Have you heard about "proximity bias" in a hybrid workplace? It is essentially a cognitive bias formed on the "out of sight, out of mind" principle and can affect both workers and leaders poorly.
In a hybrid workplace context, employees can feel pressured to work in the office or risk losing the favor of the company leaders. In contrast, employees who've chosen to work from home could feel undervalued or overlooked amid a lack of visibility. This is essentially how the proximity bias plays out and harbors feelings of "unfairness" among employees.
Problems arise when such biases go unchecked for a prolonged time. In a hybrid workplace setting, they can lead to disparities between co-workers and give birth to a dog-eat-dog phenomenon at work. Yet, only 13% of employers surveyed by Deloitte are concerned about ensuring parity and maintaining fairness between remote and home-based workers.
Given the harmful consequences, how can you balance the scales for your hybrid workplace? Well, you work on the three constitutional pillars: diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Talks about diversity, equity, and inclusion at the workplace, or DE&I as often called in common parlance, have been gaining traction for years now, and good reasons!
Workplace diversity has a direct impact on company success. Just consider this: A research by Harvard Business Review revealed that diverse organizations are more likely to capture new markets and outperform competitors. This also translates to more significant opportunities and enhanced revenue for your business.
Besides, the disparity at the level of pay, resources, access to healthcare, etc., can leave workers feeling alienated and undervalued. This is essentially a recipe for employee dissatisfaction and, inevitably, employee attrition, especially for organizations relying on a hybrid workplace.
Why do you ask? Well, the "return to office," even in a hybrid workplace, has several nuances. This is because employees are returning from a different situation at home. Some might have children or elders to look after, while others might have anxieties about the physical return given the infection fears. Accommodating such employee needs and concerns without malice is essentially where fairness lies.
Now, if you consider the hybrid workplace model, there are primarily two ways of functioning:
1. Depending on necessity/choice, employees work in the physical office on certain weekdays and remotely on others. The rotation and balance will differ at the organizational level and the hybrid workplace strategy implemented.
2. Some teams/members work entirely on-site like pre-Covid times, and others work from home based on the role.
But irrespective of the hybrid policy you follow, if you fail to address the fears of returning and remote employees, you will only end up echoing a sentiment of preferential treatment they might be feeling.
On the brighter side, a hybrid workplace can become a welcoming equalizer and give you a ready opportunity to create a fair work environment. For example, practices like hot-desking eliminate the "corner office" concept and empower workers to choose where they want to sit and work. It also challenges the status quo and promotes accessible leadership, so there is real gold in inclusion and equity. This is also where management needs to step up.
The onus of promoting such equitable practices falls directly in the lap of the Human Resource. Luckily, along with the challenges, a hybrid workplace also serves as a fertile ground for experiments and thinking on one's feet.
Recommended Reading: 4 Advantages of a Hybrid Workplace
Before you can transpire any change in your hybrid workplace, you must get rid of your prejudice first as the HR Manager.
You'll be surprised to see how much baggage you've been carrying unintentionally. But like charity, redemption also begins at home.
When you correct yourself from your biases, you can set an example for your team and take the first step towards promoting equity in your hybrid workplace. However, it would help if you didn't confuse equality for equity.
While the two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a mountain of difference between the two. The former focuses on giving fair and equal treatment to every employee, without any discrimination or bias, while the latter levels the playing field by providing the enablement, access, and resources they need to succeed.
Also Read: Hybrid Workplace is a Chaos
As you can see, equitable practices, and not just equal opportunities, are essential to implement a fair hybrid workplace model. Also, to create positive employee experiences across employee designations and demographics.
Besides, with equity at the heart of your hybrid workplace model, you can also reap many tangible benefits for your business.
1. A diverse and equitable hybrid workplace enables cognitive diversity, which means you have more people thinking outside-of-the-box business solutions and driving the bottom line in effect. It also opens the space for varied decision-making to thrive and promotes employee engagement.
