Hybrid working: A blessing or burden for women?

In a roundtable with Pluralsight’s Aleksandra Majkic, Alice Meredith, Cecilia LeJeune and Shelley Benhoff we explore the complexities that hybrid working brings to the home/work/life balance.

For more than two years, employees around the world have seen dramatic changes to how they work – from being forced to work remotely, to embracing new hybrid policies. Over the past few months, some businesses have been encouraging employees to get back to in-office working full time, while others have given up office spaces entirely.

In addition, the rising cost of living in the UK will likely bring more employees into the office in a bid to avoid their heating bills at home throughout the winter. In fact, 14% of employees plan to spend more time working from the office to reduce home energy bills.

For women in particular, the rise of remote and flexible working has had a significant impact – and so might a forced return to the office. The pandemic started fresh conversations about childcare and work/life balance – and if the flexibility around work reduces, women’s ability to balance work and home may be hindered.

With this in mind, Pluralsight’s female technology experts discuss their experiences of remote working and the impact this has had on gender equality in the workplace. They share advice for HR and business leaders to ensure that women aren’t disadvantaged by the types of working models that are developed post-pandemic.

The flexibility and freedom of remote working for women
When the world shut down during the pandemic, the sudden move to remote working was a challenge for businesses who had to adapt quickly to keep operations running. Many female employees have welcomed this shift, and continue to see the benefits of working from home: “What I see as its greatest benefits are flexibility, sense of freedom, and being able to manage personal time more effectively”, said Aleksandra Majkic, IT Business Development Professional and Pluralsight Author.

Even beyond the pandemic, offering these benefits can act as a tool for HR teams to hire and retain female talent. Alice Meredith, Senior HR Professional & Culture Strategist and Pluralsight Author argued, “Remote working has allowed employees the opportunity to learn new skills, better integrate work and life responsibilities and gives employees increased autonomy in their day-to-day work responsibilities.” Businesses that offer employees this kind of flexibility – and allow employees to better balance work and home lives – will likely reap the benefits.

Combatting attitudes around presenteeism should also be a focus for HR teams – looking at employees’ productivity and skill rather than time spent in the office. For example, Design Strategist and Pluralsight Author Cecilia LeJeune, who moved from a flat in the suburbs with almost two hours of commute per day to a house with a garden and zero commute, said “for an effective and productive organisation, it’s about results achieved, well-distributed work, and satisfied employees. It’s definitely not about hours spent at work, or the place the work is done.”

Gender (in)equality
Meredith, a mother juggling six children and a full-time career, also highlighted how remote working will continue to help balance the caregiving workload between parents. “A father who works remotely can take on more responsibility and vice versa. In addition, this opportunity to better balance family responsibilities can create more time and availability for career pursuits for both parents, regardless of their gender.”

HR teams should also look towards flexible and remote working patterns as a way to ensure men and women can take on their share of parenting, and continue to advance their careers.

Hindering career progression
Remote working can pose a potential risk to women’s career progression. Majkic says that remote workers are sometimes perceived as “out of sight, out of mind” and are more likely to be overlooked by HR for promotions, raises and bonuses than on-site employees.

To overcome this, HR teams must work on formalising remote working policies, and enforcing to managers that both remote and in-office employees must be given equal consideration for pay rises or promotions. Beyond that, tailoring working patterns to individual needs – for example childcare – is key. For example, Meredith says “my company recognised early on that my role would keep me away from my family more than 50% of a typical work week and they encouraged me to ensure the time I wasn’t travelling to be time worked out of a home office.”

Shelley Benhoff, Sitecore MVP and Pluralsight Author also explains another form of gender inequality that remote working can overcome. “A woman’s presence in person tends to be diminished in comparison to men. But when you’re remote, your physicality isn’t really in the equation”.

For HR teams, the long-term focus here should be on training to reduce these kinds of biases, to ensure that when women are in the physical meeting room, they are treated with the same respect as male counterparts. For remote work, looking for quality video and audio systems will allow everyone, both in and out of the room, to be seen and heard equally.

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