Hybrid work has grown from a luxury to a basic employee need. The Covid-19 pandemic propelled businesses industry-wide to act decisively to keep operations moving while safeguarding themselves and their employees. The subsequent enforcement of staying indoors led to serious investment in digital transformation, which saw the emergence of real-time collaboration improvements and surges in videoconferencing, to name but a few.
The hybrid working model remains strong
Bilaterally, workers and businesses alike found that remote working was a productive switch, allowing them to maintain productivity and service levels while fulfilling their legal duties for collective safety. 77% of workers who worked remotely – even if just a few times a month – showed increased productivity. As such, workers across a broad realm of sectors were keen to continue working from home – whether full-time or periodically – due to the profound work-life balance benefits it can bring.
Many companies now take flexible and hybrid working seriously, overtly proclaiming how they will accommodate this as an employment priority for new and existing staff.
Has hybrid working caused inclusion issues?
Undoubtedly, it’s hard to ignore the influence that the shift to hybrid work has had on employees and businesses. The additional flexibility and productivity it can bring for teams is evident, but it has, unintentionally, introduced new challenges for ensuring equitable and inclusive work environments. While the dispersal of employees can be seen as counterproductive for one business, it can be actively embraced by another. Hybrid work has the potential to make inclusion better with managerial input, but it could perpetuate existing inequalities without proper supervision, monitoring, and implementation.
The real challenge lies in what is preferable to each business’s unique needs, and adapting hiring strategies accordingly. When organisations offer hybrid working arrangements, all HR personnel must ensure that specific measures to support equality, diversity, and inclusion are considered and adhered to throughout the employment lifecycle.
Take a hypothetical example of a business looking to expand operations overseas, to a location with specific employment laws and jurisdiction, for instance, Gibraltar. Companies are still able to legally set up operations in a new territory, but they may have to adapt HR and hiring strategies to support and consider the priorities and needs of workers in that territory, as well as those already employed. It’s a case of treating employees fairly based on their circumstances and preferences.
However, for job seekers entering the market with the experience of Covid-19 working practices behind them, they must conduct their due diligence too. The job market currently is not only experiencing turbulence but economic uncertainty and the emergence of innovative technology like AI is making many businesses reassess their employment needs. Therefore, there are plenty of plates continuously spinning, and your route may not always be as clear-cut as it was pre-pandemic.
Therefore, it’s important to evaluate and vet potential employers to find ones that can practice what they preach about their culture. When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, all candidates should take a few essential steps before submitting any job application, however confident they feel about their employment prospects.
Steps to validate an employer’s inclusivity in hybrid work:
1. Examine their hiring process
A company’s hiring process speaks volumes about their commitment to eliminating unconscious bias and seeking out diverse candidates. In the early stages of recruitment and employment, many processes may be influenced by hybrid work, such as onboarding, learning and development (L&D), and performance management. These may need to be adapted to ensure that hybrid work is both effective and inclusive.
- Flexibility in interview arrangements
- Inclusive language in job advertisements and company descriptions
- Structured conversations based on the specific needs of the role
- Unbiased questions and tasks that don’t perpetuate biases
- A focus on skills and characteristics over education qualifications
If job seekers can gauge a healthy modicum of inclusion in the early stages of hiring, they’ll likely feel reassured that the HR team is taking this seriously and that it is embedded well within the workplace culture.
2. Learn about employee resource groups
It’s no secret that finding out as much information as possible about each specific company on a candidate’s shortlist. Assessing portals like Glassdoor, Google Reviews, and LinkedIn for real success stories can tell applicants a lot about what a company culture is like.
However, many candidates should consider going a step further by seeking out companies that actively support employee resource groups (ERGs) for women, people of colour, LGBTQ employees, parents and more. This will provide additional protection if there are suspicions of employee discrimination.
When employees feel empowered to connect over shared experiences and have an organised way to provide input and elevate issues to leadership, it leads to a more inclusive culture.
3. Determine whether they are trustworthy
A company may be forthcoming about its commitment to fairness and inclusivity. However, as is the case with many employment arrangements, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Interviews, where candidates have been promised autonomy and trust, have led to jobs where successful employees are subject to micromanagement, clock-watching, and hugely disruptive and counterproductive antics in the business environment.
However, on the flip side, if companies take steps to foster trust through transparency, leaders and line managers can promote greater inclusion, irrespective of where and when work is delivered. While there’s no denying that some management professionals find managing hybrid or remote teams more challenging, those who take the proactive step forward to foster trust with new candidates seeking hybrid work will not view this as an obstacle.
Look beyond simply whether companies offer basic benefits like insurance or parental leave, as they are bound to this by law. Instead, dig into how their workplace policies are structured to support inclusion and accommodate employees’ individual needs. Find out how you can get equitable access to information and opportunities, and whether any existing employees are treated with the same level of flexibility that you will be.
Fairness in hybrid working environments is crucial; this type of environment is highly sought-after by many employees in this day and age, so employers cannot blissfully ignore that. Companies have every opportunity to provide a more flexible, equitable workplace, but also are prone to scrutiny if they are not putting substantial effort into intentionally building inclusive cultures.
People undertaking a job hunt in 2024 should expect employers to be transparent and forthcoming about flexible working arrangements, even if their desired outcome may not happen immediately. By thoroughly examining how a company plans to integrate you into their culture, fulfil your flexibility and CPD needs, and back that up with inclusive practices, you can get a firmer idea of which ones are worth your time. However, remember this, those companies that outright refuse to consider a hybrid working arrangement or don’t ‘walk the walk’ are probably not worth considering.
This blog was contributed directly to Workplace Fairness. It is published with permission.
About the Author: Dakota Murphey is a freelance writer based in the UK, specializing in Digital Trends in Business, Marketing, PR, Branding, Cybersecurity, Entrepreneurial Skills, and Company Growth. Having successfully contributed to a number of authoritative online resources, she has secured a platform to share her voice with like-minded professionals