Remote and hybrid work have highlighted new challenges to creating a fair and equal workplace. They’ve changed how we address those issues, too.
For example, are your entry-level employees given the same amount of remote flexibility as employees with more experience or power? Or, if you’ve established core hours when employees work in-person, do those hours conflict with responsibilities like school pick-up that might create scheduling conflicts for parents?
From meeting structures to core in-person hours, your remote work policies have a big impact on whether your workplace enables equal opportunities for advancement and success. No matter how you’ve re-imagined your remote work culture over the past year, right now is the perfect time to take steps to ensure that it’s designed to benefit everyone equally.
How Remote Work Culture Affects Equity in the Workplace
According to research from Global Workplace Analytics, as many as 50% of employees who worked remotely in 2020 said they would consider leaving a position if they were forced to return full-time to the office.
And it’s no wonder. A year and a half into remote work, most employees continue to enjoy greater work-day flexibility and shorter commutes. For employees of color, who regularly experience microaggressions in the office, remote-friendly policies offer additional mental health and productivity benefits.
Remote-friendly work has especially supported the needs of Black employees in industries like science and technology. Compared to their white peers, Black knowledge workers are 64% more likely to feel satisfied with their ability to manage work stress thanks to remote work policies.
But remote work hasn’t been kind to everyone. In particular, women have faced an incredible burden. Women are often expected to juggle work responsibilities with domestic labor, including childcare, cooking, and cleaning.
With the collapse of the home-office divide, remote work has negatively impacted their ability to participate in the workforce. In fact, more than 2.3 million women have left positions since February 2020 because of a lack of childcare or other support structures during the pandemic.
Without a strong plan for creating a more equitable remote work culture, company leaders risk exacerbating the existing inequalities faced by women and people of color—or just recreating them in virtual work environments.
And now is not the time to let workplace issues fester. As “The Great Resignation” spurs a mass exodus of talent across industries, it’s up to leadership to examine remote work culture and make adjustments that create equitable outcomes.
Here are 5 ways you can change your remote company culture to drive equity and inclusion, starting today.
1. Co-create workplace guidelines
When McKinsey surveyed remote employees at the beginning of 2021, they discovered that most workers craved more communication about remote work policies from their leaders. In fact, employees who had received clear communication or guidelines were 5 times more productive than employees who hadn’t been looped in by leadership.
In order to eliminate anxiety and increase productivity, organizations owe it to their employees to be transparent about their expectations and policies. And with the right tools, you can foster engagement by co-creating workplace guidelines that work for everyone.
By polling your teams or interviewing individual colleagues about their experiences, you’ll get a better sense of how remote workplace policies affect the motivation, productivity, and happiness of your team.
For instance, do your core working or overlap hours give everyone in the company equal access to leadership? Are the same team members jumping at opportunities to take on extra projects? If you have working parents on your team, are their family commitments implicitly or explicitly affecting their chances for promotion and advancement?
As you consider the input of your team, ensure you can also demonstrate how employee feedback will shape policies that affect everyone. Prioritizing transparency encourages your team to provide honest, authentic feedback and re-enforces a culture of trust and inclusion.
After all, without healthy workplace communication, employees may not feel they can safely address challenges with their supervisors—and then you’ll be back at square one!
2. Improve transparency
Transparency around decision making reinforces culture and builds trust. By making the results of polls, informal interviews, or employee sentiment scores public, leadership can demonstrate their ongoing commitment to tracking and documenting an equitable work culture in real time.
The value of transparency extends to many other areas of work, too. According to a McKinsey roundtable, two practices of healthy remote-first companies include “knowledge sharing [and] performance transparency.”
Increasing information-sharing between leadership and employees or across departments breaks down silos. And clearly documenting roles and responsibilities reduces confusion, creates smoother workflows, and clarifies pathways to career advancement.
This is especially important for remote-first or hybrid companies, where employees might be logging on at different times of the day to complete their work. Without equal access to knowledge or records of both formal and informal conversations,employees risk duplicating work or working out of alignment with the most recent company goals.
To ensure that everyone on your team has up-to-the-minute information about roles, responsibilities, and company-wide goals, consider keeping records of conversations in Slack and sending recordings of all hands meetings to employees unable to attend in person. This way, everyone’s on the same page and able to do their best work, no matter when they’re logging on—or where they’re logging on from.
3. Create opportunities for more purposeful interactions
Many leaders believe that working at a single location is especially beneficial for networking, innovation, and career advancement. If the office is no longer the place where your employees can meet with team members in other departments or pitch ideas to leadership, then it’s up to leaders to intentionally plan for these kinds of interactions.
Whether you create key windows for collaboration across time zones or institute weekly work rituals, consider how you will make space in the busy work day to foster moments of connection. At Welcome, for example, we have Product Office Hours where we demo the latest features and enhancements to the platform and take questions from our colleagues. We also have Slack channels devoted to non-work topics, like parenting and pets, as well as a “Coffee Exchange Club” that connects us to a new buddy every other month.
Ultimately, employees who feel more connected to the purpose of your organization and its values will not only be more motivated, but also more satisfied at work. By planning for and democratizing the ways your team connects, your remote work culture also becomes both more equitable and supportive.
4. Democratize your workflows
While many companies are seeing an uptick in productivity and worker satisfaction during remote work, the old ways of working still influence decision making. According to Forrester, as many as 60% of companies that attempt to transition to a hybrid structure will “still design meetings, job roles, and promotion opportunities around face-to-face experiences.”
This tendency is largely thanks to “distance bias,” or the human desire to favor the people and subjects who are closest to us. For example, if one of your employees still comes into the physical office every day, and another only comes in three days per week, how will you ensure that both of these team members have equal access to career advancing projects? Will they be evaluated for raises in the same way?
You get the picture. The more you can document your company’s remote work policy and preemptively address these persistent issues with leadership, the more equitable your remote work culture will be.
Paying special attention to meeting dynamics, spreading work assignments around, and asking for feedback from team members who’ve been quiet can also help you avoid focusing on the “loudest” voices in the room, says Ella F. Washington, an organizational psychologist and DEI expert.
“In virtual meetings, the loudest voice literally gets picked up by the system first,” Washington told Slack. “Is that who gets the project? We have to consider how we’re evaluating our normal processes from the lens of the virtual environment, and question how they contribute to inequitable outcomes and experiences.”
As with policies around performance evaluation and advancement, your day-to-day processes for virtual workflows should be clearly documented and democratized. Don’t just default to the “loudest” voice in your virtual workspace. Plan to engage your entire team—and spread opportunity equally.
Focus on outcomes
According to Gartner, fewer than 16% of companies currently use technology to monitor employee engagement or other data points. If you’re planning on implementing changes to your remote work culture to increase equity, then it’s crucial to track meaningful data. Broad categories to consider include:
- Employee sentiment scores
- Connection and belonging
You may also wish to track demographic data on individual assignments, promotions, and overall retention in order to see if your policies are resulting in equal access to opportunities and career advancement.
With more data in hand, you can determine whether your remote work policies are moving the needle on equity and inclusion. And remember: even the most well-intentioned policies fall short of equity benchmarks. It takes real leadership to listen to your team and identify measurable ways to continue improving. Your company depends on it.