Pre-pandemic, many leaders considered remote workers to be less dedicated than their in-person counterparts. For remote employees, advancement within an organization and professional development opportunities often remained inaccessible; the lack of physical presence in the workplace essentially allowed leaders to overlook these employees’ contributions and aspirations. This attitude, built and reinforced for decades, seemed like it would stand for time immemorial — until the pandemic leveled the visibility barrier, shifting a vast number of workers worldwide into remote environments.
Now, as many organizations are adopting hybrid work arrangements or urging employees to return to the workplace, it is imperative that leaders deconstruct those same barriers to ensure equity and access for both in-person and remote employees. This is especially important when we consider that underrepresented groups, especially communities of color, have shown a particular interest in not returning to a workplace where they frequently experienced bias from colleagues. Left unaddressed, especially if more underrepresented groups continue to choose virtual work, remote and hybrid work will only serve to further reduce diverse representation in leadership roles. Confronting hybrid equity now will help prevent remote employees from being cast adrift as organizations return to full in-person capacity.
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Ensuring hybrid equity and equal access for remote workers will require a true partnership between leaders and employees. To foster that partnership and define the corresponding responsibilities of each party, both sides must answer two critical questions: What should managers do to facilitate the equitable treatment of in-person and remote employees? and What should remote employees do to meet their obligations and expectations within this new work context?
Willing and Able Partners
Organizations, leaders, and subordinates alike were all woefully unprepared when the pandemic suddenly made remote work the standard. But two years later, our remote work routines have become firmly established, and the value of remote work for both employees and organizations has been proven. While managers might once have wondered whether homebound employees were actually working — rather than taking baths, eating bonbons, or watching Squid Game — the key question for leaders to ask has shifted from “Are you doing your job?” to “How can I help you do your job?”
Employees who once adopted the standards set forth for virtual work must now reimagine their role in the hybrid office.