Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has been a hot topic in recent years as discussions about discrimination in the workplace around issues such as ageism or racism have come to the fore. While many organisations have adopted policies, workplaces are changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s a new challenge on the horizon for businesses committed to DEI: hybrid work models.  The traditional workday in the office is no longer a reality. Now. most work in a hybrid model where they mix going to the office with telecommunicating from home. Read on to find out how businesses in Singapore can navigate these roadblocks and bridge that gap with careful planning.

The Challenges Posed to DEI By A Hybrid Work Model

In an ideal world, a hybrid work model combines the best of in-person and remote work. But in reality, it is more often than not a double-edged sword offering both opportunities and obstacles. 

With COVID-19 wreaking havoc across businesses and workplaces in Singapore, it was inevitable to transit to a hybrid work model to combat the spread of the pandemic. However, what companies did not realise was that another challenge was creeping up on them silently – the unconscious discrimination that a hybrid work model promotes if not kept in check.

To start off, a hybrid work model could unwittingly set off proximity bias – a theory that workers with closer physical proximity to management in the office will be thought of as more competent employees and obtain greater success compared to their colleagues who often work remotely. A study by The Schwartz Center For Economic Policy Analysis also detailed how the pandemic uncovered ageism in the workplace as a large proportion of older workers lost their jobs against their will. The transition to a hybrid work model in Singapore offices is likely to exacerbate the problem as they may not be as tech-savvy, resulting in reduced chances for them to be hired or retained in companies. Although the challenges are undeniable, there are also strategies for your business to wield the double-edged sword of hybrid work effectively for diversity, equity, inclusivity and company growth.

1. Facilitate Diversity Through Hiring Practices

The adoption of a hybrid work model opens the door to talent diversity. The first step to pursue DEI and tackle discrimination in the workplace is to address the root cause of hiring. Emphasise the importance of having a diverse workforce to your hiring managers and train them in diverse hiring practices. It can be impossible to find workers of every nationality, ethnicity or age range in a country. However, the replacement of a physical workplace with the hybrid work model removes barriers to physical accessibility and facilitates the recruitment of diverse talent in Singapore across different demographics.

2. Create An Environment That Encourages Diverse Perspectives

After ensuring there is increased diversity amongst your employees, the management in a company must be deliberate in building a space that facilitates inclusivity of different perspectives. 

In in-person and virtual meetings, managers should ensure that all the staff have an equal opportunity to contribute. Businesses have different ways to do so such as:

  • Informing everyone involved of the meeting’s agenda beforehand with detailed roles and topics.
  • Setting up a roster of meeting facilitators that includes every team member
  • Engaging every participant at least once through questions and acknowledging their contributions
  • Celebrate differing viewpoints and coach employees through conflicts by encouraging curiosity & acceptance of different answers

3. Provide Opportunities For Team Building 

To facilitate inclusivity, companies in Singapore have to be deliberate in nurturing meaningful connections between employees of different backgrounds. This not just prevents discrimination in the workplace around areas of racism, ageism and gender but team members can overcome the tendency to be drawn to people they already know. Here’s how:

  • Arrange for regular remote sessions to help team members get familiarised with each other
  • Design games or exercises that encourage mingling with unfamiliar team members
  • Get everyone involved in planning for diverse virtual team bonding events

4. Be Deliberate In Arranging Mentorship

Due to the hybrid work model, leaders and staff encounter barriers in engaging someone beyond their immediate network. To promote inclusivity, companies can be intentional to get everyone to expand their circle. Some examples include:

  • Arranging frequent one-on-one meetings to touch base with every team member to identify how they are doing; discuss their professional development goals. Managers should track who they spoke with, and when, to guarantee no one is missed out.
  • Look through the list of mentees and mentors, and be deliberate to pair people with different backgrounds to encourage diversity.

Overcome The Challenges Of The Hybrid Work Model And Achieve DEI 

Ultimately, these practices do not just prevent discrimination in the workplace but it benefits your company too. When leaders are able to harness diverse perspectives, it contributes to enhanced performance for your business in Singapore.

The SBF Sustainable Employment (SE) initiative calls on the Singapore business community to take purposeful action to improve their SE practices in anticipation of emergent trends and future developments. Singapore Business Federation launched this initiative with a report that highlights key recommendations and potential opportunities for businesses to take on to achieve long-term business success and foster a vibrant economy and inclusive society.

Make the pledge to join others in this journey.