Let’s make hybrid work equitable and inclusive
Nearly 80% of Americans want to work from home one day a week[i]. Firms that don't offer a remote working option risk losing up to 40% of their workforce.[ii] While the desire for hybrid work is clear, it is also plagued with complexity. It has exacerbated existing workplace inequalities and further excluded underrepresented groups.
Many factors contribute to inequality in a hybrid-work world. A remote worker may lack a dedicated home office, be ill-equipped with poor-quality audio and video gear, and get distracted by the noises of kids, pets and neighborhood leaf-blowers. Remote team members are the most likely to feel excluded and marginalized in video meetings, but office-based employees face their own challenges being heard and seen in virtual settings. They may have limited access to quiet rooms for video meetings yet be unable to conduct them from their desks because they don't have noise-cancelling headphones and microphones. Even employees who have access to conference rooms sometimes find themselves feeling left out. In many meeting rooms, there is one video camera and microphone that cannot pan wide enough to show everyone sitting around a table, making it hard for remote workers to decipher who is talking or the nuance of what is being discussed.
Fortunately, companies can take steps now to make hybrid work more equitable. We must all understand that work is no longer a place: It's what you do and how you do it. Leaders must find ways to include employees whether they're based at home or headquarters; they come into the office once a week or every day; or they're road warriors or never leave their home cities. Achieving work equity in a hybrid world means equipping employees with the tech tools that enable them to feel fully seen, heard and valued no matter where they are. Work equity is the outcome of a business that champions work-from-anywhere, deploying technology to give workers autonomy and increase collaboration across underrepresented groups.
Ask your employees what they need
To empower every employee to feel included, they need the right tech tools for their individual needs. The first step in building an equitable hybrid workplace is to ask your employees what they need to be active participants and collaborators. In each company, there are six main types of worker personas: the office communicator, the office collaborator, the remote collaborator, the flexible worker, the road warrior and the connected executive. Take the time to survey your workforce to find out how your employees self-identify within these groups. For each group, there are optimal tech setups that empower team members to do their best work. Pay special attention to the tech needs of underrepresented team members, including disabled workers. For too long, employees with differing cognitive or physical abilities have been sidelined at work, but the new hybrid future, powered by an individualized tech setup for each employee, can empower everyone to show up professionally and on equal footing.
Choose tech tools to tackle common virtual meeting pitfalls
There is an ever-expanding menu of audio and video equipment available today. To narrow your search to find the best tools to empower your teams, focus on addressing common worker challenges and collaboration pitfalls that emerge when teams are dispersed.
For remote workers, choose tools that tame the WFH chaos. Provide these team members with microphones that cancel out background noise, such as kids or barking dogs, and a high-quality webcam. Give them a budget to purchase an appropriate desk, chair and lighting.
For onsite workers, tackle conference room conflicts. Add advanced videoconferencing solutions that can zoom in and auto-focus on each speaker as they talk, and place microphones all around the room, embedded in the table, on credenzas or mounted on the wall. Powerful people-tracking technology allows remote employees to feel like they're in the room and never miss a single comment or side conversation. And for workers who conduct a lot of video meetings from their desks, equip them with noise-cancelling headsets with integrated microphones, quality webcams and any other tools they need to focus in a noisy room.
Embrace futuristic technology
Beyond the best audio and visual equipment that exists today, look to the future to always stay a step ahead of the competition. Advances in AI are already making virtual meetings more equitable, delivering an empowering work experience for in-person, remote and hybrid employees. For example, our company, Poly, is working closely with Microsoft to deliver AI-enabled videoconference systems integrated with Teams that give every speaker in a meeting equal facetime. The system uses AI to do active speaker-tracking, scanning audio, facial movements and gestures to detect who in the room is speaking and zooming in for a closer perspective. With people-recognition technology, AI-enabled video systems can recognize who is speaking and display their name to everyone participating in the meeting, both near and far. AI also helps the system scan a meeting for external sounds and then block them out using Acoustic Fence technologies. The system also does dynamic "group framing" to ensure everyone in a room is equally presented on screen, presenting individuals in their own video pane when they're speaking.
Hybrid work is here to stay. Don't let subpar audio and video technology hold back your company from achieving workplace equity. The right tech tools will ensure virtual meetings become the great equalizer, empowering every team member to participate fully, feel included and do their best work.
Learn more about why the right tech can save your meetings, collaboration and culture at our upcoming virtual event Hybrid Heroes: Equal Meetings for All.