Collaboration for an inclusive and equitable hybrid work model

3 mins read

Melissa Teo, DigitalCFO Asia | 6 April 2022

The new people-management issue to navigate — equitable hybrid work

The trend of hybrid workers, that is, a mix of office and remote workers (in some cases, international remote workers too), shows no signs of slowing down. A report by Mckinsey reveals hybrid work will persist with the financial sector having the highest potential for remote work with minimal productivity loss. For team members who may never get to meet physically, online conversations are their only form of connection. This comes with the loss of visual cues such as micro expressions, vocal intonations offering a deeper look into one’s thoughts.  Leaders hence need to go the extra mile to reach out to them beyond the surface level. 

Understanding employees involves knowing their work-life priorities. Research shows employees are prioritising well being and positive work environments. A positive work environment makes members feel they belong, are included and valued. With team members from diverse career backgrounds and intersectionalities, providing equal opportunity and refraining from implementing blanket rules becomes crucial issues to navigate. To retain employees and raise satisfaction levels, it’s crucial to foster inclusion amongst team members and across teams. Research shows inclusion policies aids productivity, innovation while also lowering turnover rates. 

Ironing Out Expectations Of Engagement 

The social media phenomenon of FOMO (fear of missing out) occurs at work too. Workplace communication has expanded to many mediums — email, chat messages, status updates, online/offline status indicator, texts, phone calls… Remote workers can’t rely on their physical presence in the office as indication of them being at work. They thus feel the need to be responsive and engaged online to make up for their physical absence. 

It’s often unclear which communication medium should be prioritised and what signals one is sending by not responding in a timely manner. For instance, what’s most time-sensitive, which is the first line of communication in emergencies, and must employees always be “on”? 

Team leaders ought to clarify these doubts so members know where to focus their energy. With less distracting worries of FOMO, productivity will increase. A perk of distributed teams is that there isn’t spontaneous conversations along hallway water-coolers to interrupt the flow of work. Perfect for employees thriving on tackling deep work while in the flow. It therefore pays to leverage perks of hybrid work and not letting downsides impede progress. 

Including Everyone In The Conversation

Some work situations highlight the gap between employees. During hybrid meetings, those participating virtually (perhaps from another country) are detached from those participating physically from the office meeting room. Physically present employees may converse together off-camera and air their views as a unit, while virtual participants voice their thoughts individually. Functional differences also exists where the office is well-equipped with IT devices for facilitating a hiccup-free meeting, while those working from home may not have adequate video conferencing equipment. 

When new comers are thrown into the mix of attendees, the conversation gap worsens. It’s challenging for newbies to get a word in with more senior employees. Furthermore so for new comers attending the meeting remotely. They may end up blending into the background when not offered the chance to contribute their input. 

Team leaders can consider bringing back the role of meeting moderator who is responsible for ensuring everyone is integrated into the conversation and voices out doubts on behalf of others who for various reasons, are not disposed to voice out by themselves. A thorough onboarding process is crucial too, for new comers to be included in the team’s dynamics, and getting the ball rolling for existing members to familiarise themselves with the new member.

Touching Base With All Employees

For teams with members working in different time zones, it’s especially challenging to schedule meeting timings that works optimally for everyone. Team leaders could do away with weekly touch base meetings, instead posting updates on a shared chat channel. Members follow up with written replies or emojis during their working hours. 

Remote workers can’t visit physical offices to absorb the company’s culture and vision. To keep all employees in touch with the company’s growth direction, company leaders can record short video messages on upcoming projects and applaud workers’ achievements. These clips can thereafter be posted on company-wide communications platform visible to all employees.

Hybrid work is here to stay. To maximise it’s upsides and minimise it’s downsides, leaders need to foster team cohesion and an inclusive, safe space. Employees who feel they have the potential to belong in the team and company, will be happier and more productive workers.

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