Women and the changing nature of workApr 11, 2023
There is no doubt that post pandemic the nature of work has changed for many people. It has literally changed the way we actually work, and I believe this is especially the case for women.
Organisations are more willing to explore flexible working options, in fact many organisations recognise that if they want to attract and retain people then they have to offer flexible work options. Flexible work can mean part time work, working some days in the office and some from home, or changing the core hours of work e.g. working 4 x 10 hour days.
As part of this shift, hybrid work is now a real thing. Pre-pandemic, in one of my HR roles I was trying to set up work from home options for some of our key roles, and the barriers were huge from the health and safety of the desk set up to loss of connection to the office. In the end, it was too hard and the idea that we could have team members working from home was parked. Et voila, 2020 and the pandemic hit and it became the norm for everyone. None of the previous concerns have continued as barriers, it was simply a must do situation.
Here we are 3 years down the track and now that it is ‘safe’ to return to the office many people are reluctant to do so, at least not on a full time basis. This seems to be especially the case for women, the opportunity to be able to blend home and work is too great.
Hybrid work can allow women to balance work and home commitments more easily. Not that hybrid work is a replacement for child care, but it can mean instead of standing at the coffee machine with a colleague in the office for a 5 minute chat, you hang up a load of washing at home. The ability to flex your hours around your home commitments is far too attractive to return 100% to the office environment. Hybrid work can actually start to lessen the mental load that women carry as they are able to take action on the home front while juggling their work commitments.
In addition, women (and men in this instance) are more conscious about their spending and many are rethinking their access to work. With the soaring cost of living they’re not willing to spend increasing amounts of cash on transport, they consider working from home as a way to save money.
For some people, the opportunity to move outside of the big cities and live a more balanced lifestyle is attractive. Hybrid work can afford them this, without a daily commute to be concerned with, they only need to visit the office when necessary.
These are just a few benefits of hybrid work, especially for women. My concern is that there’s too much unknown about the long term consequences of hybrid work.
There is inherently a power disadvantage between those in the office and those working remotely, you’re simply not around when the conversations are taking place and projects are being allocated. Think back to the episode of Friends where Rachel takes up smoking just so she can get the same project opportunities as her colleagues. It’s the old adage that the deals happen on the golf course and if you’re not playing, you miss out. Does this culture still exist? I believe in some industries it does.
In addition, women by nature are less visible in the office, they are less likely to be heard. If more women are inclined to choose hybrid work, how do they raise their voice? More importantly, what is the long term impact on their career?
As the nature of work changes, what are the impacts on women? If equity in the workplace is still a challenge for women, what will be the long term impacts of this changing landscape? Are we as a society, inadvertently creating a new glass ceiling? Are we going to look back on this period in 5 years with regrets?
We don’t have the answers yet, it’s simply too early to know. However if you’re a hybrid worker, I believe you need to be super proactive in managing your career to avoid some of these potential unintended consequences.
My first tip is to ensure you’re regularly sharing your learnings, thoughts, insights with your colleagues and your leaders. If you come across an interesting article, or a new trend, talk about it with others in your workplace. Be proactive in demonstrating that you are still here, and that you have a voice that is important.
When you’re in the office, be cognisant of connecting with your colleagues and leaders. It’s not enough just to show your face on the days you’re scheduled to be ‘in’. Actively seek out those who are important to your career, have conversations with them that are meaningful, and truly connect. Make your presence felt, you want to be remembered when you’re not around for those projects and opportunities.
Plan regular conversations with your manager about your career and your ongoing development. Don’t wait for your annual performance review. Make sure they know exactly what you’re looking for next, even if you’re not ready for it just yet. Ensure they are clear on your interests should projects come up in the future. Don’t leave anything to chance, Murphy's Law is that it will happen on the days you're working from home and you will miss out.
We are by nature social beings, always ensure you support your mental health by staying engaged and connected to your workplace. This can be done remotely as well as in person, but let’s be honest nothing replaces a face to face connection, especially with people who are important to your career.
Focus on getting the balance right. It can be too easy to slide more home time into your schedule without meaning to. The plumber can only come on Tuesday, make sure that’s your day from home, don’t add it to your working from home days. You need to be mindful and intentional about your hybrid working balance.
Time will tell where hybrid work will take us. I hope if you’re a hybrid worker you consider both sides of the experience - the opportunities but also the unintended challenges you may face in the future.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Drop me an email and let’s explore this important topic together - [email protected].
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