Hybrid working: avoiding alienation
Paul Leach discusses how a failure to focus on inclusivity when considering how a hybrid office will work could lead to businesses marginalising certain groups of employees and damaging the workplace culture
The return to work has been one of the hottest topics amongst HR professionals since Boris Johnson announced the roadmap for exiting lockdown earlier this year. Many businesses have been faced with the challenge of deciding how their employees will return to the office, if at all.
With many differing opinions amongst employees - such as continuing to work from home or wanting to return to the office full-time - hybrid models have become the new buzzword, offering the best of both worlds for the workforce.
However, establishing a hybrid model is not as easy as it seems, and failing to plan correctly or understand employees’ needs could mean that certain groups such as carers and parents - particularly women - become isolated and company culture is disjointed for a long period of time.
Whilst working from home under government guidelines, many companies have built strong connections with teams due to the fact that they are all experiencing home working together, almost creating a sense of camaraderie. This strong connection will be tarnished once there is a split between some members of the team working alongside each other in an office setting whilst there are a few individuals still at home.
It is important to consider those who may feel more reluctant about returning to the office. This could include those who feel that home working has enabled them to have a better work-life balance, for example, those who are parents to young children, or carers.
Employers should also consider that just because the office is open, Covid has not gone away (unfortunately), and some employees may feel apprehensive about mixing with others despite the safety measures put in place.
This could be especially challenging for neurodiverse employees – those with different thinking styles such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyspraxia - who may struggle to adapt to change or feel worried about the office being overcrowded
Companies should be careful to avoid discriminatory narratives surrounding expectations of coming into the office or working from home. For example, employers should not make the assumption that single parents, or more specifically mothers, will want to stay at home all the time. Automatically excluding these groups of employees will mean they become hidden to the rest of the workforce and miss out on certain opportunities, suggesting that they are treated differently to their colleagues.
Certain groups may also feel at a disadvantage to other colleagues throughout this transition period; this could apply to younger employees who have been onboarded remotely and not received guidance on how the office will work or proper training on how to collaborate with other teams. Employers should provide adequate support to these groups of individuals, and perhaps consider programmes such as a ‘Buddy Scheme’ to ensure they feel comfortable when visiting the office for maybe the first time since joining your company.
Let’s not forget that the workplace is a place of social interaction, collaboration, and a place that is a disconnect from home life. For many employees, working at home can cause additional stress, and mental health issues, particularly if they are working from their bedrooms or from a cramped kitchen table, or if relationships are difficult.
The key to a successful hybrid office is for employers to take careful consideration of their workforce’s needs. They should measure the appetite for coming into the office and work from here to see how it will practically work for their business.
Businesses must provide structure for employees so that they clearly understand the company’s expectations for coming into the office. These expectations may be down to the nature of the role and whether it is customer facing, or could also be down to the decision of line managers and how they wish their teams to work.
In summary, it is tempting to think that a hybrid office will provide an easy, hassle-free solution to the return-to-work debate. It is important, however, to not forget about the importance of inclusion and how this will feed into the hybrid model to ensure that the workforce feels happy and supported throughout this period of transition.