Hybrid working: companies must address digital inequality

Faced with serious consequences, business leaders are increasingly concerned about the impact of digital inequality among employees

The advent of hybrid working offers an opportunity for employees to choose when, where and how they work. It can also promote wellbeing and help create a better work/life balance. However, it could also widen equality gaps in the workplace.

A common example is employees working on different continents – or even different regions within the UK – that use different infrastructure and have a different home broadband setup.

A recent report from people analytics and consulting company, Actual Experience, reveals organisations are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of digital inequality on employees, as hybrid working looks set to become the new normal.

Indeed, 67% of C-suite representatives surveyed say they’re worried these new ways of working will introduce inequalities in how people access and use digital tools.

And for good reason. The company has found that, on average, 10% of an organisation’s employees need to work an extra six days per year to do the same work as their colleagues.
“Our data reveals the hidden cost of an uneven playing field in the digital workplace. These six days of wasted time would mean a reduced work/life balance and increased work stress due to the frustration,” says Actual Experience co-founder and CEO, Dave Page.

A failure to look after employees - the ‘social’ in ESG - can have a detrimental effect on a business’s value to its investors

“This could also impact on time they could otherwise spend on personal or professional development, thus limiting their opportunities for career growth,” says Page. “To the business, this means reduced work output, lost revenue, and wasted payroll. For larger clients, we’ve seen this run into seven-figure sums. Worst case scenario, if issues are not identified and fixed, staff may resign.”

Other disparities can occur closer to home, perhaps where the internet in different regions of the UK varies greatly in quality. Employees with more disposable income might be more likely to purchase higher-quality broadband to access digital tools reliably and quickly – but this may not be affordable for everyone.

Despite business leaders’ concerns about the impact of digital inequality, there are worrying signs in terms of business preparedness for making hybrid work in the long term.
Actual Experience reports that fewer than one in five (18%) believe they have a ‘very effective’ understanding of the digital needs of different employees.

This will cause a problem when it comes to hiring and retaining employees, says Page.
“CHROs are going through that journey right now. Business leaders are realising that, in the world of hybrid or remote working, it’s now very easy for employees to move to a new employer. They are no longer limited geographically. Therefore, the landscape has become more competitive, and CHROs are all too aware that, to attract and retain the best talent, they need to ensure that the employee experience is positive – not just for big milestone moments but for the day-to-day too.”

However, Page contends that the digital aspects of work have for too long existed in a separate silo from the employee experience aspects. CIOs, who own the digital experience, have not been sufficiently aligned with people leaders, who own employee experience. As a result, companies’ understanding of broader employee experience has been fragmented.

There are also some worrying indications that organisations aren’t acting on employees’ worries or complaints regarding their tech problems. Only 19% have a very good understanding of the link between digital tools and employee wellbeing.

“Typically, employers will run employee surveys to identify any issues. However, while surveys can be very useful, it only shows a snapshot of data at that time. Additionally, surveys are often anonymised, rely on the employee accurately reporting the issue they’re experiencing, and do not offer insight on what the problem is,” says Page.

Clearly, a failure to ‘level up’ those hybrid workers suffering in silence can have serious consequences.

“Our reports identify millions in lost revenue opportunity and wasted payroll due to time wasted and reduced business output,” says Page.

He believes a failure to look after employees – the ‘social’ in ESG – can have a detrimental effect on a business’ value to its investors. With more and more investors prioritising ESG initiatives as a factor in deciding where to invest, companies which do not look after their people may suffer the consequences of reduced share price and negative attention in the media.

So, what can CHROs do to successfully navigate this problem and manage the new distributed workforce?

“This is a great opportunity for CHROs to act as a lynchpin between the HR/people function and IT to ensure that the right data points are continuously monitored and analysed, with tech issues investigated,” says Page.

To help fulfil this, Actual Experience produces data analytics which act as a survey of all employees but without the need for any employee interaction. Unlike employee experience surveys, which offer a snapshot of data at a particular time, it’s always-on people analytics offer measurements insight on root causes, over a period of time.
“We also identify precisely where and why the problems are occurring so we can advise on how best to overcome them, for example for specific employees requiring support, or for specific areas of tech that require investment,” says Page.

“Larger organisations are under pressure to report on ESG initiatives in their annual report. Our Continuous Improvement Process of monthly or quarterly reports enables business leaders to report on tangible improvements in areas such as equality and inclusion and carbon emissions.”

The transition to new ways of working is the greatest management challenge that companies have faced in decades. Companies need to understand how and why inequalities emerge in different working models and the usage of digital tools.

The consequences of failing to ensure that staff have the tools they need to do their best work, no matter where they are, can be hugely detrimental to employees and employers alike. For employees, it can stunt their personal and professional development of employees, limit upwards mobility, and widen equality gaps. For organisations, it can make sustainable business growth unachievable.

If HR/people leaders get hybrid right, they can pave the way for a fairer, more productive employee experience, a positive working culture, a strengthened purpose and better alignment between the customer and employee experience.

For more information please visit actual-experience.com

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