Will Post Pandemic Hybrid Working Lead To ‘Male Only’ Office

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Will Post Pandemic Hybrid Working Lead To ‘Male Only’ Office

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Over the past year organisations have been forced through circumstance to embrace new and different ways of working.

Whilst some may have already been in the vanguard of remote working, the move towards it had been slowly increasing, and realistically it may have taken another generation to get to the scale we have witnessed since the start of the pandemic.

Working in the office (co-location), and working remotely (working fully off-site), do not have to be an either/or situation, and what we are seeing now as we come out of another lockdown, is the movement towards a hybrid way of working, effectively a balance between the two.

This sounds like a great solution, women and men having the best of both worlds, particularly now that children have returned to school giving them the flexibility to create their own work style, but, a note of caution, we know from experience that it is often in ‘ideal’ situations like these, that the law of unintended consequences can rear its head.

Let’s take a look at this.

Organisations have been making steady if slow progress in addressing gender imbalance, not solely in representation, but in debiasing the people systems and processes that may act as barriers to progress on gender.

Whilst much of this will continue, it is the case that the past year has created a hiatus in how things are normally done.

Whilst the shift to remote working has allowed businesses to continue to do business, focus on important issues such as gender diversity, and inclusion more broadly, may have taken a backseat.

From a practical perspective, remote working in the pandemic has given everyone permission to work from home and anyone with a caring responsibility would undoubtedly see this as a boon.

No commuting time, and the ability to manage domestic responsibilities in a more flexible manner. This sounds very egalitarian, but the reality is that women are still more likely to carry a higher load than men.

Hybrid working sounds like the perfect solution, but there is increasing concern being voiced amongst diversity and inclusion professionals about the potential impact this may have on gender balance and the business.

If women decide to continue to work from home and minimise office working, there will inevitably be fewer women in the office.

This means less face time (out of sight out of mind) and less opportunities for informal networking (we know that it is hard to do virtually).

Even in the situation of the pandemic and the requirement to work remotely, some managers may still be focussing on presenteeism rather than output.

In most sectors, it is also more likely that critical decision makers are men, so if women opt not to come into the office they may not be getting the incidental exposure they previously had.

In-person working provides more opportunities for informal networking than participation on the remote working platforms we are all using (such as Teams, Zoom etc).

For example the informal discussions before or after a meeting, or the casual coffee to catch up. Whilst it is affecting everyone the same way when everyone is working remotely, the imbalance may be created when some return to the office and some do not.

Other areas that could potentially be impacted include gender pay. If more women work from home and as a consequence end up working longer hours, the extra hours may not be taken into account in relation to the effort they are making, and as a result, their pay will not fully represent their worth.

And if women are getting less stretch opportunities because they are not in the workplace it may also impact their ability to progress at the same rate as previously.

As the lockdown is just coming to an end now, it is still too early in the process to make solid judgements about the potential impact of hybrid working. But it should give us pause for thought. It should also give us an opportunity to re-think the hybrid working model while applying a gender lens.

Initiatives could include undertaking a gender impact assessment to understand where the issues might arise, and what the impact might be on the continued effectiveness of the systems and processes to support gender diversity in the organisation.

Consulting with employees on how to apply hybrid working for example in a 2:3 model (two days in the office, three remotely), or whatever works in the circumstances.

A key requirement being to establish a shared in-person experience for everyone.

Whilst this article is looking primarily at the impact of a hybrid working model on women, it goes without saying that men may be impacted in a similar way, particularly those with primary care responsibilities.

In applying the lens of diversity inclusion, it maximises the chance of a positive outcome for everyone if it is undertaken in a focussed and strategic way.

Deirdre Golden is a consultant with global diversity and inclusion consultancy Frost Included.

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Will Post Pandemic Hybrid Working Lead To ‘Male Only’ Office

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