Remote Work – The Challenge of Hybrid Teams and the Gender Equation

We’re in the middle of a pandemic that took our offices. Suddenly, we collaborate with teammates and clients from kitchen tables and couches. Remote work uncovered the new dynamic of teams that no longer spend time together, and the disparity between those who commute to work while others stay at home is inevitably deeper. On top of that, it appears that the playing field for women and men within hybrid teams has not changed equally. 

Right now, remote work may be the most valuable asset keeping our economies going, and it is here to stay even after lockdowns have been released. How will it influence gender equality?

Remote work for women – a curse or a blessing? 

In some ways, the home office is a liberation from the daily reality where women find themselves silenced or less proactive than their counterparts. Research conducted by Ultimate Software suggests that women reported issues to HR more often when remote, while this wasn’t true for men. They also felt more confident that HR understands their needs, reported more promotions, and significantly more of them thought there is room for growth in their role. 

All in all, surveyed women no longer felt that they must present any immediate facade to their male colleagues. The challenges they usually faced due to their gender have effectively been removed, suggesting a woman could remotely thrive in a position that previously may have been a struggle. If women genuinely feel more empowered to speak up only when they are not in the office, that should be a red flag for leadership: something indeed isn’t right.

Organizations should be ready to provide adequate support in the workplace and ensure that all voices are heard. This is specifically important as we acclimatize to hybrid working with some people working remotely and others in the office. 

Leadership and the gender equation

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for women, though. In a recent panel discussion at the Said Business School, University of Oxford, the panelists discussed how “women have typically also taken on the lion’s share of caring responsibilities during the pandemic, and have been losing jobs in record numbers.” (Oxford Answers – Navigating the next norrmal: a view from female leaders). Future leaders should create a fairer workplace for all society and not dismissive towards those who are the primary caretakers in the household. They should be responding with a new level of engagement and empathy. Leadership should instigate and embrace collaboration and safeguard support towards one another. 

“I often say, if we weren’t talking about COVID, the economic crisis, and the crisis around social justice that amplified this year, the issues we would be discussing around purpose-led businesses, particularly around an ESG agenda and / or the impact of technology on work and polarizing globalization. There are multiple huge vectors on our generation and us as business leaders, and I do think it has resulted in a much more authentic and plain-speaking type of business style that I hope stays because I do think to cut through the complexity and seriousness of the issues we’re having, you know, we need just a little bit more real talk from our leaders,” said Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, Former CEO, Mitie Group PLC

Hybrid teams – what challenges do they face?

The challenge rising on the horizon is that of hybrid teams: a phenomenon that is developing more rapidly as a result of the pandemic. We’ll see more and more people employed in the same department, but not all of them may be commuting to the office. 

Understandably, when leading remote teams, one has to potentially pick and choose who is kept in the office and who is allowed to work remotely. It is vital to develop and maintain a remote-compatible culture. Policies and training should be set out specifically for hybrid teams and embrace inclusion, and leadership needs to consider the career progression of remote female workers within such teams. 

Redefining remote work and office dynamics 

Remote work opens up an opportunity to challenge the gender equation and explore a workplace dynamic where people select whether they come to the office. There are positive prospects for hybrid working models to complement hybrid technology environments. 

Authentic leaders of any gender can be critical models of a non-traditional organization. Should we become advocates for new policies, visibility, empathy, connection, and collaboration, we can minimize any potential communication gaps. 

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