Hybrid working increases productivity, but what about inclusion?
By Shazma Ahmed, Shape Talent Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant
Last week, after many years, I found myself once again caught up in London’s commuter rush; crammed on a stuffy tube, held at a tunnel, pressed up against the door with no comfortable boundaries between me and the six other commuters, who, by the way were no more than a pinkie finger distance apart. I was grateful not to have to do this every day anymore and amazed that I once ever did. But it seemed to me that evening, things are ‘back to normal’. Or are they?
The case for hybrid working
We know that in a post-covid world, organisations are increasingly adopting a hybrid working approach where some attendance in the office is mandatory. However, a recent study, sponsored by some of the UK’s largest companies found that many workers were ignoring the mandatory attendance in the office, demonstrating the value workers place on having flexibility and choice of workspace. The study interviewed 100 workers from large UK companies including NatWest, Blackrock and Goldman Sachs and found that the adoption of flexible working practices had no detrimental impact on productivity and could in fact boost productivity and efficiency. It further found the introduction of flexible working policies had the potential to reduce staff turnover due to lower rates of burnout and stress.
Data gathered by the UK government in 2022 showed that a staggering 78% of workers in hybrid or flexible work said that some form of working from home had improved their work-life balance. The benefits of remote working have been felt across the workforce and beyond, with reports of better work-life balance, increased productivity, improved wellbeing, greater savings for employees and reduced commute times leading to efficiency and lower emissions. All great benefits that we could and should keep moving forward with.
Hybrid working shines a light on the non-inclusive cultures
In a post-pandemic world, we see a contrast in how businesses and organisations have adapted to hybrid working as the ‘new normal’. Whether organisations are setting attendance expectations on its people as part of their hybrid working model or not, the hybrid working model in a post-pandemic world is shining a light on the lack of inclusivity in organisational practices and culture that is giving rise to further inequalities.
Women are more likely to be attracted to – and stay at – an organisation where there are flexible options. A survey of more than 2,000 workers and 503 hiring managers commissioned by LinkedIn found that over half of women (52%) have left or considered leaving their organisation due to a lack of flexibility. Further, UK census data shows that women are more likely than men to leave their job over a long commute And in the EU, women are four times more likely than men to work part-time. Interestingly, when women are in organisations that offer flexibility there is penalty for taking it.
Proximity bias poses risks of disparities in the perception, assessment and promotion of those workers working remotely and this is a particular concern for women, especially mothers. While organisations may offer flexible working as part of their policies, using these benefits can lead to lower promotion scores. Further, women, especially mothers, are more likely to suffer from ‘flexibility stigma’ after taking advantage of their flexible work policies. It is worth noting that men too were subject to this kind of stigma which in some circumstances resulted in a demotion.
In a study by Deloitte, a staggering 94% of women felt asking for a flexible working arrangement would impact the likelihood of promotion and 90% felt that their workload would not be adjusted accordingly. For those women who were in hybrid working patterns, it was found that almost 60% felt they had been excluded from meetings.
A survey by the Chartered Management Institute found that 40% of managers noticed inequality between those that were working flexibly in contrast to those that were not. Further, women managers were more concerned at the implications of remote and hybrid work would have on their career progression than their male counterparts.
Having a hybrid or flexible working policy isn’t enough. Addressing biases and exclusionary practices and behaviours that treat those working from home differently is vital towards building a fair and inclusive culture within workplaces. Policies which allow hybrid working on the one hand but penalise those policies being exercised on the other poses a risk of undoing the progress that made in inclusivity culture thus far.
So what can organisations do to ensure hybrid working isn’t a detriment to career progression?
- Normalise working flexibly, for everyone – addressing the ‘flexibility stigma’ by normalising hybrid and flexible work for all genders can help bridge inequalities and contribute towards greater parity outside the workplace. This particularly helps women, who carry more of a double burden of paid and unpaid work. By making flexibility the norm for all jobs, companies can actively work to remove the stigma associated with it.
- Build inclusive leadership skills – leaders play a crucial role in establishing workplace culture. When it comes to making an assessment for flexible working, organisations generally are in support, however, that support, simply isn’t enough, there also needs to be inclusion, for those working flexibly. A recent report found that a culture of flexibility was considered a culture of compassion and those organisations were more likely to benefit from results including retaining talent, increasing productivity and having its employees recommend the organisation.
- Challenge your own ‘proximity bias’ – it is dangerously easy to favour and feel a connectedness to what we can see. However, this can lead to exclusion and inequity. A survey carried out by the Society for Human Research Management found that 42% of supervisors sometimes forget about remote workers when assigning tasks. A third of remote workers said working remotely on a permanent basis reduced the number of career opportunities available to them and 29% felt that fewer development opportunities were available when working remotely. Take active steps to be inclusive when considering the contributions and potential of your entire team, not just the people you see.
- Role model flexibility and hybrid working at senior levels – changing and becoming more inclusive cannot be sustainable (or in some cases possible) without the meaningful sponsorship and demonstration of the same by the leadership team. If the C-Suite are demonstrating its effectiveness through hybrid and flexible work, there is a greater chance of this being role modelled throughout the organisation.
If you’d like to discuss how Shape Talent can support you on this journey do get in touch.
Shazma Ahmed is an Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant at Shape Talent Ltd, the diversity, equity and inclusion experts for complex multinational organisations who are serious about gender equality – and what it can achieve for their business.
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 Women in Banking and Finance & London School of Economics – ‘100 Diverse Voices – A Framework for the Future of Work in Financial and Professional Services’ (November 2022)
 Orr and Savage (2021) ‘Expanding Access to and Ensuring Equity in the Benefits of Remote Work Following the COVID19 Pandemic’ Journal of Science Policy & Governance Vol. 18, Issue 4
 Rudman, Laurie A., and Kris Mescher (2013) ‘Penalizing Men Who Request a Family Leave: Is Flexibility Stigma a Femininity Stigma?’ Journal of Social Issues 69 (2): 322–40.