culture of care in the hybrid workplace

Creating a culture of care in the hybrid workplace

Hybrid working is increasingly popular with employers and staff but there are challenges related to inclusion and the creation of a sustainable workforce. Happily, those challenges can be overcome

Hybrid working has emerged as one of the defining trends of 2022. At the height of the pandemic, vast numbers of employees were required to work from home and to the surprise of many managers, the sky didn’t fall in. Not only did staff enjoy their liberation from the daily commute, they also continued to work productively.

There’s now a broad consensus that hybrid working is here to stay, even if companies are still working through the practical details. Employees like it because it means they can avoid commuting and often enjoy more freedom to structure their working days around home commitments. Employers are increasingly keen because the new flexibility is helping them to attract and retain staff and use space more efficiently without compromising on productivity.

But there are challenges around employee wellbeing and the maintenance of inclusive, equable and diverse teams.

Less Visible Employees

A potential problem is that individuals working in a hybrid environment may not be as visible as they were in the days when all – or the vast majority – of work was carried out in an office setting. A physical workplace is all about interaction. Meetings are attended. There are impromptu conversations at the coffee machine. Teams gather around desks to discuss the latest sales figures or share ideas. Hard work is very visible. And crucially, the transparency of the office setting allows managers to observe what’s going on and ensure that policies on, say, inclusion are being put into practice. And if employees are having problems, the issues can be identified and addressed.

In a hybrid setting, things may get more complicated. A team member who comes in just once a week may fear that lack of proximity to decision-makers is damaging his or her career. Constant communication via messaging or even video could lead to misunderstandings. The diversity of the workplace – hugely important to Millennial and Generation Z cohorts – could become less visible.

So there is a concern that hybrid working – if not managed properly – can store up problems. And this, in turn, has an impact on the sustainability of the business. A company that doesn’t manage its people well, will be much less sustainable over the long term than competitors.

There are some important questions to address. How can leaders not only replicate their existing inclusiveness policies but also improve on what they’ve done before? Constant improvement is hugely important. The new generations of employees coming into the workforce arguably expect more of their employers than their counterparts of twenty or thirty years ago. There is a moral reason for looking after the well-being of staff but also a sound business imperative. In today’s tight labour markets, it is the companies going the extra mile to look after employees and respect their aspirations that will be most successful in recruiting and retaining the best people.

Finding Solutions

Perhaps more importantly, organisations must develop HR measures that can help businesses press ahead with hybrid working strategies while continuing to be inclusive. Indeed, inclusiveness can be improved by 24 per cent by properly managing the transition to hybrid practices. The key is to proactively address the factors that can result in exclusion.

So, what does that look like in practice?

One key recommendation is that HR managers should recognise and take steps to prevent the kind of micro-aggressions that can affect marginalised and minority groups within the workplace. This is not necessarily an easy matter to address. Micro-aggression can take place in physical spaces but also across networks. Almost by definition – the clue is in the word “micro” – problems are often not recognised unless called out by the victims of their peers.

Mentoring is also a part of the mix as a means to address any problems around the career development of underrepresented or marginalised groups. There is a particular concern that some groups or individuals may feel additionally excluded or overlooked because of the transition from face-to-face to online communications.

In most cases, a move to hybrid working will involve a rethink of HR to ensure that companies taking advantage of networks and collaboration tools are continuing to nurture, develop and support their staff.

But there is perhaps a bigger picture here. A sustainable workplace depends to a very great extent on contented and motivated employees. Salary and benefits represent part of the picture, but employees also want to see their own worldview reflected in working practices.

In addition to a proactive approach to inclusiveness and diversity, Generation Z and Millennials want to work for companies that are sustainable in the broader sense. Businesses that can demonstrate a commitment to the environment, climate change mitigation and positive social impact will ultimately be most competitive. And corporations are responding. For instance, Apple has pledged to be 100 per cent carbon neutral in its supply chain by 2030.

Happily, one byproduct of a hybrid working should be – if managed well – a much lower carbon footprint, due to more efficient space and lower emissions from commuting. As such, the hybrid approach will potentially help the world move towards net zero. The key is to ensure the wellbeing of employees.