How to prevent hybrid working models from worsening the digital divide?


Actual Experience

Our latest report, 'Reconfigured: New management models in the hybrid era' has revealed that two thirds of business leaders are concerned about digital inequality. To keep your best talent onboard while protecting their productivity, we need to close it. Fast. Here’s how to ensure the advantages of hybrid working apply to all, not just the few. And why it should be high on your environmental, social, and governance (ESG) agenda.

Hybrid working. Debating the (vast) benefits of this ‘new normal’ is fast becoming old hat. We know it works. And we’ve proved it works well. 

The new challenge is making sure hybrid works well, for all. 

There’s a very real (and imminent) danger of a new equality gap arising from this now-not-so-new way of working. And this will become problematic for staff, HR or people teams and overall business performance. 

You see, hybrid only works if the tech does. And for many employees, the latter doesn’t. 

Equality problems are emerging between those who have access to good digital services and those who don’t. Many employees will be working with digital limitations. Limitations that have nothing to do with job performance or personal ability. 

And so, it will become increasingly important for businesses and HR to identify where those disadvantages lie, and to implement the small changes that can make significant differences to productivity, employee wellbeing and the bottom line. 

But how exactly can this be achieved, and where exactly do we start? By using specific, objective and actionable data insights, based on the human experience of technology use

With this information, you can begin to create a level playing field for all employees, and better support your people-first agenda, diversity and inclusion commitments, corporate social responsibility initiatives, and your board-level Environmental, Social and Governance objectives. 

Why workers aren’t on the same wavelength

In an office setting, the working environment is homogenised. