The challenge of equity in hybrid work environments

Remote working woman at home
(Image credit: / ImYanis)

Three years on from the pandemic and the majority of employers now offer hybrid or flexible working as the standard. The global workforce exists in multiple locations at once. We have those in the office, those working remotely, and those that split their time between the two.

HP recently conducted a global hybrid work survey of over 10,000 office workers in multiple countries and industries revealed that in 2022, 70% of employees are spending a blend of two to four days in the office - vastly different to the working patterns we saw pre-pandemic. With today’s distributed workforce comes a new challenge for business leaders. Not only must they find new ways to inspire teams across geographies, they must also ensure employees have the same universal experiences and opportunities at work, regardless of physical location.

The world of work is constantly evolving, and for business leaders it’s important we take a step back and look at the trends and experiences impacting our workforce. In a world that is seemingly thriving with hybrid work you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone’s experience is the same. We can still go so much further in driving equity and inclusion in the workplace. Here are some of my learnings and recommendations for leading a hybrid team:

A new language for hybrid

In HP’s hybrid work survey, 62% of global respondents said that status messages in collaboration and productivity apps no longer accurately reflect today’s flexible working style, and interestingly, this number rises to almost 70% for workers in the UK. Differences between global workplace cultures make an impact here, as do the responsibilities of each household – from parenting duties, receiving deliveries, to taking the dog out for a walk. Those who work hybrid or full-time remote have many responsibilities to juggle throughout the day.

Personally, I’m finding myself travelling a lot more once again, and while I enjoy the freedom hybrid work provides, it adds a layer of complexity when it comes to collaboration.

It’s important for business leaders to encourage new status options that reflect not only places, but also conditions, employees are experiencing in different hybrid environments. Rather than pigeon-holing employees into ‘available’, ‘away’ and ‘offline’, we need to accept that hybrid working is a little more complicated and requires a further degree of communication.

Two in five workers said a ‘free until’ status would be beneficial when navigating home and work life, and a third said they would welcome the clarity a ‘ready to collaborate’ status would bring.

As we adjust to teams working in different locations, we need to understand there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Having senior leaders share that they too block out their calendars when they need a period of fixed time to concentrate, or if they are open about having a hard stop at a certain time to fulfill caregiving duties, can empower employees to take control of their time too.

Dave Prezzano

Dave Prezzano is the Managing Director of UK and Ireland at HP.

Make employees feel prioritized

Although we’re happy to work across time zones, offices, and even continents, the survey found that two-thirds of the global workforce still find it easiest to work with others when together and in person. A further one in six said they feel left out of the decision-making process when they’re not physically in the room.

When managing workforces that are split between remote and in-person settings, it’s difficult to ensure that every voice is heard, and every employee has an equal opportunity to contribute and make an impact. For those who work in the office, it’s easy to catch someone in the hallway or while making tea – but these opportunities for connection are missed when working remotely. That’s why business leaders should make a concerted effort to connect remotely, whether that means setting up additional 1:1s, coffee-chats, or even allowing virtual attendees to kick off meetings when working in a hybrid setting.

Deliver on tech equity

Perhaps one of the most surprising findings from the hybrid work survey surrounds the topic of tech equity and inclusion. A third of office workers have experienced ‘tech shame’ when virtual meetings have been disrupted due to their technical issues, and for younger professionals, one in six feel their laptop or PC isn’t fast or reliable enough to participate fully in virtual meetings.

When 77% of the workforce say they’ve experienced tech disruptions, the size of the issue becomes clear. It's worrying to think that technology can be the limiting factor for employees who are looking to contribute and collaborate in virtual settings. To prevent this kind of ‘tech shame’, employers must ensure staff at all levels have access to well-designed and sufficiently powerful technology.

Hybrid is one of those terms that means something different to everyone. For some, it implies a compromised result, a meeting in the middle of two opposing ideas or approaches, but it can also represent the combination of best in class. When we consider the question of equity and inclusion in this environment, it’s important to remember what we’re striving towards, and that’s a future of work that works for all.

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Dave Prezzano is the Managing Director of UK and Ireland at HP.