We’re already into the pandemic’s second year, and it’s safe to conclude that remote and hybrid work arrangements are here to stay. However, there is one component of the hybrid workplace that remote leaders should prioritize — cultivating an inclusive workplace culture.
Aside from the pandemic, if there is one thing that 2020 has immortalized, it is the social injustice that minorities face daily. The horrific death of George Floyd in the United States has sparked a global response in which the way we view, treat, and behave towards underrepresented groups (or URGs) in our daily lives — particularly at work — has come under heavy criticism.
As CEOs and leaders of major brands and organizations scramble to demonstrate how inclusive they truly are, we must focus on how the future of DE&I will play out for a world that will most likely be remote or hybrid in the future.
Mismanagement of the hybrid shift, on the other hand, could exacerbate social imbalances and jeopardize your diversity and inclusion efforts. As a result, businesses must take a proactive approach to this hybrid work transition.
In this article, we will be exploring some new ideas as to how you can make your workplace more inclusive even when dealing with remote-first company culture.
9 Ways To Create An Inclusive Workplace Culture During The Hybrid Work Era
While diversity and inclusion are two sides of the same coin, they are frequently used interchangeably. There are, however, some significant differences between the two. The following infographic highlights the key distinction between diversity and inclusion:
Now that we have got the basics out of the way, let’s dive into how you can make a hybrid workplace more inclusive:
1. Equal Access To Technology.
Access to fast internet, a peaceful workspace, and other amenities that we may take for granted are a luxury for many. The importance of technology in a modern organization is critical, especially in this remote work era when access to technology can make an employee’s productivity and connection with others suffer.
Now that hybrid and remote work are the new reality; it’s critical that we not only provide the necessary collaborative tech tools but also reimburse employees who don’t have access to them at home. You must ensure that everyone has access to the internet at all times, as well as any necessary devices, software, or hardware.
Don’t assume that everyone has these provisions. Instead, ask for them and make them easily accessible to those who don’t.
Another question an HR or leader should consider is whether these technologies are sufficiently inclusive. Talk to your staff about their experiences and find out what works and what doesn’t. Ask sufficient questions like:
- What tools work well?
- Is it something that every employee will be able to use and comprehend without difficulty?
- What are the challenges?
- Where is more support needed?
2. Understand (And Address) Disparities.
According to Intel’s The Future of Inclusion in an Evolving Workplace report, a group of leaders also corroborated the pandemic’s widely documented detrimental impact on working parents, particularly working moms, with more than a third claiming that women and parents were the most affected demographic after individuals with disabilities.
While the pandemic has been a challenging road for any employee to walk on the surface, some unseen or hidden disparities have made remote/hybrid work far more difficult to manage for certain employee groups.
It can be tough for a new remote manager or leader to understand the issues that their diverse staff face. These obstacles, no matter how minor, can have a significant impact on their mental health, productivity, and eventually, lead to burnout.
Thus, it is important to conduct some small but necessary steps such as:
- Weekly 1:1s with the team members. It can help managers tune in to the individual problems that employees are facing.
- Frequent employee engagement surveys. Because diverse employees may be hesitant to speak with their managers, anonymous surveys can be an effective tool for gathering real-time data on how employees feel and collecting their uncensored opinions.
- Form employee resource groups.
3. Establish New Company Values And Prioritize Empathy.
A 2019 report by The Institute of Leadership and Management found that building close relationships with colleagues was the most important factor in determining job satisfaction by 77% of respondents.
However, today’s hybrid work culture has put a major roadblock in the way of what actually makes a workplace great: the human connection. With genuine moments of personal connection becoming harder to replicate in a remote or hybrid work setting, meaningful peer-to-peer relationships have slowly deteriorated. Its effects can be felt across the company culture, including the workplace diversity initiatives.
It has posed a significant challenge for company leaders to rethink and redefine their current company values. Building an inclusive workplace culture is difficult enough, but doing so in a hybrid work situation is even more tricky.
