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How to Have an Equitable Return to the Office

Adjusting to the “new norm” following a global pandemic continues to be a challenge in the world of work for both companies and their teams.

Companies in particular have a responsibility to be malleable when it comes to the variety of circumstances their team members face, and internal efforts should be made in order to create equitable space for employees’ creativity, productivity, and engagement. Below, we’ve pulled together some points to keep in mind when preparing for a return to the office.

1. Providing Equity in Access to Resources

Organizations must ensure that everyone has equal access to information and networking opportunities.

Communication within the organization should be kept as unified as possible to avoid creating a larger gap in the experience between the two different work formats. Author and brand strategist Annie Auerbach also notes that we “need to get better at spreading culture through asynchronous communication.”

Bob Frisch and Cary Greene of HBR share learnings about how to design meetings for all attendees and create space for those who are dialing in from remote locations. And to accommodate working parents, Zillow has established “core work hours” from 10 am to 2 pm when all meetings must occur so as not to interfere with school pickups and dropoffs.

Providing equal access to networking opportunities – including through formal mentorship and sponsorship programs – is key to creating a fair work environment with objective career ladders. Organization leaders should open the space for more informal coffee chats and casual conversations as a continuation of building community within a company. Managers should also integrate opportunities for small talk to facilitate inclusivity and connectedness.

2. Coordinating Flex Schedules

Keeping flex working in mind, managers should consider giving employees more agency over their own work arrangements, especially for those who choose to combine both remote and on-site activities.

Leaders at GM are planning to tackle the challenges of the return to the office with a flexible decision-making framework called “Work Appropriately”, in which leadership lets managers and employees determine what work patterns work best for their roles and situations.

On the other hand, Stanford economist Nick Bloom, who advises companies on workplace issues, recommends employers create set days for everyone to be in the office as one way to prevent imbalance and unnecessary back-and-forth coordination for in-person meetings. To keep on-site models most efficient for collaborative work, designate the cadence of in-office days on a team-by-team basis.

To accommodate social distancing rules, Google employees will return to their desks on a rotational schedule to ensure that no one is there on the same day as their immediate neighbors.

3. Adopting New Ways of Work

When designing future workplaces, leaders should understand the complexities of the new challenges and adopt a contemporary mindset.

Hours are no longer a suitable metric for measuring performance. When it comes to evaluations, focus on output and upgrade your performance evaluation processes and metrics to ensure the outcome is a focal point of the evaluation criteria.

The culture of presenteeism that has dominated the modern workplace leads to the assumption that productivity relies on actually being at the scene or having direct conversations. However, studies now show that meetings don’t actually have to happen. In fact, there are benefits to switching some of those exchanges to emails. According to Brian Kropp, the chief of Research at Gartner HR, recent research has shown that “hybrid employees who have seen an increase in the amount of time spent in one-on-one meetings with their peers are 1.37 times more likely to feel emotionally drained from their work.” More meetings result in more employee fatigue rather than an increase in productivity.

4. Balancing Transitions and Future Recruitments

Similar to how organizations avoid hiring underrepresented groups all in the same job function for the purpose of diversity, equity, and inclusion, companies should do the same for remote employees.

At the moment, only 13% of company leaders are actively thinking about this particular imbalance and are concerned with creating a smooth transition to a more uniform format. Business leaders must take on the responsibility of being especially aware of logistical and emotional disparities between remote and in-office experiences when hiring. Notice who is applying for what jobs and look for patterns regarding specialty in relation to remote or in-person recruitment.

Companies should also track promotions by work arrangement (in-office, fully remote, or hybrid) to identify and fix potential talent pipeline problems.

Also, implementing an all-in-person agenda and forcing employees to return fully on-site presents risks to DEI efforts. Underrepresented talent pools, such as women and team members with disabilities, have seen improvements not only in their own levels of productivity, but also in their work experiences as a whole since flexible work became the new norm.

5. Educating Team Leaders on How To Hybrid

Managers can easily feel a lack of support as they don’t know how to support hybrid teams.

The emphasis on small connections suggests that organizations can better support managers by educating them about the positive and negative impacts they have on the people who report to them. One way to do so would be to train managers on soft skills, such as providing and receiving feedback.

Like how managers were expected to be understanding of the various challenges and work capabilities of employees when lockdown first started last year, there is a need to continue maintaining and even elevating the mindset of being as empathic and communicative as possible. Continue to be conscious about working restraints and communicate obligations and expectations clearly, allowing for modifications when needed. Being supported and heard by management not only improves work productivity, but can do much to counteract the feeling of emotional exhaustion and isolation from the rest of the office.

Even when following the guideline of these five points, it is important to recognize that every workplace format will vary depending on the industry, company, department, and most importantly, the individuals who make up the business. Showing flexibility in work is about emphasizing equal access to key opportunities among members of the team, regardless of external variables. Remember, it’s about experimentation and receptivity – to feel out what works specifically for your organization and to implement according to the needs of your team.

Britt Burritt
Britt Burritt
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