Article by Sheri Hughes, UK D&I Director, Michael Page
With the lifting of restrictions, footfall in our cities skyrocketed, with data showing that the London Underground had seen their busiest rush hour since the pandemic began.
Plenty of workers felt positive about the return to office, with some of our recent research showing that they were happy (26 per cent) and excited (22 per cent) ahead of their first day back. However, our research also found that 27 per cent of workers are concerned that they will have less time for themselves as the demand to return to physical office increases.
What most businesses are now finding is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to hybrid working. With so many factors impacting employees’ newfound need for flexibility, from changing childcare schedules to increased living distance from the office, some businesses may find that it’s difficult to get their teams together regularly in person.
This creates a challenge for companies, especially when it comes to fostering an inclusive workplace culture. Getting the right balance can be tricky when navigating both the positives and the drawbacks of hybrid working. Without the same equal opportunities for in-person bonding and networking, businesses need to find new ways to maintain a strong company culture that puts an emphasis on equity.
One area organisations should look out for in the early days of hybrid working is how to avoid falling foul of proximity bias. Businesses are now finding that their employees will want different volumes of office-based working. For example, working parents may find childcare easier to navigate when they are able to work flexibly. However, the lack of in-person visibility could mean their opportunities for progression and pay rises are negatively impacted if there aren’t policies in place to mitigate proximity bias.
To create equal opportunities across the board for office based and remote workers, businesses should look to educate managers on proximity bias and encourage them to seek out time for ad-hoc check-ins with remote team members on a weekly basis. As well as enabling them to connect on a more personal level, this could also be an opportunity to share feedback and praise.
A key drawback of hybrid working is the disparity in communication, and access to information and resource, between those working from the office and those working remotely. To combat this, each team should designate a member to act as a representative for those not in the office. For example, ensuring that all in-person team meetings are also made accessible for those in virtual attendance. Furthermore, the representative could be responsible for making sure meeting notes, employee resources and team information are accessible for all. This ensures that the full team feels as though they are heard and can contribute in a meaningful way.
To ensure DE&I policies are working for everyone, employers should regularly engage with employees and ask for feedback in the early days of a new hybrid working policy. According to recent research, organisations that effectively manage the transition to a hybrid work environment can boost inclusion by 24%. Understanding employees’ views on what is working well and what isn’t is key to this. A simple way to do so is to survey the workforce on a regular basis on a range of issues. This perspective can help to identify the areas where there needs to be greater inclusivity.
In an increasingly competitive jobs market, it’s not enough to talk the talk on DE&I, businesses must demonstrate the tangible ways that they are maintaining an inclusive company culture. While we are all still learning and navigating our way through this new way of working, implementing some of these changes can give businesses a head start in tackling the comparative disadvantages faced by those working remotely and create a more equitable and inclusive company culture.
Sheri joined PageGroup in December 2002 as a consultant and then progressed to manager and associate director by successfully managing regional UK offices. In January 2015 she moved across into the Diversity & Inclusion team and was promoted to UK D&I Director. Since then PageGroup’s D&I agenda has gone from strength to strength. In 2018 alone, they were the first recruitment company to achieve: Times Top 50 Employers for Women, Stonewall Top 100 and BITC Gold Award for the Gender benchmark.