The current hybrid workplace model is a result of reactively, rapidly assembled remote workplaces now slowly coming back into the office. That’s not the same as designing an intentional hybrid workplace. Now leaders must ask how to optimize the hybrid workplace to best create cultures of inclusion and performance.
It's been over two years since the start of the pandemic, and the debate between the remote workplace and the office workplace is obsolete. The hybrid workplace is the new workplace. It’s what people want, especially underrepresented groups. So, how do employers navigate the creation of an inclusive culture when people are moving between on-site and remote work?
Long before the world as we knew it came to a great pause, more flexibility has been sought by people wishing to better navigate their work-life intersection. The pandemic pulled the rug out from under the myth that spending hours in the physical office is the key to productivity and that remote work would mean being disconnected.
The Future Forum Pulse survey of over 10,700 knowledge workers across the US, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and the UK found in late 2021 that 58% of knowledge workers had moved to hybrid workplace arrangements and 68% prefer it. People now expect flexibility in where they work (78%) and when they work (95%). 72% who were not satisfied with the flexibility at work were looking elsewhere.
McKinsey research found that more than 3/4 people prefer a hybrid workplace and that 4/5 people who work in hybrid models over the last two years want to keep those arrangements. Over 2/3 of those hybrid-preferring employees would look elsewhere if asked to return full-time.
A critical finding related to diversity, equity and inclusion is that the desire for hybrid workplaces is even greater among underrepresented groups.
Globally, women knowledge workers (52%) are more likely to opt for primarily remote work relative to men (46%). In the US, while 75% of white knowledge workers want hybrid or fully remote work, that increases among Hispanic/Latinx (86%), Asian-American (81%) and black (81%) employees. Women, working mothers and women of color are more likely, overall, to opt into flexible work arrangements.
Similarly, while 71% of hybrid-preferring employees said they would look for other jobs if they couldn’t stay hybrid, McKinsey found that the likelihood to leave was even higher for younger employees (18-34 year-olds were 59% higher than 55-64 year-olds), black employees (14% higher than white peers), LGBQ+ (24% higher than heterosexual peers), women (10% more than men), non-binary people (18% more than men and women) and those with disabilities (14% more than those without disabilities).
Amidst the widespread resignation of employees, employers must re-envision hybrid workplaces that will engage and retain diverse talent.
The current hybrid workplace model is a result of reactively, rapidly assembled remote workplaces now slowly coming back into the office. That’s not the same as designing an intentional hybrid workplace. Leaders should now ask how to optimize the hybrid workplace to best create cultures of inclusion and performance.
Despite challenges and bias in the remote workplace, when it comes to practices core to inclusion, McKinsey found that nearly 4x as many employees felt “work-life support” and “mutual respect" had improved rather than worsened, and even “team-building” was more likely to have improved rather than worsened. Future Forum found hybrid and remote knowledge employees rate their sense of work-life balance, productivity, flexibility, belonging at work, access to resources, ability to focus and satisfaction higher than full-time office peers.
And yet, the challenges of creating inclusion in a hybrid working model are not small: More physical distance and fewer in-person interactions and check-ins can create psychological distance and lead to misunderstandings. Onboarding new hires into the culture and creating belonging needs to be intentional. Nurturing psychological safety, cohesion and dynamic collaboration among teams requires innovative approaches. Building mutually respectful relationships is more important than ever when remote working may lead to more interpersonal conflict. Split work contexts could amplify in-group and out-group dynamics. Inequalities in home workspaces create different working environments that can impact relative productivity. There’s also the perceived correlation between visibility and productivity, and how that relates to promotion.
Specifically, Future Forum found that while women, working mothers and women of color are spending the least time back in the office, white knowledge workers are spending up to 17% more time in the office than others. Executives are much more likely to be working in the office 3-4 days a week compared to non-executives. 41% of executives are raising concern about the potential for “proximity bias” that could exacerbate existing inequities between co-located on-site employees and remote employees. Proximity to managers has been correlated to increased promotion rates, which could work against diversity and inclusion.
In a way, conversations about inclusion are now implicitly set in the context of a hybrid workplace. This highlights the need to deepen focus on DEI efforts to create engagement and retention.
Employees, increasingly looking to be purpose-aligned, want to feel engaged at work while simultaneously seen as people with lives outside of work. They want to feel they belong and are valued in their authenticity and have the opportunity to fulfill their potential. And they want to feel appreciated as part of the greater whole of your organization.
Here are some practical ways to create inclusion in a hybrid workplace:
The hybrid workplace has put us on the path to a more inclusive working model. The next step is making sure to prioritize the value of inclusion as organizations develop it.