Creating an Inclusive Work Culture: Why Hybrid Isn’t Enough

Working 9 to 5 isn’t the only way to make a living – or be productive. Companies that can’t evolve beyond this traditional, post-industrial way of laboring risk losing diverse talent and exacerbating inequities.

On the surface, a team that divides its time between the office and home might seem like the more equitable answer. In reality, going hybrid is only half the battle.

Whether you view hybrid work as a right or a privilege, shifting the conversation to creating an inclusive hybrid culture is where the real value lies.

The State of Hybrid Work in 2023

Many industry leaders understand the power and potential offered by hybrid work, but for companies to fully realize that promise, some substantial shifts need to be made, starting at the leadership level.

First order of business: addressing the disconnect that is “productivity paranoia”. According to a 2022 Work Trend Index Special Report, entitled ‘Hybrid Work Is Just Work. Are We Doing It Wrong?’, “Only 12% of leaders have full confidence that their team is productive” following the transition to hybrid work.

With 87% of employees jumping at hybrid work opportunities when given the chance, rebuilding that org-wide trust and re-engaging staff is essential for retention. Some organizations have set out to do this by “re-onboarding” team members and providing continuing education or training to upskill them for future opportunities.

And while hybrid work can materialize as cost savings for companies and enhanced well-being for staff, it alone can’t sufficiently address the diversity, equity, and inclusion hurdles exacerbated by some virtual environments.

Why Inclusivity Is a Core Tenant of Successful Hybrid Work

The ability to hire from a wider talent pool without any geographic restrictions has helped significantly diversify the workforce. It also encouraged organizations to evolve their equity and inclusion practices.

With those diverse hires come diverse perspectives; perspectives that span a variety of backgrounds, races and ethnicities, cultures, genders, sexualities, and ages. Given an equitable opportunity to problem-solve from multiple angles, this is precisely the type of rich culture that can revolutionize decision-making and significantly increase innovation and ideation.

At the individual level, inclusive work environments promote the flexibility needed to create a workday that works for everyone – no matter one’s physical abilities, caregiver status, neurological capacity, or battles with realities like fatigue and chronic pain. “Hybrid working focuses on ‘where’ people work. Inclusive working focuses much more holistically on ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ people work,” explains HR Zone.

Inclusive working is about helping people to be as engaged and productive as possible, by allowing them the flexibility to work in a way which best suits their needs.

Building a Hybrid Environment That Centers Inclusion

Even if your staff already splits their time between working from home and working in-office, making the culture an inclusive one can be an interactive process.

Committing to inclusion takes initiatives that:

1. Promote equity accountability

Setting transparent diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) goals and metrics can, “increase accountability of people in leadership positions, encourage honest conversations between employees and their bosses, and inspire them to share ideas and solutions,” says Vantage Circle.

2. Engender trust among leaders and staff

When individual contributors truly recognize their interdependence, they’re more likely to understand and uphold their responsibilities to the team. Managers should reinforce this idea, giving space and support for the team to flourish as a unit.

3. Create a culture of sharing and learning

Leadership may need training on how to manage a team virtually before they can confidently encourage their autonomy. Simply remaining open to hearing and understanding what works for each individual can go a long way in honoring it.

4. Encourage employee resource groups (ERGs)

If you want to ensure your DE&I strategies are appropriate and impactful, give employees opportunities to engage with them in community. When employees have regular access to like-minded affinity partners, they’re more likely to champion inclusive ideas and meaningful recommendations based on lived experience.

5. Co-create roles and policies

Instead of taking a top-down approach, ask employees what they need and how they work best. Co-creating roles helps maximize talents and passions in ways that drive company loyalty. Before you introduce a new policy, make sure you have it reviewed by a comprehensive panel that includes those it’s mostly likely to impact. As HR Zone reminds us, “Blanket policies are often built on assumptions.”

What Organizations Stand to Gain from an Inclusive Hybrid Work Culture

Is a 36% increase in your chances of generating a positive financial return reason enough to diversify your team? That’s what McKinsey & Company discovered of businesses who hire from diverse backgrounds.

But simply hiring minorities and fully accepting and respecting those different identities aren’t the same thing. When employees feel their diverse perspectives are truly valued by an organization, they’re more motivated to fully engage with their work and build strong relationships with their team.

Aside from potential financial gains, cultivating belonging invites the vital creativity and organizational agility that helps companies thrive in a rapidly shifting global market.