2. A diverse and equitable hybrid workplace encourages employees to work towards a shared vision. When everyone on the team shares the same goal, they feel a sense of purpose and value, resulting in better performance and productivity.
Many organizations worldwide have already taken special provisions to foster workplace equity amid the new normal. Take the example of Unito, a workflow management platform company, and maintain equality in a hybrid workplace setup.
All the company meetings are conducted online and recorded for everyone to access to ensure fairness across levels. So, employees have the liberty to work asynchronously and don't feel left out!
Wondering how you can do the same? Well, start by adopting policies, practices, and procedures designed purposefully for equitable hybrid workplace operations.
Consider the following practices to foster a more equitable culture for your hybrid workplace.
There are no "water cooler" moments in the virtual space and limited ones in a hybrid workplace owing to safety reasons. Without casual office conversations like before, many workers can feel a social disconnect, which can escalate to power imbalances and communication gaps if prolonged.
Here's what you can do:
You could start a mentorship program for a more personalized onboarding of new hires or hold occasional get-to-know-your-colleagues informal meets for both your in-office and remote workers. Just make sure the "huddle" space has appropriate tools so virtual workers can also partake in the activity. This can foster a strong work culture for your hybrid workplace that is built on inclusion and goodwill.
As a manager, you know how essential catch-up calls are in understanding employee sentiments. But in the hybrid workplace context, such calls take newer meanings of care. Remember, the pandemic has been brutal on everyone. So, consider extending a compassionate space where your co-workers can express freely about what they like, dislike, or want to change workwise, and offer support accordingly.
Since a hybrid workplace has a geographically dispersed workforce, you will also need to revisit your practices for monitoring and measuring employee productivity.
Rather than relying on how many "hours" they put to work or managerial observations, you can try switching to a more result-driven policy for performance reviews and evaluations. Establish clear goals and objectives for both home-based and office-based workers and evaluate performance against those markers.
Doing so can also discourage an "Us vs. Them" culture among your hybrid workplace team and create a fair progression path for everyone on the team regardless of their work location. However, no matter what changes you adopt, ensure complete transparency during the transition phase.
Better yet, ask your co-workers to participate in the process. This will help them understand the motives behind your actions and prevent any feeling of unfairness in the hybrid workplace setting.
Also Read: Office Sanitization Guideline
In a hybrid workplace, you'll have workers operating from different work sites. Other than offices and their homes, they could also choose to work from spaces like coffee shops, co-working spaces, libraries, etc., depending on preference. Providing equitable access to all such work modes without any ill-feeling can also go a long way in empowering employees and creating a fair work environment.
You could offer ergonomics furniture to support their work from home or provide subsidized membership for a co-working space to a chunk of your employees living nearby. In a similar vein, your in-office employees should also have the suitable space, tools, and tech stack in place to collaborate and engage virtually in a hybrid workplace set up or otherwise.
Besides resources, your hybrid workplace staff deserves equal access to leadership as well. Unlike office-based workers, who can drop by the managers anytime to discuss work, remote workers might feel the gap in communication more strongly.
With a lack of visibility, your remote staff can also feel like their concerns and accomplishments are going unrecognized, or they're being left out. Unless, of course, you set the example first.
Enabling effective collaboration between employees is perhaps the biggest challenge in a hybrid workplace environment.
According to a report by Gartner, 71% of HR leaders are more concerned about employee collaborations in 2021 than they were pre-covid. And rightly so! After all, how employees engage and execute a goal together directly impacts innovation and productivity at work.
Here's how to foster seamless collaboration for a hybrid workplace.
With proactive efforts, you can offer more room for effective collaboration, co-creation, and creativity between co-workers, ultimately driving innovation for your hybrid workplace.
A fair hybrid workplace will look different for different organizations and will require a series of trial and error on your part. Want to make a head start? Turn to WorkInSync, your one-stop digital solution for effective hybrid workplace management. Schedule a demo to experience the seamless implementation of the hybrid workplace.
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