While remote work has only recently become standard practice, it is not a new concept. Traditionally, the office and employee experience were only designed for those working in the office. As a result, remote employees often missed out on integral aspects of company culture, which cultivates collaboration and communication. Fortunately, the pandemic has shifted this power dynamic, and now remote and in-office employees are viewed as equals. But, as professionals begin to return to the office, many employees fear that that old customs will resurface.
As more and more companies implement hybrid work models into their organizations, they need to ensure that this equality is maintained. This is critical as if employees in the office are getting more perks than those working from home, the hybrid model will not be sustainable.
In-Office vs. Remote
Out of sight, out of mind - while unintentional, it can be easy to forget about remote employees if most of an organization's workforce is in the office. Because remote employees aren't sitting at a desk or walking through the office, communicating with them requires a conscious effort. Alternatively, onsite employees can be reached as they walk down the hallway or sit in the break room. Essentially, they are easier to access, so they benefit from just-in-time communications that WFH employees do not.
Onsite employees also benefit from the networking that in-person interactions build because they can easily talk with team members that are not exclusively working together on a project. They also experience relationship-building events such as onsite gyms, team lunches, and birthday parties that are only available in the physical office.
On the other hand, remote employees do experience some benefits that in-office employees do not. For example, WFH employees have no commute, flexible work schedules, and potentially fewer disruptions throughout the workday. Today, 55% of employees have a desire to work at least three days of the week remotely. Even so, many employees worry that if they choose to remain remote, they will miss out on vital aspects of working in the office. If employers hope to maintain a successful hybrid work model for their workforce, they must ensure equity between those WFH and in-office.
Creating an Equitable Office
Companies looking to implement a hybrid model must do so with equitability in mind from the start. To begin, management should consider the respective advantages and disadvantages of working onsite versus remotely. This will help identify initial opportunities for improvement. To help you get started, consider implementing these practices to create a more equitable work environment:
- Flexible work schedules.One of the most significant benefits of remote work is the flexibility it offers. While employees have a set number of hours to work and scheduled meetings to attend, they can work more flexible hours. Alternatively, onsite employees are expected to arrive at the office at a specific time and stay there until a set time. To equalize this, consider offering a more flexible schedule to those working in the office. While it may not be feasible for this to be quite as flexible as remote workers, offering employees to come into the office within a set time range may be a solution. Additionally, encouraging more breaks throughout the day, or flexible lunch breaks, can create more equity while boosting productivity.
- Team lunches. Speaking of lunches, many offices provide their workforce with complimentary lunch on occasion, most often during meetings. Rather than revoking this benefit to ensure equity, make sure that those joining remotely also have the opportunity for their lunch to be provided. This ensures that all in attendance receive the same kind gesture for their hard work.
- Team building opportunities. In attempts to build a positive company culture and engage employees, many organizations offer team-building activities. While these are traditionally in-person opportunities, offering remote opportunities is highly beneficial in creating hybrid equity. Virtual "happy hours" provide employees with the time and space to get to know one another and bond over non-work-related conversations. In addition to supporting an equitable environment, offering team building can cultivate trust and communication between colleagues.
- Childcare benefits. A large portion of the global workforce consists of parents, and it can be challenging to manage childcare with work. As a result, many companies offer onsite childcare. This opportunity cannot be utilized for those working remotely, even though they may benefit from the care. Even though remote employees may be home, they can't be expected to work and care for children at the same time. To resolve this, organizations can offer a childcare stipend for WFH employees. This ensures that all employees receive the same benefits and can make time for their professional and personal lives.
- Distribute power. Another significant way to ensure equity is through a distribution of power. Providing high-profile projects to remote employees in addition to onsite employees is critical. This conveys to employees that they are regarded as highly as those in the office, no matter where they work. Additionally, it can help to normalize remote work by encouraging managers to work remotely occasionally. This will demonstrate to employees that it is acceptable to embrace the hybrid model without compromising leadership or responsibility.
- Equalize communication. A critical aspect of an efficient work environment is communication. One of the best ways to build equity is by ensuring equal communication between employees. When leaders share important information, they must do so without preferential treatment for onsite employees. It can be convenient to spread information to those in the office and expect it to get back to remote employees, but this can set them at a disadvantage. Instead, ensure that all employees receive the same information at the same time, perhaps through an email or virtual meeting. This ensures that communication is clear and accurate for all members of the organization.
The hybrid work model is highly beneficial, offering employees the flexibility they desire in the modern workplace. But, for this model to be sustainable, companies must ensure that their model is equitable. Offering the same treatment and benefits to employees, whether WFH or in-office, is critical. If inequitable, employees will not feel as though they fully have the freedom to transition between in-office and remote work, making the model futile. By implementing the hybrid work model with equitable intentions, employees will maximize the benefits of hybrid work – enabling them to become more productive, satisfied, and successful.