WOMEN AND WEALTH
Five Steps Companies Can Take to Navigate The Shift to Remote and Hybrid Work
It should shock no one that McKinsey and Lean In’s Women in the Workplace 2022 report finds that most professional women prefer hybrid and remote work. Indeed, the benefits of ditching the traditional office setting are hard to deny—decreased commute time, fewer microaggressions, additional flexibility and time with family and, for many, increased productivity.
The findings from their survey of more than 40,000 employees found that women who had this type of flexibility were not just happier but also less likely to leave their workplace, particularly women with disabilities.
While most organizations are by now well aware of soaring employee interest in continued work-from-home flexibility, many have struggled to balance its popularity with mundane operational needs and leadership preferences. The report’s findings fortunately offer five clear steps that companies can take to navigate this shift to remote and hybrid work.
“For companies that are transitioning to remote and hybrid work, it’s critical to ensure that these new modes of working work for everyone,” the report explains. “This will require a mindset shift. It’s not enough to tweak old policies and practices; companies need to fundamentally rethink how work is done.”
Not surprisingly, communication in many ways is a vital part of the process—not just explaining the nuts and bolts of new policies and procedures but also clarifying “the why” behind key decisions.
“It’s important to share guidelines about who can work remotely and why, so people don’t feel they’re being treated unfairly," the report states. "It’s also important that companies provide clear guidelines to help employees navigate the day-to-day complexities of remote and hybrid work; for example, establishing specific windows during which meetings can be scheduled and employees in different time zones are expected to be available.”
It can be helpful to anticipate potential questions or areas of confusion and clearly communicate specific responses to those relevant scenarios, perhaps in a FAQ type document. While the goal is to provide as much clarity and specificity as is reasonably possible in order to minimize confusion and productivity disruption, it’s also important to acknowledge that the organization may make additional changes as needed in the future to respond to evolving business needs or environmental conditions.
Half of communication is listening—at least it should be—so it’s important to commit to full communication by not just announcing decisions but also gathering feedback from employees on a regular basis. Simply announcing a new process or policy without hearing from staff and incorporating their feedback won’t yield optimal, sustainable results.
“It’s hard to navigate any major transition without understanding employees’ priorities and experiences. But only about half of companies have surveyed employees on their preferences for remote and hybrid work over the past year—which means they may not fully understand how policies are impacting different groups or how changes have been received,” the study finds.
Remember that it’s difficult to elicit authentic, candid feedback so organizations should utilize various feedback mechanisms including anonymous ones. Everyone isn’t comfortable being vocal in a public setting; some are reticent to be candid at all. It’s important for organizations to not just establish but maintain a continuous feedback loop before, during and after decisions are announced.
While remote work offers distinct individual benefits, it can also create challenges for cultivating and maintaining team intimacy and connection. Team connection builds trust which in turn propels innovation, productivity and morale so organizations seeking to embrace long term remote work should also commit to taking proactive steps to cultivate a sense of team even when that team may not be physically collocated.
“Making creative use of technology to facilitate watercooler-style interactions and team celebrations in a virtual work environment is a good start,” the report suggests. “Companies could also benefit from dedicating resources to team bonding events and, whether they’re virtual or in person, taking special care to make sure that all employees feel included and that events are accessible to everyone.”
Pre-pandemic while most workplaces simply defaulted to working in person as the norm for virtually everything, this new research highlights the importance of taking a much more nuanced approach by strategically considering which type of work or which roles require in person connection. Arguably, the pandemic-induced years-long work from home experiment has proven that certain types of work that tend to be more individual in nature and less collaborative—research, writing, reflective analysis, critical thinking—are more easily accomplished in the serenity and privacy of a home office setting. “Employee expectations for in-person work are changing—in particular, many employees don’t want to come into the office to do work they can just as easily do at home,” the study finds. “In light of this, many companies are starting to refocus in-person work on activities that take advantage of being together, such as high-level planning, learning and development training, and bursts of heavy collaboration.”
While hybrid working in some ways offers the best of both worlds, it also can create distinct challenges. In particular, the study highlights the very real phenomenon of “flexibility stigma” which is defined as “the unfair judgment that employees often face when they work flexible hours or work from home.” Their research finds “employees who work flexibly face more doubts about their productivity and commitment, even when they produce the same results as their colleagues.”
Hybrid teams can easily create a hierarchy of sorts in terms of information access, visibility or face time with senior leaders and key influencers, so it’s important for organizations to proactively work to neutralize potential disparities and cultivate a work environment that is fair, equitable and inclusive.
“It’s important that remote and hybrid employees get the same support and opportunities as on-site employees,” the study asserts. “People managers play a central role here, and many could benefit from additional training on how to foster remote and hybrid employees’ career development and minimize flexibility stigma. Equal access to mentorship and sponsorship are also key, yet less than half of companies offer virtual mentorship and sponsorship programs.”
The study also warns against remote employees being disadvantaged during the performance evaluation process. To support diverse work approaches organizations should make a concerted effort to emphasize results over process.
Increasingly, companies are embracing hybrid working to maximize flexibility and hopefully productivity and team morale as well. McKinsey and Lean In’s Women in the Workplace 2022 Report reminds us that women are increasingly demanding and expecting more.
Hybrid working—considered innovative and leading edge in the past—is increasingly becoming an organizational expectation. In many ways the pressure is on for companies to pivot and reimagine the future of work in a way that is both engaging and satisfying for all.
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