When the entire workforce is proficient at conducting their work in the virtual office, it creates an opening for more voices and more time and space to cultivate inclusion.

by Kathleen O’Neill

In June 7, 2022.

The business world began to remove COVID-19 restrictions after the third year of the Pandemic. Policies and campaigns designed to resurrect the way things were before the Pandemic have been tasked with by HR leaders and communications departments. The reality is not possible due to the sleeping giant in the workforce, the remote worker.
There are two types of remote vs. hybrid: remote and hybrid.

In 2020, organizations asked their employees to work from home.  To keep their businesses open, companies that were not prepared to send workers home had to cobble together technology, both hardware and software, as well as policies, protocols and procedures.

The work-from- home experiment has given rise to more flexibility and control of where employees work and how they work. The McKinsey Quarterly recently defined a hybrid worker as someone who does not require a full-time, on-site presence. Today’s hybrid worker expects to determine where and when they conduct their work, and their “back to the office” plans may not correspond with what their CEO and HR team have in mind.
The term “remote” has become more common on job boards. The diversity of talent has been recognized by companies in the past. Leaders know the knowledge and expertise they seek may not reside in the same locale as company offices, and therefore are casting a wider geographical net to attract candidates
The employer is saying that the work can be done anywhere, even if the employee is not physically present. There is a physical proximity to the company site that distinguishes hybrid from remote. The worker is truly remote and works in a virtual office. The words “back to the office” have no meaning for the remote worker.

The office should be redefined

Work from home is not the same as work in the office today. There is a difference between the worker who had to convert their kitchen counter to a workspace in response to office buildings closing and the worker who has established their formal workspace in their home. By design, the former was out of necessity. In order to continue in this mode, remote workers need opportunities that will allow them to live over where they work. With the right technology, remote workers can be limited by their organizational leadership.
To shift the mindset and be inclusive of all employees, we need to change the language of the office. Digital terms such as online and offline can be used instead of the divisive language of “in the office” or “working from home”.

The dialogue for managing and leading a dispersed, hybrid workforce has been opened up by this reframing. With virtual office tools that provide instant messaging, information sharing and collaboration technologies, a manager can see who is in the office regardless of where their employees are.
Reimagine the work place.

Sustaining a cohesive workplace culture is one of the biggest challenges with a physically dispersed workforce. The company values need to be translated into how they apply to individuals and teams regardless of their location. Redefining the construct of the workplace, hours of operation, and how the organization connects and operates within its virtual and physical walls can be a highly engaging and collaborative process that enables rethinking your formal and informal working practices. Here are a few examples of how to change your workplace.

When to use email vs. instant message, when to launch an online discussion forum, and when to host a virtual meeting are some of the ways in which virtual technologies can be used. You can experiment with different approaches, identify what works best for your culture, and codify it with published protocols and modeling.
Teams can be brought together frequently through videoconferencing. Keeping these gatherings brief and informal to stay connected, share timely information, and check in with each other is what the emphasis should be on. A virtual coffee break is the same as a walk to the break room and a cup of coffee before getting back to the task at hand.
When in-person work will accelerate team progress, use your company campuses as gathering places. Establish with remote workers the expectation that they will have to travel frequently to join their colleagues in a central location. It’s equally important to make sure teams have a budget for travel.
In crafting a vision of the ideal working environment and the culture that will support it through fully engaging your talent and utilizing technology, you should be highly inclusive.