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Get Woke: How to Include DEI in Hybrid Work Strategizing


Multi-colored wooden figurines on a blackboard to show diversity
Image: Esin Deniz -
Hands-down, workplace strategists planning the return to office see finding ways to help people renew their connections with each other and collaborate effectively in far-flung teams as top priorities. But the hybrid work model also affords enterprises the opportunity to take a hard look at the nature of the workplace and corporate culture. But not every organization is taking advantage.
The approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as part of hybrid work planning is particularly telling, Melissa Marsh, executive director of PLASTARC, a social science-based workplace consultancy, shared in the latest of our ongoing series of WorkSpace Connect briefings. Only the most “sufficiently woke” organizations are “rethinking what was and wasn’t equitable in the workplace as previously structured and trying to think about how we go back to something else,” she said.
Applying DEI awareness to hybrid work strategy leads to reflection on questions such as: Who has and hasn’t been able to keep their jobs in the last year, and why? If we bring people back to the office, who benefits from that, and who doesn’t benefit from it? Pre-COVID, how much did the underlying assumption of “see and be seen” affect workplace operations? Sufficiently woke organizations are thinking, “‘What is inherently inequitable about the way we’ve mandated people being co-located, and who does and doesn’t benefit from that?’” Marsh said.
In terms of who bears the brunt of a return-to-office decision, a gender imbalance would be an easy spot, common from one workplace to workplace. Especially in light of the “Great Resignation” trend, Marsh said she sees organizations looking more broadly to determine “if people are quitting because they don’t see a future for themselves at an organization where they don’t see people who look like them.”
And many are leaving for that reason. Now that people have been away from the office, they can assess their workplaces with a clinical eye, almost as objective outside observers, Marsh said. “Does this place look like me?” is one of the questions on their minds, she added.
With this recognition, enterprises must get down to the brass tacks of how they factor DEI into the rethink around and budgeting for hybrid work. “Now that we’ve collectively agreed that the workplace is less equitable than we thought it was,” Marsh said, “how are we going to spend our resources differently to ameliorate that?” And this, she added, is where the DEI strategy intersects with technology and facilities/real estate in future-of-work planning.
“There are so many things about a future hybrid work environment where the physical technology for the workplace is pretty mediocre,” Marsh said. “There’s tons of invention yet to happen, should companies choose to spend their time on it rather than just saying, ‘Get back here.’”