Diversity & Inclusion

Equity in the Workplace: How to Create a Flexible Work Environment for All

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work, but employers continue to struggle with how best to balance corporate goals with employee equity.

Certain companies, such as Goldman Sachs and Apple, are pushing employees back into the office. Others, such as Twitter, have implemented a 100% remote work policy. Both types of policies have challenges that either remove employees’ ability for a flexible work environment or limit personal connections for those who prefer an in-person workplace. Whatever the company’s choice, it is clear the modern workplace has permanently changed.

I am a firm believer that the most successful companies are those that deliver flexibility, optionality, and choice about how employees work. There are a number of hybrid strategies employers can use to retain talent with an equitable environment while continuing to deliver results for the company. 

3 Strategies for an Equitable Hybrid Environment

With companies implementing long-term remote work options to varying degrees, many have changed their hiring practices and expanded their talent pool by hiring remote employees from other states.

At GHJ, we have gone from operating in 1 state a few years ago to 27 states as of September 2022. Here are a few of the strategies we are using to ensure an equitable environment for all our team members.

Extend In-Person Perks to Virtual Employees

As companies are gradually bringing local employees back into the office with in-person events such as happy hours and other perks, it is important to consider how to deliver those same benefits to virtual employees. For instance, if your company offers free lunch for those in the office, consider offering a food allowance or stipend for employees who are remote.

Create Firm-Wide and Departmental Events

At GHJ, we host firm-wide events a couple of times a year to bring all our employees together at the Los Angeles headquarters. Additionally, we have given departmental budgets for teams to do their own retreats each year. For employees who cannot make the trip, we livestream these events whenever possible.

Once a month, we also host an in-person Welcome to the Firm so our new hires can feel connected to each other, meet our leaders, learn about our culture, experience our offices, and know they are a part of something bigger.

The idea is to bring people in for both business meetings and informal events. Our firm-wide gatherings help employees get to know each other better within departments and cross-functionally.

Obviously, these travel-intensive strategies come with a hefty price tag, especially as you continue to grow. Yet, for companies that have gone 100% remote, there is already a reduced or an eliminated real estate cost. Part or all of that previous budget can go toward engagement activities that are fit for purpose.

Implement Ongoing Communication Channels

In addition to in-person events throughout the year, consider other types of communication channels or programming that can fill the gaps in between face-to-face gatherings.

At GHJ, we have started to host regular town halls to share engagement results and have a discussion about the big picture. Our employee resource groups also host guest speakers and activities that are accessible in the office and streamed live.

Virtual programming is an impactful way to ensure employees feel connected and have the information they need, regardless of location, over the course of the year.

How to Equitably Scale in a Hybrid Environment

With broader access to talent, it is important for companies to think about what needs to be done differently to accommodate that growth. GHJ doubled its revenue in the last 4 years and increased our head count by 24% in the past year alone. This fast track is exciting, but it does require new strategies to support all our employees and the firm to ensure no one feels left out.

Stay on Top of Compliance Across Your Geographic Footprint

Compliance becomes an important issue when operating across multiple states. Once a certain level of growth is reached, it makes more sense to consider your national footprint rather than a state-by-state approach. For instance, now that GHJ operates in more than half the country, it is time to think ahead to national benefits plans rather than state-specific ones.

Launch Knowledge-Sharing Initiatives

When your company scales and grows quickly, it is important to put processes, procedures, and playbooks into place. When a company does not have a documented plan for when employees unexpectedly leave, they inadvertently create workplace inequity for the employees who must work to cover those gaps. As you expand and hire people across jurisdictions, consider how to anticipate these knowledge-sharing needs and prepare accordingly.

Incorporate Psychology Safety Training

A final component of maintaining workplace equity while scaling is to promote the psychology of safety and a culture of belonging. Many new employees do not join with an immediate understanding of the company’s environment and culture and often come in with preconceived notions based on their past experiences.

Working in any company comes with written and unwritten rules. An employee who has worked in negative environments in the past may be cautious when entering a new job. When I joined GHJ, I did not realize how candid and free I could be and how safe it was to express myself.

This is why companies should emphasize psychological safety and make sure this mindset is consistent across the organization. Consider rolling out psychological safety training to help fill those gaps, particularly for experienced new hires. This training empowers employees to be happy and feel confident in voicing their opinions, which, in turn, improves retention.

Final Thoughts

The best way to create an equitable workplace in a hybrid environment is to keep flexibility and optionality on the table while always considering how to be inclusive and appreciative of your remote workforce.

You cannot accommodate everyone’s needs—finding a solution that pleases everyone will never get anything across the finish line. However, your team should understand what your employees are looking for and aim to meet those needs as closely as possible. If 80% to 90% of your workforce is happy, it is safe to consider it a success.

Alex Seiler is the Chief People Officer at GHJ, an accounting and advisory firm. In this role, Seiler oversees people and talent strategy, employer branding, organizational design, talent management, and employee experience.

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