Working from home can offer big benefits for some professionals – making life easier for those with caring responsibilities, for example. But others can suffer, particularly with regards to mental health. While Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey has told employees they can work from home “forever”, the chief of Goldman Sachs has called remote working an “aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible”. For most organisations, however, the future is somewhere in the middle.
Hybrid working – in which most employees split their working hours between home and office – is widely seen as the most likely outcome. When it comes to introducing a hybrid format and if it creates a more diverse workplace, views are split. Does it improve or cause damage to an organisation’s diversity?
Without considerable planning around adapting to a hybrid work model, organisations could suffer significant damage to their performance, reputation, and staff retention. The very flexibility to work from home that is being welcomed by employees may inadvertently lead to a detrimental impact on careers. And those who choose the ‘work from home’ option could actually miss out on opportunities.
Challenges with diversity?
It has been explored how businesses will be affected as they move to a hybrid working model. The formation of ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’ in traditional office environments will become even more prominent in a hybrid workforce. Additionally ‘present privilege’ – those in the workplace are more likely to be involved in spontaneous discussions in the office; and have better access to the boss – meaning that they are more front of mind for that promotion or project. Those working remotely, who may potentially include greater numbers of working mothers, the disabled and minority groups, will be left at a disadvantage; finding themselves a part of the ‘out-group’. Over time, this could lead to them becoming unnoticed, left without a voice, and fewer opportunities to contribute or progress.
In short, the following challenges can be associated with hybrid work models:
- More difficult to communicate in real-time, especially between distributed teams
- Access to technology and applications may differ from office to home
- Employees may find it difficult to adapt or develop new habits
- Employees may feel alienated if not supported in their choice of work style
- Hybrid requires more processes of control to allow for freedoms in work
Can a hybrid model improve an organisation’s diversity?
As can be expected there are benefits and disadvantages that need to be considered and accommodated as organisations develop their workplace policies into a hybrid model. It’s a complex dance, yet when done well, it has the potential for creating an environment that successfully attracts and retains a diverse range of top talent. Blending remote and office working can be a crucial driver for tapping into greater breadth and depth of talent.
Commuting Requirements: Organisations are no longer limited to hiring talent within a certain radius of their main headquarters. You can hire those outside of commuting distance, including those who can’t afford city living or can’t commit to a daily commute due to caring responsibilities.
Additional Locational Knowledge: If a group is underrepresented locally, you can look elsewhere to create a more diverse workforce – plus they may feel more comfortable joining remotely initially. With specific roles and industries, it’s highly valuable for an organisation to have employees based in different locations around the country, with a more diverse knowledge of geographic markets. Organizations that employ hybrid work models can attract more skilled and diverse employees across multiple geographies than those without one.
Minority groups: For those in minority groups, they can stay in their local communities while joining your organisation without having to choose between “their livelihood and their community”
LGBTQ+: Though the goal is a culture of acceptance, that may not be the reality. From LGBTQ+ workers reporting exclusionary comments about their appearance to transgender/nonbinary employees receiving harassment for the bathroom they use, remote work could limit these damaging experiences
Communication: Inclusion can be helped generally by using online platforms, with studies showing that those previously on the edge can become more central in an online setting. The use of online communication and project management platforms will result in better inclusion for those not working directly in the office environment.