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Equity Versus Equality in a Hybrid World

Hybrid. Everybody’s talking about it. Organizations all over the globe believe that it’s necessary to install the hybrid model of managed flexibility. Or, even better, install a 4-day workweek to retain employees and improve work/life balance. If this is the future of work or the holy grail for employees, why are so many of us opting out of the workforce? And why are we still spending time slotting people into a fixed schedule of days in, days out?

First off, flexibility – no matter what you call it – is not innovative. Let’s not pretend we just invented it. And it’s not a new idea. Organizations have been doling out flexible work options in dribs and drabs for decades, only to eventually bring everyone ‘back on deck’. And in the end, it’s the people that are in the office who we attend to. It’s much easier to manage people you see, than people you don’t.

Let’s face it, once and for all. Flexible work options are permission-based and will always be in the hands of management. Some people are granted a flexible work schedule, other staff is not. Such a work culture cultivates mistrust, envy, and guilt. And worse, a primarily disengaged workforce.

Pitfalls of Managed Flexibility

Let’s look at the road we’re going down and the pitfalls of continuing to manage flexibility.

It’s a commonly held belief that by creating the hybrid workforce, or the 4-day workweek we’re making everything ‘equal’. Everyone gets the same schedule, and opportunity to utilize it (and yes, the manager must agree). And with equality, each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Sounds good, yes?

But what about equity? Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. Interesting.

Equity and equality both promote fairness in the workplace. But equality achieves this through treating everyone the same regardless of need, while equity achieves this through treating people differently dependent of need.

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Today, organizations are trying to create an equal experience for all by controlling people’s time and location. For example, using the hybrid approach organizations are allowing everyone to work 3 days in the office and 2 days at home. But does this approach work for every single role in an organization, and for every single week? And are we treating people the same regardless of need, or are we treating people differently depending on need?

Business needs shift and change. People have roles that do not fit nicely into the hybrid box. And what seemed equal is now creating an unequal experience.

With equality, managers are still directing when and where people work. And it will never end up truly being fair.

An equitable experience – which is critical for today’s workforce – puts everyone on a level playing field of autonomy and accountability. Being held accountable for measurable results for your role is standard. And, add to that the autonomy to make the choice to work when and where you work best – every single day. No judgment about who you are or how you choose to live your life.

If I have a location-specific role, I choose to go to that location to get my results. And I am held accountable to those results. I am not distracted by feeling marginalized by not getting to have 3 days in the office, 2 days at home – the ill-fated attempt to make everything equal.

Equity is good for people and for business.

Let’s think of everyone simply as ‘someone who does work’. Next, drop all of the silly labels that erode trust and engagement like ‘remote worker’, ‘teleworker’, ‘flexworker’ which are simply ways to control people’s time and location at the expense of optimal business results.

That’s the easy stuff.

Time to Get Clear on Measurable Results

It’s never been a better time for organizations to do the hard work - the real work - shifting everyone’s focus to getting crystal clear on the measurable results they are expected to achieve. And once everyone is clear, hold teams and individuals accountable to just that. Achieving the measurable results they were hired to achieve. At the same time, step out of the way so people can choose the most efficient and effective way to do that every single day. Manage the work, not the people.

Want everything to be equal? Go for a hybrid or 4-day workweek.

Want results, engagement, trust, and optimized business results? An equitable workforce, establishes a culture of autonomy and accountability. That is the true game-changer.