Hybrid Work Can Hurt or Help DEI Efforts. Here’s How to Get it Right

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Hybrid work, like remote work before it, is yet another source of dramatic change for businesses everywhere. But just because we’re leaping into a new way of working doesn’t mean that we’ll escape the dynamics that have shaped office work for decades.

Hybrid can both accelerate old challenges and create new ones, especially when it comes to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). By taking a closer look at how power structures persist in this new environment, we can help ensure our companies not only avoid common DEI issues, but also use this moment to improve and build a better company culture.

With some effort and creativity, this transition offers a unique opportunity to build an environment in which–no matter where they’re working from–everyone feels seen, heard, and included. Here are some keys to seizing this moment.

LOOK OUT FOR PROXIMITY BIAS

Hybrid work is, ideally, the best of both in-person and remote work. But when it comes to DEI, hybrid work can also introduce new issues.

Proximity bias—the tendency to look more favorably on the people we see more often—is perhaps one of the most pressing DEI-related challenges. Similar issues, like presenteeism and an inclination to favor those who feel most comfortable in a traditional office setting, are also likely to reemerge. All of these biases can mean that workers who put in more “face time” at the office are more likely to receive raises or promotions.

Setting up processes and structures to undermine these biases is important, because hybrid work will likely take a different shape for different employees. At companies where the hybrid model is flexible, some employees may opt for more work-from-home time, whether that’s due to commute length, childcare responsibilities, disability, working style, or simply wanting to avoid stressors at the office.

With different employees spending significantly different amounts of time in the office, being aware of proximity bias is key to avoiding serious threats to DEI progress as a company grows. Some have seen success with standardizing the number of days in the office per week, while others rotate who is in the office when, or institute consistent in-person check-ins between managers and employees. Whatever path you choose, it’s worth spending time training managers and early employees to recognize and resist this bias.

The transition to hybrid is a great moment to reevaluate other biases, too. For instance, is it easier for extroverts to be heard in your company? Does your organization value certain communication styles over others, or take for granted that decisions will be made by particular people?

With so much conversation moving online, it’s easier than ever to analyze the resulting data. For example, if 50% of your organization is made up of women, but only 20% of Slack messages in company-wide channels are written by women, this may be worth investigating.

In this way, data can help your company use hybrid models to interrogate problematic aspects of company culture that may have gone unnoticed before.

Read the full article here.

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