As with anything in the world of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging we are constantly addressing new phenomena in order to ensure that when workplaces institute change that positively impacts everyone and not a subset of the employee population. This leads us to discuss the ever so popular hybrid work model and what it means for underrepresented groups. As with most change initiatives there are pros and cons which I am going to address in greater detail. Let’s start with pros of the hybrid work model and what it means to underrepresented groups:
When opportunities become available because the concern over the location of an organization are eliminated it can greatly benefit underrepresented groups who are generally left out of being able to afford housing with large companies such as Google, Microsoft and others because some of the best companies and tech companies in the country are located in Silicon Valley or San Francisco which are in the top five most expensive places to live in the United States. If you are looking for an opportunity and you want to join one of the larger tech companies, job seekers will find themselves omitted from certain opportunities solely based upon location. Particularly, if you are not slated to earn a top-tier six-figure income having the ability to remain in your home and work remotely have huge implications for team members current and future career trajectory.
The hybrid work model can offer a positive impact on inclusiveness. In the past, being physically in the workplace sometimes meant having to travel and now travel is no longer a hindrance because with a hybrid model everyone is participating remotely. In certain cases, if team members weren’t in an upper or middle level management position in the organization they didn’t qualify to travel to attend meetings and internal conferences. Now, the door can be opened to various levels within an organization to ensure added inclusiveness without the barrier of cost to the company.
The hybrid work model provides an additional gateway for building relationships. In many cases, relationships with people you may have never met in person. We are part of a global economy where this affords team members the opportunity to communicate simultaneously with people not only locally but globally.
For underrepresented groups Health and wellness is a critical concern because for underrepresented groups in this country there have been centuries of trauma. In addition, the most recent trauma surrounding the murder of George Floyd, managing a pandemic, many loosing or being forced to resign from their jobs, home schooling children, national polarization, housing shortages, homelessness, food shortages, etc. There has been a massive dose of trauma for everyone. During these times, no one has been left unscathed. Moreover, underrepresented groups deal with unconscious bias, bullying and microaggressions as part of everyday life and oftentimes within their work places. Having the ability to be removed from toxic cultures has been welcomed by many team members. A recent BuzzFeed article quoted a Black woman, named Linnea as saying: “working from home has brought me a level of peace that I did not anticipate, that I really didn’t expect and frankly, that I don’t even think I knew was missing until I was able to be in my home by myself.
Many organizations offer mental wellness programs like Employee Assistance Programs that provide services beyond solely mental wellness however with the daily demands of commute times and other family demands taking advantage of Employee Assistance programs have been grossly underutilized by most team members. According to the Society of Human Resource Management less that 10% of North American employees utilize employee assistance programs.
Physical wellness is also a component of overall health and over the years has become an increasing cost to organizations, but the real cost is to employees who are made aware of chronic illnesses that should be diagnosed before reaching an advanced stage. Many employees do not schedule or actually follow through on their scheduled doctor’s appointments. Due to many underrepresented groups having more of the childcare and home care responsibilities employees in this sector of society are more likely to postpone important doctor’s appointments, physical exams or brush off symptoms of not feeling well because missing work is not an option, or your days off have been designated for other family related issues. With a hybrid working model, the one to three hours of commute time can be reappropriated to ensure the health and wellness of team members become a lasting priority. According to the New York Times, “super-commuters,” which are commutes that take over 90 minutes in each direction, increased by 45 percent from 2010 and 2019.
Now let’s talk about some of the cons of the hybrid work model:
With the hybrid work model structure there will be less face-to-face interaction time depending on how organizations approach the hybrid work model in their organization it could have negative implications. For instance, if your CEO and senior level executives or even your middle-management team members are physically in the office and you’re not, it might be a missed opportunity for a special project or problem solving at the moment because you are not physically in the office.
The inability to get clear direction on assignments could also impede future promotion and upward mobility for underrepresented groups. It’s difficult for some managers to lead in environments where everyone’s in person and now you add the complexity of managing within a hybrid work model this can cause additional stress and difficulty for managers to be effective leaders.
Missed opportunities for leadership development and mentoring can be the byproduct of the hybrid work model. As companies focus on the operations and revenue, leadership development initiatives often take a back seat, if not completely eliminated. However, this can be viewed as both con and a pro.
The con is out of sight out of mind. As leaders are laser focused on their strategic and operational plans, thoughts relative to leadership development initiatives can be lost or deprioritized.
The pro is now having the opportunity to reach beyond the walls of your organization for desired leadership development and mentoring opportunities There are a lot leadership acceleration programs that can assist team members externally as many organization development teams were overwhelmed with ensuring companies operational structures were efficient in sustaining the company. Prior to hybrid work models it was expected that team members participate exclusively within the confines of internal leadership development programs. However, the reality of the new hybrid work model offers team members a renewed outlook on what their individual development plan should entail and what programs will help them accelerate professionally. However, members of underrepresented groups must know that in order to partake in these types of leadership development opportunities you will have to advocate for yourselves, communicating clearly what support is necessary for you to continue to excel and perform at an exemplary level.
Decreased Promotion Opportunities
Those of us that have worked in human resources have made managers aware for years that a hybrid work model would be beneficial to not only those in the workforce, but also important in decreasing the environmental carbon footprint while enhancing both mental and physical wellness, etc. Oddly enough, the overarching belief remains that if you are physically in an office you are somehow more productive despite research telling us time and time again that this theory has been debunked. According to Forbes, studies continue to show that remote workers received fewer promotions and lower bonuses compared to their in-office peers despite the results. Both Yahoo and IBM experimented with remote options only to terminate them, informing their employees to return to the office.
I am proud to announce that some CEO’s at Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and others are aligning where the majority of workers are leaning and that is towards 100% remote work or hybrid work models. However, diversity in these organizations are not in alignment with their overall customer base. Therefore, for those identified as being members of underrepresented groups these initiatives will not equitably benefit all groups.
Once again, a change that will only benefit a small subset of the underrepresented employee population does not support true DEIB success.