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Hybrid work survey sheds light on potential for inequities

The No. 1 concern among executives when it came to a flexible workplace model was the potential for inequities to develop between remote and in-office employees.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — Because of the pandemic, many people who had never worked from home now find it to be the norm. 

A new global survey by Slack's Future Forum Pulse found that the "remote versus office debate is over." Hybrid has now become the dominant model for knowledge workers — meaning those who work with data, analyze information or think creatively. 

Fifty-eight-percent of those surveyed across the world said they spend both time in the office, and time at home. Two-thirds say hybrid is their preferred working model. 

"What is clear is people like flexibility," said Pri Shah, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

Seventy-eight-percent of survey respondents said they want location flexibility, while 95% reported wanting schedule flexibility. 

The report found that the desire for flexibility is particularly strong among people of color, women and moms. But with women, parents and people of color spending the least amount of time in the office, the report said leaders must act swiftly to guard against inequity. 

The No. 1 concern among executives when it came to flexible work was the potential for inequities to develop between remote and in-office employees.

Data from the Pulse showed that the harms of proximity bias could fall hardest on historically underrepresented employee groups since they are more likely to have flexible work arrangements. 

According to the report, "In the U.S., 84% of Hispanic/Latinx respondents, 76% of Black respondents and 74% of Asian/Asian American respondents report that they're currently working either remotely or hybrid, compared with just 67% of white respondents."

"What we know about social networks is that there is a proximity component. If you are near people, then you're more likely to interact with them; you're more likely to trust them, be friends with them," Shah said. "There's also a huge homophily component to how people form network ties to begin with. Homophily is basically 'birds of a feather flock together.'"

The report does not say whether employees are choosing to work remote or if their bosses are making those decisions. Shah said that's important. 

"I think bosses, managers, organizations, they're making choices in terms of who do they see as core to that organization and core workers being asked to come back in. And who do they see as more peripheral and able to continue to do their jobs off-site," Shah said. "I think the same inequities you see perpetuated in organizations might be perpetuated there and then might be amplified based on who gets to choose, as well."

Shah said there are a few things people can do to level the playing field. 

For employers, Shah said they should do an inventory of their staff. 

"Think about if they are asking certain roles and employees to come in versus not. Are there systematic differences that perpetuate inequity based on who is in these roles?" 

Shah also recommends employers check in on employees to see how they are doing and make remote workers feel included. For example, setting up ground rules so that those who join via Zoom have just as much space to speak as those in person. 

For employees, Shah said it's important to stay visible. 

"That might mean emailing people, connecting with them on Zoom, making sure they know what you're doing," Shah said. "Asking them questions so they know that you're kind of keeping up with what you're doing." 

She also encouraged employees to check in with their bosses and coworkers. Instead of coffee or lunch, that might mean catching up over Zoom. 

However, the report also found that remote and hybrid employees scored higher than full-time office workers overall on everything from work-life balance, to a sense of belonging. 

The survey also found that requests for more flexibility are not "empty threats," with 72% of workers who want more flexibility at work saying they are likely to look for a new job in the next year. 

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