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How to Make Hybrid Work Even More Inclusive

As companies build a roadmap to embrace modern, collaborative technologies to support hybrid work, their leaders need to recognize that all employees are unique and that their feedback is crucial.

Driving inclusivity with a hybrid workforce is often a new challenge for managers at historically collocated, tech-focused businesses.

It’s critical for organizations to establish a workplace philosophy with flexibility in mind, as flexibility helps foster inclusivity in a world where no two employees work the same way.

A study in April from Cisco found that while employees believe hybrid work makes them happier and more productive, the results also indicated more needs to be done to fully leverage the opportunities of a hybrid work future.

The survey found tapping into these opportunities requires building an inclusive culture, developing employee engagement strategies, and deploying technology infrastructure to bring organizations to the readiness levels of their employees.

Mike Minchew, head of acquisition integration management and operations and interim head of HR at Bigtincan, explains that plans and budgets for enabling a remote or hybrid workforce should be based on system data, such as IT and HR issue tickets, combined with continued survey feedback from both managers and employees.

“It’s critical that the entire executive leadership team is actively involved in developing and refining hybrid workforce strategies,” he says. “Once there is buy-in across all stakeholders, organizations must continually adapt their approach to ensure every employee is set up for success and professional growth.”

Address Common Themes

Minchew says based on the feedback from that internal survey, businesses should identify and address common themes to communicate to the broader employee base.

Next, companies can formulate workable solutions and then liaise with finance to model the cost and budget affordability.

All employees should be encouraged to bring any unique needs to their managers or HR for consideration, because no business can fix what they don’t know about, he says

He points out that across all businesses, it’s likely that some managers and employees will prefer working from home, while others will prefer to work from the office.

Regardless of the preferred work styles, leadership must interact daily through the various technologies available -- Slack, phone and video calls, text messages, in-office collaboration, team lunches, or on-the-go coffee shops or conference meetups. “To best leverage a flexible and inclusive philosophy in our virtual world, organizations have to maintain connectivity if they want to offer their employees the workplace of the future,” he says.

Further, businesses must prioritize manager and leadership training to emphasize the significant value and improved employee engagement resulting from building a diverse workforce. These trainings are focused on building the manager's “muscle” to actively provide new skill-building opportunities more broadly across the workforce.

Minchew explains that initiatives like these require all leadership to break down all old habits of leaning on their “go-to” people to think more strategically about how to coach team members, who may not operate in their direct line of sight.

Optimize Remote Work Experience

Erin Souza, chief people officer at AI behavior and governance firm Aware, says ultimately, the most inclusive cultures will optimize the remote work experience for employees. “To accomplish this, you need to create data-driven empathy among your leaders,” she says. “This includes using real data to understand employees and sharing that information with leaders to create empathy that is rooted in data. This is a major component of human-centered leadership that can make or break a company’s culture.”

She explains that successful companies will deploy modes of listening that are continuous and include a feedback loop that shares what is being heard from employees.

“There’s a huge component of transparency in this -- employees must feel safe to share, they have to trust that they’re being heard and, when communication is shared from the top, employees need to trust that it is authentic,” Souza adds.

IT and HR have traditionally been siloed in their efforts to drive broader business objectives, such as infrastructure and inclusivity.

From Minchew’s perspective, it’s truly a shared responsibility -- and businesses must see it this way. That means departments from HR to IT to finance must partner in their efforts to develop remote working guidelines and expense reimbursement policies that are standardized, yet flexible.

“This collaboration allows personalization, so that no matter where an employee is working, they have access to approved hardware and software that meet both their working needs and IT’s security policies,” Minchew says.

Moreover, businesses need to recognize that access to stable, high-speed internet connections varies greatly across a workforce and oftentimes, it’s difficult to efficiently engage in video conference calls on an unstable or slow connection.

Encourage Access Upgrades

Rather than forbidding those with poor internet access from working from home, Minchew says leaders can instead encourage employees interested in working remotely to upgrade where needed and reimburse the appropriate cost. “When all employees are on a common level of home office technology, organizations can remove barriers to engagement and ultimately improve productivity,” he says.

Souza adds that leaders also need to recognize that employees are all unique with different preferences and that there isn’t one thing that will work for every person, which means companies must offer flexible options for collaboration and engagement. “One element that is incredibly important for hybrid workplaces is the concept of virtual inclusivity, which provides a virtual component so that anyone who is not in the room also feels included,” she explains.

From a leadership perspective, Souza says the chief people officer and CIO need to partner to ensure that the culture, integrity, and security of the organization all stay protected. From her perspective, the best way to understand if employees feel hybrid work environments are actually inclusive is by talking to them. By leveraging continuous listening strategies, HR leaders can understand real-time feedback on employee engagement.

She adds it’s critical to monitor important metrics related to employee retention and development opportunities: Are there differences in which populations receive opportunities? Which populations are leaving, and which are staying?

“Retention is a huge indicator of employee engagement. The talent market is incredibly competitive right now and retention is top-of-mind for any leader,” Souza says. “Ensuring your workforce is engaged, both in-office and remote, is critical and expected.”

What to Read Next:

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How to Keep IT Team Members From Quitting in a Tight Employment Market

How Remote Workers Can Keep Their Careers On Track in a Back-to-the-Office World