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Prioritizing Inclusion and Belonging in a Hybrid Workplace

The hybrid workplace has a lot to offer, but you’ll need to refine your strategies on prioritizing inclusion and belonging.

At the beginning of COVID-19, millions started working from home, and now remote work is here to stay. As more people get vaccinated and the pandemic subsides, some companies are opting for a hybrid model, meaning their employees work in the office and remotely. In some cases, certain employees work from home, while others work from the office. In others, employees come in on alternate days or only come to the office for scheduled meetings.

45% of U.S. executives planned to implement a hybrid work model in the second half of 2021 — and with good reason. Not only is it better for employees’ health and well-being, but it can also boost employee productivity and give your company access to a larger talent pool. Plus, employees will have time for other parts of their life, whether that’s being there for their children or taking their dogs on walks. Unfortunately, creating well-functioning hybrid office environments where everyone feels included and equal isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Challenges For The Hybrid Workplace 

The hybrid office offers plenty of benefits but also introduces a few challenges. When it comes to inclusion and belonging, you might face:

  • A weaker office culture: If people are only in the office occasionally, creating an office culture can be difficult. Your employees won’t be able to go out to lunch together, meet in the break room, or stop by each other’s desk for advice, all of which can lead to employees feeling less connected.
  • The risk of excluding employees: A hybrid work environment can also lead to in-groups and out-groups, worsen existing diversity challenges, and limit your inclusivity efforts.
  • Unconscious proximity bias: You may also find yourself unconsciously favoring those you see around the office the most when offering promotions and raises.

The Importance Of Creating An Inclusive Environment At Work

Fostering diversity, inclusion, and belonging is essential in any workplace. Not only do diverse and inclusive companies see higher revenue growth, but they also have more innovative ideas and increased productivity, trust, commitment, engagement, and employee retention. However, if you have a diverse environment that only values certain groups’ perspectives — even if unintentional! — employees won’t feel like they belong and will want to leave your company.

So, what does it mean to be inclusive at work? It means making sure that everyone feels equally involved and supported in the workplace, regardless of who they are and which position they occupy.

Prioritizing Inclusion and Belonging in a Hybrid Workplace

How To Promote Diversity And Inclusion At Work

Just as reducing implicit bias won’t happen overnight, promoting diversity and inclusion in the hybrid office takes work. Here’s how to be more inclusive at work, promote belonging, and ensure all employees feel seen and heard equally:

1.) Prioritize Diversity, Inclusion, And Belonging

Shifting to a hybrid model requires a lot of time and effort, so it can be easy to forget about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) while hammering out the logistics. Ideally, you would keep DEI efforts in mind as you’re setting up the framework for your hybrid environment, but if you’ve already launched your hybrid workplace, prioritize those efforts even more as soon as possible.

2.) Be Aware Of Biases

The first step towards making real, lasting changes is understanding and recognizing bias. In a hybrid environment, you’ll need to be wary of the usual forms of bias as well as proximity bias. 

Consider instituting company-wide unconscious bias training, and let employees know how unconscious bias can affect them, which actions reinforce biases, and why managing bias is essential. Encourage employees to look inward, question their own biases and assumptions without blame, and take accountability.

3.) Encourage Connections

Did you know that 46% of employees feel isolated from their own team? It’s not surprising then that 30% have difficulty collaborating with colleagues. On the other hand, when employees feel like they belong, they’re 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their maximum potential, so look for ways to increase interactions among your team members. Consider:

  • Starting meetings with ice-breaker questions
  • Scheduling virtual coffee chats, happy hours, birthday parties, or team building activities
  • Encouraging 1:1 meetings between peers
  • Making it easier for team members to participate in employee resource groups
  • Mixing up teams and inviting everyone to weigh in on issues

4.) Communicate

Under-communicating can breed uncertainty and result in lower productivity, missed deadlines, and higher turnover rates, so don’t underestimate the power of communication! Thank employees for their work, let them know where they have room for improvement, and accept feedback to determine where you can improve.

Don’t solely rely on sharing information in hard copy format, as that puts remote workers at a disadvantage. Instead, invest in remote collaboration tools, such as Slack and Zoom, and let your employees know how and when to use them efficiently.

Also, make sure to communicate all opportunities transparently. For example, instead of discussing upcoming openings in the office hallway on your break, you should bring them up in a meeting with both in-person and remote employees.

5.) Accommodate Employees’ Needs And Lifestyles

Keep employees’ needs in mind when scheduling meetings and work hours. For example, don’t schedule a 4:30 p.m. PST meeting and make it optional for East Coast residents, as some may feel obligated to attend outside of work hours while the rest may feel excluded. Schedule meetings around childcare coverage, and be respectful of all cultural and religious holidays.

You can also consider giving employees stipends to cover the cost of setting up a home office and purchasing high-speed internet.

6.) Incorporate Inclusive Behaviors Into Your Meetings

Meetings are great opportunities for employees to share their thoughts, but they’re also places where employees might not feel seen, heard, or comfortable. As an employer, it’s up to you to establish expectations and behaviors for meetings. Consider:

  • Rotating facilitators, planned speakers, and note-takers for each meeting to give everyone a chance to participate
  • Using a round-robin structure
  • Having people raise their hands before speaking
  • Discouraging in-room side conversations when colleagues are calling in virtually
  • Getting feedback from your employees to see what is and isn’t working

Becoming More Inclusive

Creating an environment where everyone feels included requires lots of work, especially if you’ve gone hybrid, but your employees (and your company) will be all the better for it. Be thoughtful, curious, and deliberate as you work to change the status quo, and make sure to hire qualified candidates who believe in the importance of diversity and inclusion.