The COVID-19 pandemic completely changed how and where millions of Americans work. At first the shift to work from home was out of necessity. Now, companies are adjusting to the notion that things may never fully go back to the way they were.

A growing number of companies are deploying a hybrid workplace model that has some employees working remotely while others come into the office. Others have some employees coming in on alternate days or for regularly scheduled monthly, weekly or quarterly meetings. As company leaders work to make sure operations run smoothly, it’s also important to make sure that this new workplace is an inclusive one for all employees.

While hybrid workplaces can break down some barriers to inclusion, they also come with a whole new set of challenges. Optional commutes open several doors for working parents, and remote environments with occasional in-office meetings can improve both productivity and communication. However, there is a risk of excluding employees and ultimately, creating in-groups and out-groups when employees are working from home or in-office. Here are some actionable tips to ensure that remote employees are seen, heard, and empowered to build equitable relationships from home:

1. Use Round-robin Meeting Structures

Meetings can raise several concerns for the inclusive remote workplace. When most of the team is sitting at a conference table, it can be difficult for those co-workers phoning in to have their voices heard. We’ve all been on conference calls where it was hard to jump in with a thought or observation. It’s important for those leading the calls to be deliberate about seeking the input of those who are not there in person. Go around the physical and virtual room to make sure all voices are heard. It also helps to set and share a complete agenda ahead of time.

2. Avoid Print-only Document Sharing

When important files, agendas or reports are handed out in hard copy format, remote co-workers are at a significant disadvantage. Keeping things digital and ensuring that everyone has access to relevant materials is a best practice for hybrid workforces.

3. Adjust for Differing Time Zones

The switch to remote and hybrid working has spurred many moves, and sometimes those moves take employees into different time zones. It’s important that managers schedule meetings with employee location in mind. A 4 p.m. meeting on the West Coast is a 7 p.m. call on the East Coast. While making a meeting like this optional for East Coasters might be a kind gesture, some team members are ultimately still being excluded from important conversations.

4. Keep Working Parents in Mind

One of the most valuable aspects of hybrid and remote work is the flexibility it offers working parents. Suddenly, school pick-ups are no longer an insurmountable challenge. Keep the schedules of working parents in mind when scheduling meetings. Consider encouraging them to block off time on their calendar for childcare tasks, and then respect those times.

5. Encourage Peers to Meet 1:1, Even Virtually

Hybrid workplaces don’t offer the same opportunities for relationship building as in-person office spaces. Co-workers who are in the same building can step out for a coffee break together or have impromptu collaboration sessions with a neighbor. But remote workers obviously cannot. It’s important for people leaders to have routine check-ins with remote workers to make sure they are engaged and feel like part of the team. But it’s also important to encourage in-person workers to virtually meet, connect and collaborate with their remote peers often.

6. Schedule Virtual Team Building Events

Just like peer 1:1s, virtual team activities that don’t fall under work responsibilities are an integral part of workplace culture. Inclusion goes deeper than being heard in meetings and having impromptu collaboration sessions with teammates. Creating a space where employees can be authentic and just have fun goes a long way toward belonging at work.

Conclusion

We’re all tired of talking about “the new normal.” The shift to fully remote, and then back to a hybrid model is just normal now. It presents a lot of opportunities to provide working environments that suit a wide range of employees and situations. It can lead to a more productive workplace. And if people leaders are deliberate and thoughtful about their approach, they can ensure an inclusive workplace as well.

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