As many companies plan for and transition to a hybrid working environment, one question that arises is: How do they foster communication with each of their employee populations equally?

Before we jump to the answer, let’s look at a few quick definitions. 

First, what do we mean by “hybrid”? A hybrid workforce typically involves some combination of these three scenarios:

  1. Employees who work from home on a full-time basis
  2. Employees who work from the office on a full-time basis
  3. Employees who work from home some days and from the office on other days

Second, “equality” means the state of being equal, especially in status, right, and opportunities.

It’s impossible for all of the hybrid scenarios above to be considered equal. Employees who are in the office will likely have access to opportunities that those who work remotely won’t, such as face time with leaders, grabbing coffee with a colleague or information imparted in a drive-by conversation. 

So perhaps the question isn’t about equality, but instead about equity?

Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. 

Equity is a solution for addressing imbalanced systems, and a hybrid environment certainly fits that criterion. Below are a few ways to embrace equity in a hybrid work environment.

  1. Adopt a virtual-first mindset

Encourage employees to plan for everything with the assumption that all parties are virtual. This will help equitably accommodate those who can’t be in-person. In practice, this could look like: 

  • Scheduling every meeting with a videoconference link AND a physical conference room. 
  • All meeting participants joining via their individual computers, even if several are in the office together. This will give everyone the same view.
  • Encouraging in-person meeting attendees to join the videoconference as soon as they enter the conference room so remote participants don’t miss out on informal banter that helps build connection.
  • In-person attendees actively encouraging those joining virtually to make their voice heard (for example,  saying “John, we haven’t heard from you yet. Do you have anything to add?”).
  • Avoiding the use of “otherizing” language: Asking your co-workers if they’ll be “in” on Friday, saying that you’ll wait until someone is “back in the office” before you schedule a meeting, or telling someone it’s nice to “e-meet” them, can make remote team members feel like second-class citizens.
  1. Encourage clear, consistent information flow

In a hybrid environment, effective communication flow is essential. While one employee happens to catch a drive-by conversation in the office, the person sitting at his or her desk at home isn’t afforded the same opportunity. As an employer, you can help bridge this gap by providing employees with clear guidance on information sharing and documentation. For example, if something meaningful comes out of an informal office conversation, it is the responsibility of the person in the office to loop in those who aren’t. If something of importance is discussed/decided in a format where only some people are privy to it or it’s not accessible to those who need to be looped in, it needs to be documented and shared.

The most important thing is to be consistent in where, when and how your organization documents and stores information (and who is responsible for doing so) so everyone, no matter where they are, can quickly and easily access it. 

  1. Prioritize relationships

Communication is not just about information sharing; it’s also about relationship-building, and a hybrid work environment requires more conscious effort to do both of these things. Without making room for relationships across the organization, those who are in the office are more likely to have stronger bonds with one another, which opens the door to favoritism — whether conscious or not. 

Company leadership should strongly encourage frequent virtual face-to-face interaction — between manager and employee, within teams and cross-functionally — to connect on a level beyond just business talk. Fun social hours, trivia contests, game nights, coffee chats…even just opening each meeting with a personal update is a good start. And companies that sponsor opportunities for employees to connect benefit from improved morale and synergy. 

In transitioning to a hybrid work model, the playing field inherently becomes less level, but with the right care and attention, it can still be equitable.

Monica Lawton is a business communications professional, currently leading internal communications and employer brand at Discord (the voice, video and text app that helps friends and communities come together to hang out and explore their interests).