So much of business success depends on survival of the fittest, fastest and most agile to beat the competition. But carrying that same philosophy into relationships within an organization can derail the very activities most likely to drive success: cooperation and collaboration. It can also send some of your greatest talent looking elsewhere for a better fit.
The Great Resignation has cooled and rising inflation, along with several high-profile layoffs, will likely cause employees to be more hesitant about leaving a secure job in the immediate future. Still, to hold onto your best talent, wise leaders will take lessons away from how quickly resignations spiked when dissatisfied workers had a little disposal income from stimulus funding. They often left looking for more compassionate, inclusive and flexible workplaces. Companies that can deliver will fare better in the war for talent and build more resilient foundations to weather the next set of challenges.
The motives for joining or leaving a company are highly individualized, but among the top three reasons for quitting is feeling disrespected, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey. Almost half of respondents also cited childcare issues and a lack of flexibility. The percentage is even higher among people of races other than white.
Women also place a high value on flexibility. We have seen in the US, for example, that women prefer remote and hybrid working arrangements on average due to the many additional commitments they often take on outside of work. This is especially critical for women with disabilities or those who care for family members. Digitisation during the pandemic has created a new expectation that businesses can provide for a wider range of people with flexible or variable packages that accommodate their needs.
This can be a decisive win for companies with the digital infrastructure to adapt. The adoption of remote working allows companies to draw on much broader pools of talent from dispersed geographic regions. In competitive spaces, such as tech and software engineering, this is great for recruiters struggling to find and keep top talent.
To make hybrid workplaces effective requires both investment in the technology employees need to navigate the digital workspace, and leaders who understand how to best manage and nurture remote workers, especially those earlier in their careers.
Equity among in-person and remote work
A significant challenge to building an inclusive culture in the digital age is ensuring consistent opportunities and recognition for staff members who elect to work differently. Proximity bias has become a regular news feature as evidence mounts that those who come into the office are more likely to gain promotion. When the groups working remotely are more likely to be women and people with certain disabilities, businesses inadvertently create tiered cultures that reward some groups and punish others.
Leaders must get creative to find ways to expose remote workers to important mentoring opportunities, role models and even company culture and expectations. The same is true for encouraging collaboration among people not physically located in the same space or even working during the same hours. Creativity and innovation can suffer when most interactions occur virtually and there are far fewer opportunities for impromptu interaction, brainstorming and learning by observing.
Make sure you address key issues to drive inclusion within a hybrid workforce:
- Strive for equity, not equality
As we’ve learned in creating opportunities for women and people of color, treating everyone the same does not necessarily drive equity. A commitment to equity considers that everyone’s situation is different and allocates resources and support in ways that can help drive equal outcomes. People working from home will enjoy greater independence and flexibility than those working on site. They may also find it difficult to ever clock out. People working on site will likely have easier access to company resources, mentoring and experts like tech support, but also perhaps be more closely observed and held to higher standards. To create equity, consider what each person needs to be most effective in their role, not giving everyone the same things.
- Make expectations clear up front
Many roles cannot be carried out remotely because they require in-person customer service or involve security or privacy issues. It’s critical to be clear with current and prospective employees to ensure they understand the terms of the position and whether there is potential for remote work or on-site expectations.
- Focus on engagement and over-communicate
It is harder to make real, lasting connections on Zoom than in person. This is not controversial. Over half of employees said they became isolated and siloed at work during the pandemic, struggling to build relationships with colleagues. Microsoft has reported younger people find it harder to feel engaged and excited when in remote environments, struggling to voice their opinions and build connections. If companies do not account for this, their high-potential talent will soon leave in search of a culture with a human touch.
Leaders must collaborate and connect with workers no matter where they do their jobs, investing more time in one-on-one conversations with team members to build a better understanding of how their jobs have changed and how they might need to be redesigned to function better in a hybrid world. Building in metrics that define success in terms of joint efforts might also help team members think creatively about how they can build new connections with colleagues as well.
Consider away days for teams who do not usually interact, or schedule opportunities for one colleague to teach a few others something they have learned on the job, or something they are passionate about.
- Inspire accountability and productivity
With a dispersed team, focusing on results and outcomes becomes far more important than simply logging hours in a specific location. A results-oriented approach to evaluation requires more organization and coordination, investing more time on the front end to clarify goals, processes and expected results. But it can actually increase accountability as team members gain a clearer understanding of their role, have greater autonomy in how they meet expectations and are evaluated based on results.
We are experiencing one of the largest shifts in work since the Industrial Revolution. Companies that can create inclusive environments where leaders and team members work together to redesign how, where and when work gets done, evaluated and rewarded in this new chapter will be better able to create meaningful work experiences, recruit and retain top talent, and drive strong results.