As an executive with the City of Toronto, Lawrence Eta now makes a point of not coming into the office every day.
The chief technological officer says that’s because he wants to lead by example and show his employees that there’ll be no preferences between someone who’s working onsite or remotely in their hybrid working model.
The City had already been planning a shift to a permanent hybrid work model before the coronavirus pandemic forced many white-collar employees to work from home about 20 months ago. And its permanent pivot to a hybrid model even after the pandemic’s over is a work in progress.
“I won’t be in the office five days a week, it’s done,” says Eta, who’s only comes into work one day a week at the moment and plans to be onsite two or three days a week down the road. “If we don’t work that way, then staff are going to feel a bit pressured.”
A survey commissioned by Cisco Systems Inc. suggests more managers need to lead by example, since nearly half of Canadian workers are worried they’ll be viewed less favourably and lose out on promotion opportunities if they work remotely in a hybrid working model. At the same time, 77 per cent of respondents said flexibility is a key factor that will be part of their decision to stay with or leave a company.
Shannon Leininger, president of Cisco Canada, says the results show how important it is for employers to form a workplace culture that supports both remote and in-person workers equally. “There are things that you can do and that leaders have to take on to ease those tensions,” she says, adding it’s important that managers meet with their teams and make it clear that they’re making an effort not to unconsciously favour workers onsite over remote workers.
“You really have to sit down and have a conversation about hybrid work and define what it looks like and what are the types of work that needs to happen physically together and what you can do from home.”
Mike Shekhtman, a regional vice-president with recruitment agency Robert Half Canada Inc., says employers need to make a point of shaking old biases, such as calling on a worker who happens to be sitting close to them in a fast-paced environment. “You have to have a remote-focused approach, which ensures that remote workers have the same equity and opportunities as somebody sitting next to you.”
For things like team lunches, Shekhtman suggests sending out food delivery gift cards to workers off-site so they can join in virtually along with onsite staff. “All those little things give people the confidence that, ‘Hey, just because I’m not there, I’m still very much valuable as part of the team.'”
The City of Toronto’s Eta says he’s made a habit of pausing during fast-paced moments to consider if the best person for the task may actually be working remotely, rather than just the worker who’s within sight. “It’s a bit of a mental muscle training thing,” he says, adding that, with tasks that take multiple members, it’s worth the effort to get everyone into a conference room so that remote and onsite employees can work together. “It’s a way we as managers have to check ourselves.”
Leninger also says managers need to consider what their offices will look like in a hybrid workspace and whether desks will be replaced with larger collaboration and meeting areas. She says companies that skew towards remote work will need to reflect that in their office design by making their workspace a collaborative area for employees to be able to work together when onsite. “If you define work and say, ‘Hey, this is when we have to come together . . . and this is what in-person looks like,’ the office needs to reflect that.”