With remote work poised to become a permanent option, here are a few pointers for leaders interested in cultivating a remote inclusive workplace culture:
- Be empathetic. When a remote leader promotes empathy, the culture flourishes. In fact, 92 percent of HR professionals believe that a compassionate workplace is a major factor in employee retention.
- Start team rituals. Assign virtual activities that are both practical and team-bonding to establish team cohesion and provide a sense of connectedness.
- Make it easier to ask for support. Start having “anxiety team meets” where everyone shares something they are struggling with. Your remote culture should emulate that “It’s okay not to be okay.”
- Personal inclusion goals. Accountability can go a long way towards prioritizing remote inclusion for every employee.
4. Focus On Recruiting People From Underrepresented Groups.
When it comes to DE&I efforts, virtual work has created a yin and yang situation.
On the one hand, with leaders dealing with the day-to-day nuances of running a remote-first organization, diversity and inclusion have taken a backseat. On the other hand, the hybrid workplace has allowed people from underrepresented groups to work at their dream companies, as well as allowing people with disabilities to avoid the day-to-day hassle of transportation and accommodation.
However, not prioritizing DE&I might have a much bigger impact on your company than you might imagine. According to a recent McKinsey study, 39 percent of all respondents have rejected or decided not to pursue a job due to a perceived lack of inclusion at the company.
In a talent war, you absolutely want to avoid this from happening. This is why it’s critical to recognize that the hybrid workplace helps you create an inclusive environment by promoting better recruitment strategies for diverse employees.
Employers may find that by removing the barriers of working in an office, they will be able to tap into more diverse talent pools, creating development opportunities for those who are currently under-represented in the workforce.
Here are a few tips to make the process of hiring diverse people more effective:
- Implement diversity outreach programs. Concentrate on increasing your top-of-funnel diversity by improving your sourcing and utilizing a wider range of job boards.
- Strong referral programs. You can also work on improving your referral systems and sponsoring ERGs to help bring in more diverse applications.
- Make DE&I recruitment a priority. It might be as simple as committing to having at least two underrepresented minority candidates in the final round of the interview process.
5. Track Performance. Not Time Spent At The Office.
A hybrid work culture, as opposed to an all-remote culture, has its own set of challenges. In a hybrid workplace, office workers are usually given a higher priority than those who work from home. This creates an unfairly skewed situation in which office workers receive more benefits and opportunities for advancement.
In one study, researchers concluded that remote workers and office workers were promoted at the same rate but found that remote workers’ salaries grew more slowly.
The presence of such discrimination and unconscious biases fosters an environment in which the employee’s actual performance is overlooked. Employees are also less likely to choose remote work, which has an impact on your diverse workforce.
- Change how you evaluate progress. Set up a framework where everyone is accountable for their own goals rather than micromanaging your hybrid staff to fulfill a task. SMART goal setting, OKRs, KPIs, Scrums, and sprint planning, is the key to effective yet bias-free performance management.
- To find out whether time spent working remotely makes your employees more or less likely to advance, track every promotion and pay increase for the next 12 to 18 months, and check whether it correlates with time spent in the office.
- Set down expectations. The key to a successful hybrid work arrangement is rooted in trust and transparency. Ensure that both you and your hybrid employees set down their expectations beforehand.
- Create a structure where none existed before. To ensure that productivity levels remain high in a hybrid work setting, you’ll need to implement very clear SOPs, regular meetings, check-ins, or plain old goal-setting.
6. Set Global Diversity Standards As Benchmarks.
The biggest issue with in-house diversity and inclusion initiatives is that they aren’t consistent or uniform. That’s why it’s so important for businesses to create an agile plan that will assist them in figuring out where they stand in terms of remote diversity and inclusion.
The first step is to learn about the remote world’s industry benchmarks and see how much behind or ahead they are in contrast to those benchmarks. When leaders establish a baseline for understanding these metrics, it will aid them in developing a more realistic and effective plan for how to proceed. Without establishing a baseline, it will be very hard for modern leaders to comprehend their organization’s actual diversity and inclusion situation.
