As pandemic restrictions ease, it’s clear that one big change to the way we work is here to stay: hybrid working. However, these environments run the risk of creating new inequities and exacerbating those that already exist. For employers to ensure fairness, maximize performance, and maintain cultural cohesion in hybrid work arrangements, they need to consider these five practical dimensions of inclusion when designing hybrid policies and navigating new ways of working.
Recruitment and Remote Onboarding
With recruitment and onboarding practices shifting to virtual in the last year, many new hires had never met their future teams in person before accepting their jobs. Many HR decision-makers believe they will continue interviewing graduates virtually in the future. This approach has benefits: First, it reduces the cost of entry for graduates from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who may not be able to relocate for a job. It also provides an opportunity to review existing onboarding practices and take into account the different experiences, backgrounds, and expectations new team members bring in.
To create a more consistent onboarding experience, we can take lessons from what we learned during the pandemic about how people best received information while at home. For example, universities that moved their teaching online found that chunking long lectures into approximately 15-minute bursts worked best.
Firms can create a catalog of short videos that describe all aspects of onboarding, such as walkthroughs on how to set up technology and navigate processes. The employer can then bring together new joiners for a session where they ask questions about the videos in small groups of five people or fewer. Together, the video catalog and intimate seminar set the scene for a consistent onboarding experience while catering to individual needs.
An important part of being successful at work is having the right setup and training to do your job. Remote work places increasing value on being technically capable, and getting up and running when working from home has become an essential skill. For those who are less tech-savvy, setting up a makeshift home office did not come naturally. Others may not have even been provided with the necessary equipment or have the means to purchase it — exposing an equity gap.
Before the pandemic, an onsite IT technician would typically set up an employee’s laptop, phone, and monitor; troubleshoot any network or software issues; and generally be on hand for those prevalent “How do I do…?” questions. Giving people an option during onboarding to self-select their level of technological savviness can help employers determine and schedule remote IT assistance so employees are provided for.
Furthermore, once in the role training may be inconsistent and dependent on the quality of one’s manager. In an office, it’s easier to pick up information and the ways of working via osmosis. Remote workers’ learning curve could be steeper than those who go into the office frequently — and thus they might get labeled as less competent or productive than their onsite peers.
Companies can implement a buddy system, pairing new starters with a more experienced employee. This person becomes the go-to for the day-to-day informal questions and company information, which helps ensure that remote employees don’t miss out on the informal learning those in the office benefit from.
Physical distance can lead to psychological distance. It’s much easier to check in on colleagues when sharing a physical space. Often, one glance is enough to tell if Sarah over in finance is having a bad day. Office exchanges with colleagues outside immediate working areas or departments have a positive effect on organizational functioning and can impact effective performance. These informal communications contribute to an organization’s culture and functionality more than communication tools like email and instant messaging do.
One solution is to open the virtual office door. In the past, an open physical door signaled that it was okay to walk in and speak with your colleague. Without visible cues for how busy a colleague is, people might hesitate to reach out to them. When working remotely, make use of the trusty status bar.
A message like “Open for chats!” along with a green status circle gives permission to bridge the distance gap. Companies can also develop a sense of place with virtual reality and virtual meeting rooms to create a sense of belonging and sharing. The virtual meeting technology space is burgeoning, giving employers more and more options for how to bring these rooms to life.