As COVID-19 vaccines become increasingly available across several countries, it stands to reason that we begin to strategize the return to physical office spaces. According to a PwC Report, 55% of employees would prefer to be remote at least three days a week once pandemic concerns recede. While most executives are prepared to offer remote work options, 68% say a typical employee should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain a distinct company culture. Moving forward, there has never been more opportunity to create an improved, more inclusive office environment.
In order to plan this transition successfully — and inclusively — we first need to be mindful of the newly diverse working styles and adopt more flexible workplace behaviors to meet potential new challenges that may arise with these combined work styles:
- The Remote Worker, who will continue to function 100% through virtual platforms.
- The Hybrid Worker, whose face-to-face office interactions in the office will be combined with virtual communication on the occasions where they work remotely.
- The Office Worker, who will work in the physical office space 100% of the time, but still need the support of technology to keep in touch with their colleagues working remotely.
Whether your organization decides to go back to the office, work fully remote, or take on a hybrid model, it’s important to recognize that shifting to virtual teams highlights the value of inclusion. Here are several tips to keep inclusion at the forefront of your strategy, no matter how and where your organization decides to get work done:
Listen to your team members’ diverse needs, and address with flexibility. Keep a Team Calendar to communicate office hours and locations, as well as track cultural holidays observed by folks on your team. Talk about the historical and cultural significance of those holidays to increase intercultural understanding, and, if possible, consider greater flexibility when scheduling time off.
Re-examine old policies with a critical eye towards potential biases. According to the aforementioned PwC Report, “the biggest gaps in perception between employers and employees on the success of a company's efforts to support remote work relate to childcare and manager training. For example, while 81% of executives say their company has been successful in extending benefits for childcare, just 45% of employees say the same. Of note, women are less likely to say childcare measures have been a success — 41% compared with 49% of male respondents.” Now is the time to apply what we have learned from working remotely for over a year and address the specific concerns of your teams prior to the shift to hybrid team working.
Bridge working style gaps by keeping a variety of communication styles and platforms. Be mindful of participation on hybrid in-office calls that are combined with remote meetings: In-person team members should be mindful of using short-hand communication that can happen during face-to-face conversations. Keep in mind that some people may feel uncomfortable interrupting or interjecting. Take steps to ensure that those on the phone or video calls have the chance to contribute to the meeting by inviting those on the phone or video if they have thoughts they would like to share.
Going forward, any new workplace strategy should provide your teams the tools needed for equal footing for everyone. In order for this to happen successfully, those in leadership positions will need to commit to even more transparency and flexibility about how work will get done, how much office space is needed, and how best to support their team members effectively and inclusively.