Remote and hybrid work create more opportunities for inequity in the workplace— for example, an individual’s personal living situation, like the quality of their internet service, can impact their ability to participate effectively at work.
Prior to the normalization of working flexible schedules or working remotely, the ability to take the afternoon off was dependent on an individual manager’s preference, which was often biased.
Dedicated policies around workplace expectations, equal access to technology and professional development opportunities, and transparency starting with leadership teams all lead to more equitable workplaces. Equitable workplaces are better places to work for everyone, and lead to improved employee engagement, lower turnover rates, higher job satisfaction, and overall happier employees.
In hybrid and flexible workplaces, equity can look like:
All employees having a personal laptop
A hybrid and flexible work policy for the entire organization
A monthly wellness stipend for all employees
Employee resource groups (ERGs)
Access to functional meeting rooms for in-person and hybrid meetings
Access to a private workspace
7 Ways to Design Equitable Workplaces
1. Examine and restructure workplace design
If in-office employees have a different experience than remote employees, it can lead to miscommunication and tension between team members. Examine the design of the workplace and entire real estate portfolio, including which workplace networks people are using.
What is a workplace network?
A workplace network is any work area or system your employees choose to work from. This can include home offices, corporate office spaces, coworking spaces, coffee shops, or shared houses.
Think about the following — Are all employees able to get to the office easily? Is there parking or access to public transportation? Are there spaces for nursing mothers to use to pump? How about dining options for those who commute for the full day? Are there quiet areas for private calls? All of these impact employee comfort and overall equity and inclusion.
“Companies that are dedicated to equity must be equipped to continuously adapt to changing workplace expectations by constantly revisiting their workplace strategy, explains Fernanda Belo, Head of Workplace Strategy and Insights at VergeSense
2. Conduct leadership training sessions
Many leaders are likely unfamiliar with the details of an equitable workplace, and require training to understand microaggressions, unconscious bias, and barriers to true equity. People managers and leaders may not understand the butterfly effect of decisions like allowing a team member to work from another country for a month, or move to another state. But by working with legal, HR, and leadership teams, they can present employee needs and determine a fair decision that the whole company can support.
“For workplace strategy leaders to succeed, they need to align work expectations with HR or People Ops. Changes to workplace policies may have legal ramifications, or lead to inequality based on country or job role.” Fernanda Belo, Head of Workplace Strategy and Insights, VergeSense
3. Gather employee sentiments through frequent 1-1 meetings and group feedback sessions
Employees may be resistant to change at first. But, by conducting small group feedback sessions throughout the process and using 1-1 meetings with those who will be most impacted by changes, you can ensure that the workplace meets everyone’s individual needs and provides an equitable environment. When employees are involved in the decision making and planning process, they can help design spaces they will use and feel comfortable in, which helps to attract others with similar preferences or needs to the company.
4. Evaluate perks and benefits for all employees through the lens of equity
Do in-office employees get lunch once a month? What’s the equivalent for fully remote team members? Look into corporate programs that offer employee food and beverage benefits anywhere. Consider perks like a home office stipend that includes home Wifi, a workstation, noise canceling headphones, or childcare to support hybrid employees. Many companies assume employees already have these amenities, and these assumptions are detrimental to workplace equity.
5. Analyze employee preferences, feedback, and behavior using data
Employees may intend on going to a satellite office three times per week, but ultimately end up coming in once or twice a month. If your organization allocates resources to a location based on survey data, they may end up prioritizing a group who doesn’t use the space over another group who is over capacity. Use workplace analytics data, surveys, and employee feedback to drive change. Data is also an unbiased source of truth, leading to more equitable distribution of resources.
6. Redesign spaces and rethink space planning and real estate
When stakeholders begin to look at existing properties and workplace design with fresh perspectives, they can start to reimagine the possibilities. If your executives always had their own offices, but hardly use them anymore, but your sales team is anxious for more collaborative training spaces, it’s probably time for a change. Get creative with space design and use a flexible mindset to imagine multipurpose spaces.
7. Establish workplace policies with equity as a goal
When workplace policies are proactive rather than reactive, they are more effective, and better serve employees. Factor workplace equity into every policy decision, and think ahead. Planning for workplace transformations, changes to employee benefits, and changing a company culture all take time and change management strategy.
What can your company do to offer a more equitable workplace?
Prioritizing the employee experience and working towards a more equitable workplace requires intention and resources. If you don’t already have a dedicated workplace strategy team, consider making your first hire. Is there representation of the employee experience in leadership meetings? How are decisions made in your organization?