A How-To Guide on Inclusive Leadership…in a Hybrid Work Environment
Inclusive leadership demands dedication. Perseverance. A willingness to be vulnerable and engage in dialogue.
But being an inclusive leader in a hybrid work environment?
Phew. It takes all of that and more.
If we could express it in one word, we’d say it takes intention.
The Benefits of Hybrid Work Environments
More teams than ever now include a mix of employee locations and communication modes. Some employees work in an office…and collaborate with other team members who work remotely.
It’s clear that flexible work locations and schedules make it much easier to develop a diverse workplace.
After all, with location no longer a barrier—well, hiring can occur on a much broader, even global, scale. A candidate pool suddenly fills to the brim when it’s made virtual, with diverse talent from everywhere.
One Fortune 100 company took advantage of the flexibility to conduct an audit of what zip codes they had NOT hired from – and found that the list included a number of underrepresented neighborhoods. The targeted approach paid off and the company hired heavily from the underprivileged zip codes.
The increased benefits around DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) extend to individuals, too. Remote work environments have been shown to increase diversity within the workplace because people of color report lower levels of stress, people of differing abilities are able to have a higher comfort level with their environment, and parents and caregivers have the flexibility to attend to appointments and school schedules.
In short, hybrid work environments are a win-win for diverse workplaces. But getting diverse talent in the door is only part of the DEI strategy. Inclusion? It’s just as important.
You’re Diverse, But Are You Inclusive?
Among the many tragic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, there have also been a few fundamental mindset changes that are transforming workplaces.
That’s right—we’re talking about productivity.
What does it look like?
How do we define it?
With employees working to better balance life with their job responsibilities, these questions have been asked and answered with new results and considerations.
The hours worked, however, might shift based on the needs of the employee, and a manager evaluating results instead of hours will likely be more successful and empowered when it comes to managing hybrid work.
We’ve found a few specific topic areas that are important to consider when managing for inclusion in a hybrid work environment.
Sense of Belonging
In some workplaces, a buddy system offers the support needed to create a sense of belonging for everyone. Management can assign partners with less experience, or perhaps different hybrid work choices, to other employees with more experience. Short weekly check-ins might end after 2 or 3 months, while the networks that are built have the potential to last much longer.
Managers who pilot this approach should be sure to check in regularly to see what’s working…and what’s not.
Resolving conflict can be a challenge when people are spread across different modalities. Some are talking in the office; some communicate mainly through a screen; still others are messaging or emailing their way through disagreement.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the important thing is that conflict is addressed.
Be open about the fact that not everyone will always get along perfectly; that working things out isn’t easy in any environment; but that it is important, and no matter how people communicate…they need to do it, not avoid it.
Consider holding virtual office hours when anyone can drop in and connect with leadership.
Transparency builds trust.
Equity in Promotions and Career Development
Those who didn’t know it before the pandemic know it now: Being in the office does not automatically equate to having higher productivity. But typically, people who are in-office, if it means they get more in-person time with leadership, may be more likely to be given a promotion than remote employees.
What’s a good process to manage this potential gap?
Discuss the biases of promoting in-person openly.
Track promotions by work environment.
And address discrepancies as needed.
Cohesion, Collaboration and Connection
At IBIS, where we have a strong hybrid work environment, we’re coming together in October for an in-person retreat. Before we meet, each person is taking a StrengthsFinder assessment, and will be sharing some of the results for each person with the others on our team. The goal is to enhance our communication and empower each one of us to interact with consciousness about others. Can your organization benefit from transparent talk about how to best collaborate?
We also have dedicated time together for company-sponsored lunches, with the hope that casual connections will go a long way in our cohesion, collaboration and connection.
And we dedicate time to fun virtual activities that bring the team together. For instance, we invest a Friday morning to a zoom game at least once a quarter. (Online Jeopardy was especially fun!)
Leading a Virtual Meeting
Ensure that everyone on the team knows how to lead a virtual meeting.
Like all meetings, it needs a leader and agenda, but hybrid meetings also require common agreement on other aspects of communication, including:
- How to indicate readiness to speak, i.e. using the ‘Raise Hand’ feature in zoom
- When to use mute
- When, or if, to not have the camera activated
- How to have brainstorming sessions virtually
Finally, awareness of time-zone differences is crucial, both in scheduling and camaraderie. At IBIS, we often say, “Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening!” as a greeting, in recognition of our international team.
Consider Mental Health
Whether it’s closing the office on Friday afternoons, sending snacks to everyone’s home, or just taking time to share and connect during meetings, it’s important to protect and support the mental health of all employees in a hybrid setting. The more complex mental gymnastics required of employees, the more rest time they need. Inclusivity can only happen when people feel known and appreciated.
Talk with the team one-on-one, and be sure to ask about the work environment.
What’s working for them?
Is there anything about their work environment that could be improved?
Leaders sometimes hesitate to ask how they can help because they aren’t sure they can. Our advice? Be transparent. It’s OK to say that you can’t always fix problems, but you still want to be there to help. You can still be there to listen.
Manage the Managers
It could almost go without saying…but all too often we find companies that have one or two educated and trained leaders, but have neglected the mid-level managers on the tenets of inclusive leadership.
All managers need to be informed, thoughtful and conscious of inclusion for DEI goals to be met. It takes time to train and educate managers, but it is an important step in creating a culture of inclusive leadership.
There are endless benefits to a hybrid work environment.
A leader who prioritizes intention, insight and care can yield a bonded and cohesive team, even one that is scattered across both an office…and the globe. Reach out to IBIS for more information on our sessions on Inclusive Leadership in a hybrid environment.
Senior Consultant Cedar Pruitt specializes in leadership, communication and culture. She helps organizations develop practices and policies that allow everyone to thrive. Her clients include competitive universities, mid-size financial firms, innovative start-ups, and more.