'Us vs them': How to manage inequality in remote work

How can HR leaders keep everyone working cohesively with a common vision?

'Us vs them': How to manage inequality in remote work

The scene is set. It’s 2025. There’s a new plague sweeping the world and talking is only allowed on mobile phones and in your immediate households. You may only commute to work to pick up essential equipment or to work in an isolation booth where all food and drink is already prepared and disposed of in the immediate area.

Okay, this may seem like an opening scene of a movie but the change in workplace attitudes and locations won’t go back to what it was. Hybrid working is here to stay so the question begs, how do we keep everyone together and working cohesively because for some industries, it is not effective, while most for individuals it is a slice of heaven.

“For any workforce to work at maximum efficiency, they need a common vision,” Jo Alilovic, employment lawyer, founder of flexible law practice 3D HR Legal, said. “This becomes even more important for a hybrid workforce, which by its nature can lead to an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality. By keeping a common vision front of mind, when teams come together with a goal of working together to achieve that vision, they are more likely to be centred on the work that needs doing and less on any perceived challenges of working in a hybrid format.”

Make that connection

Connecting a hybrid workforce is not easy. The personal connection is lost over Zoom meetings and people have grown tiresome of constant video calls. Alilovic believes there are three ways to connect a hybrid workforce.

“First, you need to give all employees a common purpose,” she said. “Secondly, you need an online meeting policy. Everyone is sick of being ‘left out’ when they are online and everyone else is there in person, so put everyone online. Thirdly, you need to have consistent team social interaction. This might require everyone to come into the office on a certain day each week or a scheduled online social event or regular offsite social meetings.

“This is where human resources comes in. Human resources is there to act as a leader – to lead by example and show how effective and productive hybrid teams can be. To provide training to managers who are struggling with the idea of managing people that they can’t see. To provide support to staff who are more remote than in the office, to make sure that they are being effective, keeping their boundaries in place, and maintaining a sense of connection to the team.”

Being creative and keeping the culture alive

The hardest aspect of ensuring work colleagues pull together and are feeling in unison comes when people are disseminated throughout the state and/or country. This is compounded by a lack of personal unity when face-to-face interaction is either minimal or doesn’t exist.

Maintaining a company culture is important for any business,” Rachael Francis, human resources director for RMIT Online, says. “Doing this in a hybrid working world can be a challenge. To keep our staff connected, we have several initiatives that allow for face-to-face and virtual interaction.

“Gone are the days of weekly impromptu post-work drinks. Instead, we’ve planned for monthly face-to-face catchups for those comfortable physically meeting up. These are scheduled and promoted well in advance to give staff time to prepare.

“We also utilise Slack’s Donut feature, which we call coffee roulette internally, to help connect teams serendipitously and encourages them to meet in person or virtually for a coffee, peer learning, and more. This is a great tool to introduce staff to others outside of their immediate teams and gives a chance for colleagues to get to know each other outside of work.”

Empathy is important

Surveys, regular one-to-one catchups, whether in person or online, are also vital to ensure that everyone is feeling connected and working towards their stated objectives.

The more you impart information, the more empowered employees feel making them feel part of the company culture.

“Managers set the tone. Leaders also need to be visible, guide and support their teams through any of these challenges they may be facing. It’s important to have the right strategies in place that work for you and your team, and that they’re communicated effectively.

“Empathy is fundamental to this new working world. Building team empathy not only helps your staff better understand each other, it also introduces health benefits and can help improve moods, boost mental health, and improve working relationships with colleagues. It’s important to create a safe space where colleagues can discuss their concerns and help support each other.”

Connecting and communicating in a hybrid environment is essential for the survival of the business and whatever combination of methods you choose, just remember to keep it regular and keep it real.

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