Last week, we looked at the Capability Invisibility aspect of my Leading Hybrid Teams model and now we are exploring equity and inclusivity.

– Remote Report

Equity and inclusivity

You likely have seen the acronym DE&I — the diversity, equity and inclusion challenge that organizations deal with — even before the Covid-19 outbreak.

If you weren’t aware of it, you should have been, and you will be behind your industry counterparts. So listen up.

The hybrid workplace is creating a new DE&I challenge. DE&I has included protected classes — identities that have received (and still receive) systematic discriminatory treatment. This included identities such as race, gender identity, religion, nationality and sexual orientation.

We now are adding two more identities — those who are in the office and those who are remote.

Let’s make sure we have a common understanding of each of the terms.

Diversity is the presence of difference within a given setting. This includes the identities I mentioned earlier.

Inclusion is about people with different identities feeling valued, welcomed and respected.

I love the clarification from cultural-change catalyst and author Verna Myers, who said, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Equity ensures everyone has access to the same opportunities to grow, contribute and develop.

Do you believe that employees working in the office are more productive?

Do you give everyone on the team the same opportunities, regardless of where they work, or do you have favorites?

Do you place a higher value on the work of an employee you see in the office over one that you don’t?

If you answer yes to one or more of those questions, you are in danger of the hybrid-work environment increasing your baggage and biases.

Creating a hybrid environment in which everyone is treated equally is more complicated than you may think.

We are at the mercy of proximity bias.

Proximity bias

Proximity bias refers to our tendency to give preferential treatment to those in our immediate vicinity.

In the hybrid environment, this means giving preferential treatment to those who are colocated with you, i.e., those in the office.

In the past, many organizations frowned on working from home, referring to it as “shirking from home.”

With hybrid working increasingly becoming the new normal, there is no place for discrimination based on where someone works.

Hybrid work will create cultural conflicts and divides between employees working out of an office and those working remotely, setting up an “us and them” situation.

Your hybrid model should give employees choice and flexibility about where and when they work. Some employees will choose to split their time between the office and remote work. Other employees may prefer to spend most of their time working remotely because of their personal circumstances. They may have childcare or health constraints.

As a leader, you must treat everyone equally and fairly. Everyone must be in sync.

You can’t allow an out-of-sight, out-of-mind and out-of-touch situation to develop.

The potential disparities between those in the office and those working remotely must be addressed. It is imperative that you address the biases and put in place protocols that promote equity now, before the inequities are allowed to develop and become entrenched in your culture.

Actions

There are several things you can do regarding equity.

Connection tracking

Keep a note of which employees you connected with and when. If you are making connections with certain employees more than others, can you determine the reason. Is it founded or is it a bias? If it the latter, now that you have identified the bias and recognized it, you can work to remove it.

Team configuration

You must know the configuration of your team — who is working where and when.

You then can have a conversation about what is working for them and what isn’t. Cover any issues or challenges they are facing and work together to address them.

Trust

You must have an open and honest dialogue with all your employees and really listen to what they have to say. You must indicate through your actions that they have been heard and their voice is valued. This builds trust, which is the foundation of a successful hybrid team.

Resources

It is important that employees working remotely do not feel disadvantaged by the resources that are available to them.

You must create the conditions that allow every employee to perform at their best, regardless of where they are working from.

Wherever your employees are working, their experience should be equal to their co-workers’.

This will mean identifying any barriers impeding performance and removing them. This could entail the provision of additional technology or equipment or the provision of coworking spaces.

Inclusivity

The fact that an employee has chosen to work remotely does not mean they will not have feelings of isolation and loneliness.

As a leader, you must ensure that every employee feels included as a part of the team and the wider organization, wherever they are working.

Actions

Work remotely

Leaders must get out of the office and work remotely some of the time. When a leader works from the office on a permanent basis, remote employees can feel excluded and out of touch. When you work remotely even for short periods of time, you can share your experience and empathize with the experiences of others.

Consistent performance management

As discussed in my article — Performance measurement — the biggest mindset shift for leaders of hybrid teams — measurement of performance can’t be influenced by location.

You must measure performance on outcomes and be consistent, regardless of location. Regular, ongoing feedback is key.

Redesign meetings

Before anything else, decide if a meeting is really needed. Does this have to be a synchronous meeting, or can the agenda be addressed asynchronously?

Design the meeting experience so everyone feels included. Some leaders have required that all attendees join a meeting via video, rather than some being in a conference room while others join remotely.

Ensure optimal meeting duration. Distribute the agenda and all necessary preparation material before the meeting.

Record the meeting so that those unable to attend have access later.

Hearing voices

It is imperative that everyone can contribute to a meeting. This can be harder to facilitate across a hybrid team.

Check that you have heard from everyone and garnered their input.

Do not allow the loudest voice to dominate the meeting.

Try to curb in-office extension of the conversation after the meeting has finished. These are now conversations to which remote employees have no access to. Wait until they can participate to continue the discussion.

Connection

Provide communication channels dedicated to relationship building.

While it is difficult to replicate water-cooler conversations, some leaders are finding innovative substitutions, such as using a matching tool in Slack called RandomCoffees, which brings co-workers from different teams together for 15 to 30-minute coffee dates.

Other leaders are utilizing apps like Donut to create human connection.

Keep finding time and space for regular connection, and celebrate with each other.

Check in

Check in with every member of your team on a regular basis. In addition, “drop by” as you would in a physical environment. Make an impromptu phone call or video call and have the same sort of conversation you had as you passed your employee’s desk or bumped into them in the cafeteria.

Summary

This is a time for innovation, creativity and experimentation. This is a time to try new ways of working that support employee equity and inclusivity.

The bottom line is that you if you are truly concerned about equity and inclusivity in your workplace, you will include everyone equally in finding ways to achieve it.

Karen Ferris is an organizational change-management consultant based in Melbourne, Australia. Her opinions are her own.

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