- HR data and analytics powered by AI-based solutions highlight key statistics about a company’s workforce, such as recent employee trends across roles, demographics, and pay grades.
- SaaS-based HR tracking dashboards deliver real-time data on diversity and inclusion KPIs, including benefits equity and career advancement.
- Benchmarking indices across industries provide leaders with insight into their organization’s competitive advantage.
7. Scheduling Fair Timings.
Another unconscious bias that underrepresented groups confront in a hybrid work environment is the scheduling of work schedules that are typically skewed to benefit the majority.
In fact, until 2020, just around a third of all workers could work from home; only 16 percent of Latinx workers and 19 percent of Black workers had remote flexibility, compared to 37 percent of Asian workers and 30 percent of white workers. Similarly, after 2020, Black and Latinx employees made up 50% of the people who left or lost a job to care for children by June/July 2021.
This clearly demonstrates that, despite the fact that everyone works from home, minorities get the short end of the stick when it comes to flexible work hours. It’s a sign that you, as a manager or leader, need to be aware of the imbalance and solve it.
Sending anonymous employee surveys is the easiest approach to do it, as you can structure questions that allow your employees to disclose their schedule flexibility and if they are satisfied with it. You can analyze different demographic data based on survey responses to discover if any underrepresented groups have less or more flexibility when it comes to setting their own remote work hours.
8. Appoint A Dedicated D&I Officer.
Understandably, keeping track of diversity and inclusion might be difficult, especially when dealing with the hybrid work culture. When implementing any diversity and inclusion initiatives, first-time remote leaders might find it difficult to decide on effective goals and avoid all the typical pitfalls.
However, it’s crucial to remember that if you don’t make it a priority to encourage diversity and inclusion, employee engagement will suffer, and attrition will occur.
That is why, when a company transitions to a hybrid culture, it is critical to employ a diversity and inclusion officer. A diversity and inclusion officer ensures that every aspect of a company’s operations, communication, and workflow supports industry-specific diversity and inclusion requirements. They also make sure that the company has solid DE&I goals and diversity tracking KPIs in place to guarantee that they can become a truly inclusive workplace.
9. Encourage Self-Identification.
Self-identification is a big part of delivering a near-perfect employee experience that places diversity and inclusion at its forefront.
Employees feel confident in their own identity, and in expressing themselves for who they genuinely are is also influenced by self-identification. This is especially true for employees who have a hidden disability or chronic health conditions and are unsure how to inform others that they are suffering psychologically and physically. It can also be difficult for people of certain sexual orientation to come out to their coworkers and feel comfortable expressing their preferred pronouns.
This is why it is critical for leaders to implement a self-identification program in which people are encouraged to identify and communicate who they genuinely are. It could be about their sexual orientation, gender identity, pronouns, ethnicity, disability, or chronic health issues.
The first step is to ensure that you, as the leader, are more open about your own challenges. Employees who are battling their own difficulties will feel more comfortable proudly speaking up for who they are if their boss is forthright and upfront about their personal identity. Tim Cook’s coming out as gay, which has become a significant component of LGBTQ+ representation in the tech sector, is an example of how vital it is for a leader to be more upfront about their own identity.
It’s not easy to create an inclusive work culture. It takes time, dedication, and resources from the company’s leaders and employees. The benefits, however, far surpass the efforts.
People feel like they belong and are an important part of the company’s success in an inclusive workplace. It assists you in creating a workplace that will inspire employees to stick with you through thick and thin because the company values keep them dedicated and loyal to the organization.
As we move toward a world where permanent remote and hybrid work arrangements are the norms, modern leaders must devise innovative strategies to provide a safe and inclusive work environment for their employees.
Anjan Pathak is the Co-Founder & CTO of Vantage Circle, a cloud-based employee engagement platform, and Vantage Fit, an all-in-one corporate wellness platform. He is an HR technology enthusiast, very passionate about employee wellness, and actively participates in corporate culture growth. He is an avid reader and likes to be updated on the latest know-how of Human Resources.