Six Ways to Manage a Hybrid Workplace
As hybrid work becomes the norm, it’s tougher to ensure that all employee voices are heard. Here are six steps that can help.
Aug. 29, 2022 - Hybrid work is becoming the norm at many financial service firms and for good reasons. For employees, hybrid work offers flexibility and a better work-life balance. There are advantages for firms as well, such as recruiting and hiring from a wider pool of talent—not just people who live in the area but the best people regardless of where they live.1 However, hybrid work creates a real challenge in terms of inclusion—ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute and that all voices get heard. Six specific steps can help firms create a more inclusive office.
Why Inclusion Can Be Challenging
Fostering an inclusive workplace can be tough under any circumstances, but it’s even tougher when some people aren’t in the office. Preestablished cliques and groupings that were in place before the transition to hybrid work can harden, reinforcing the idea that there are “in” and “out” groups in an organization. This can limit information sharing or cause projects, assignments, and rewards to be distributed unfairly.2
In addition, meetings that happen via videoconference instead of in-person have a different dynamic, compounding the tendency for some people to dominate a discussion and others to shrink back.
Despite these challenges, there are real advantages to creating a more inclusive workplace. Creating a work structure that empowers everyone to contribute makes teams more effective and productive because they bring a wider range of perspectives and ideas. And whenever everyone feels included, retention and morale improve. According to one recent survey:3
- Employees are 47% more likely to stay with an organization if it’s inclusive.
- Employees are 90% more likely to go out of their way to help a colleague if they work in an inclusive office.
- Employees are seven times more likely to describe their organization as high-performing if it’s inclusive.
Here are six ways that everyone can create greater inclusion in a hybrid world.
Fight the “proximity bias.” When some people are in the office and others aren’t, there’s a natural tendency to believe that the in-person people are more valuable or important—they’re the ones doing the “real work.” This is called proximity bias—it’s the phenomenon that rewards face time; those employees can be rewarded with faster promotions, bigger bonuses, and choice assignments and projects.4
Fighting this bias requires an awareness of it and a willingness to go the extra step of always considering everyone on the team. If you’re a manager, ensure you’re putting the best people in the right positions regardless of their work location so that the entire team has a chance to succeed. The goal should be for everyone to work in the environment that’s best for them, and for everyone to contribute in a way that helps the team and company thrive.
Consider in-person onboarding for all new hires. Hybrid work can create situations where new hires at an organization may never meet some of their co-workers or managers in person—which is less than ideal. To avoid this situation, consider bringing all new hires to the office for a few days of in-person orientation, so they can feel more grounded in the team and familiar with how the firm works. This is particularly true for people hired from elsewhere in the country who can’t just drive in for an occasional day at the office after they’ve started. Part of the orientation should focus on technology support—ensuring people have all the tools they need to succeed in a hybrid environment.
Rethink meetings. Translating an in-person meeting to online requires more than just technology. A few tips can ensure that meetings are as inclusive as possible. First, whenever possible, try to have meeting participants be all virtual or all in-person. Or the ideal situation would be to hold a Zoom meeting where all attendees can interact whether in the office or remote. Check the calendars of all invitees and adjust the meeting time if necessary to make sure everyone can attend. For remote workers or contractors in different regions, factor time zones into scheduling.5
During meetings, make sure that all participants get a chance to speak. Use technological features like chats and digital hand-raising to avoid situations where the loudest voice takes over the discussion. Proactively call on people who haven’t spoken up on a particular topic. And make sure that employees aren’t talking over each other.
Create informal interactions. Take time at the beginning or end of discussions over Zoom for informal conversation. It’s a way to build relationships when people can’t simply chat in the kitchen or see each other in a hallway.6 Managers may need to kick these discussions off depending on the group dynamics. People who have worked together for a long time and know each other well from before the pandemic likely won’t need much prodding. But teams that have come together in the past few years, with people who may have spent very little in-person time together (or none), may need the manager or another associate to serve as MC.
Measure performance over time—and adapt as needed. Last, avoid assuming everything is going great in hybrid collaboration simply because you do not hear about problems. Instead, gather actual information from your employees through periodic surveys.7 These don’t need to be big, comprehensive initiatives. Instead, you can conduct short, monthly, or quarterly surveys of targeted groups to ask how the team is functioning, which problem areas might be emerging, and how employees might propose solving those problems.
Depending on the results, you may need to change your hybrid work policy over time, such as requiring one in-person day a week or eliminating all in-person requirements. It’s important to acknowledge that this is a new environment and way to work, so no organization or leader will have all the answers. The process of gathering input from employees itself can be a way to foster inclusion and give your people a say in how the work environment is structured.
Make hybrid work for your clients. Working as a financial professional in a hybrid work setting isn’t just about you and your team. Your clients are probably adept at multiple platforms these days. A recent survey from the Financial Planning Association found that financial professionals have not been managing their client communications as effectively as they thought. Clients want at least some virtual engagements with their planners, even post-pandemic. In fact, over half of clients (57.04%) expressed a preference for virtual meetings even after pandemic meeting restrictions ended, whether used exclusively (28.87%) or with occasional in-person meetings (28.17%).8
Some clients may prefer in-person meetings once or twice a year, with video meetings at other times. Others may want to jump on a quick phone call or video chat, while others will want to meet face-to-face for every meeting. Regardless of how they want to meet, ensure your home office is set up for success. You can read this past blog post for some helpful tips.
Many aspects of work are different in a hybrid environment, but inclusion is as important as ever. By taking some specific steps, you can create an environment where everyone is included and can contribute their best ideas and effort.
1 Lila MacLellan, “Is Hybrid Working More Inclusive Than Being in the Office?” World Economic Forum, July 14, 2021.
2 Grace Lordan, et al., “5 Practices to Make Your Hybrid Workplace Inclusive,” Harvard Business Review, Aug. 17, 2021.
3 Bonnie Dowling, et al., “Hybrid work: Making it fit with your diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy,” McKinsey & Company, April 20, 2022.
4 Joe Du Bey, “How to Mitigate Proximity Bias and Create A More Inclusive Workplace Culture,” Forbes.com, April 4, 2022.
5 Amy E. Hull, Equitable Hybrid Work Models,” HRO Today, Feb. 18, 2022.
6 Sonia Hennum Daleiden, Jane Lim-Yap, “Strategies for Inclusion in a Hybrid Work Environment,” Kittelson & Associates.
7 Kate Rockwood, “Make the Hybrid Connection,” SHRM.com, April 9, 2022.
8 Financial Planning Association, “Research Reveals Major Shift in Communication and Trust Between Financial Planners and Their Clients,” Yahoo.com, Feb. 8, 2022
The information provided only summarizes complicated topics and do not constitute financial, legal, tax, or other professional advice. Further, the information is not all-inclusive and should not be relied upon as such.