequities. The report noted that while knowledge workers spend more time in the office, people of color, women, and working mothers take advantage of flexible working arrangements. On an international scale, 84% of men work in the office all or some of the time, compared to 70% of women, and 75% of parents work remotely or hybrid, compared to 63% of non-parents.   


Luckily, executives recognize the potential for these inequities to exist and grow. The report further details how proximity bias is now a top concern for leadership. Likewise, a month after Slack’s recently shuttered  Future Forum released their report Questionmark, an online assessment provider, conducted a study on hybrid work and found that more than 40% of executives are concerned about the inequalities that can pop up between remote and in-workplace employees.  


But just because leadership acknowledges the potential for a problem, does that mean they’re doing anything? Are executives making conscious decisions not to dole out promotions or career development opportunities based solely on seeing certain employees at work every day? That’s part of the issue that’s still unclear. 


Make a Conscious Effort to Be There for Your Teams — No Matter Where They’re Working 

 So if you’re a leader that’s implemented a hybrid work environment with the hopes of seeing that hybrid work environment and flexibility enhance your EX, how do you ensure that you are improving your EX with this decision and not making things worse by allowing inequity to run rampant? 


PwC provided a few recommendations from the company’s U.S. people and organization joint global leader, Bhushan Sethi, in early 2021, around the time that many offices that had gone remote during the Covid-19 pandemic were starting to shift to hybrid models, to ease people back into the office. 


Sethi said three critical efforts could help organizations avoid remote and hybrid work inequity. These needed efforts include the attempt to lead your mixed teams with empathy and inclusion (which means refraining from gushing about how you’re so excited to be back in the office; not everyone feels the same).  


Other needed efforts include being creative and innovative with how your teams interact beyond face-to-face meetings that require a few team members to Zoom in (maybe asynchronous work could be a boon for your teams, eliminating both wasted time spent in meetings and the inequity that can grow when all significant decisions are meetings-based), and taking the steps necessary to keep a finger on the pulse of your people. If you know your teams’ needs, you can fill them — which only spells good things for your EX.  


Embracing the Omni-modal Leadership for Hybrid Work Environments 

 In a conversation on the Unexpected Journey™ Podcast, Sacha Connor, CEO of Virtual Work Insider, discussed the importance of developing omni-modal leadership skills to manage hybrid work environments effectively. Omni-modal leaders excel at communicating, collaborating, influencing, and building culture across various modes, including in-person, hybrid, and remote settings. Connor emphasized the importance of being aware of unconscious biases like distance bias and recency bias, which can contribute to inequities in hybrid workplaces. 


As leaders navigate different working modes throughout the day, it’s crucial to adapt their leadership styles accordingly, ensuring that all team members feel valued and included, whether in the office or working remotely. By embracing omni-modal leadership, organizations can better address the challenges of hybrid work and promote a more equitable experience for all employees. 



Refining Hybrid Policies for the Future 

 According to Martine Haas, a management professor at The Wharton School, The University of Pennsylvania, the hybrid work model has emerged as a significant workplace trend. Companies must take a more systematic approach to their policies and procedures in 2023. Haas suggests setting up working groups to target different areas, such as employee engagement and satisfaction, security, productivity, and more, to craft customized policies that work best for individual organizations. This approach will help ensure a more equitable and effective hybrid work environment for all employees. 



What’s Your Experience?  

 With more and more employees demanding flexibility in the workplace, the hybrid model is going nowhere. However, you can ensure the hybrid model is as positive as possible for your teams by providing an equitable experience for every team member, no matter how often they’re in the office or what hours they work. 


Has your office implemented any preventative measures to prevent inequity among hybrid employees? Please drop a comment below and tell me about it! Also, sign up to get notified of new articles and our latest podcasts.  



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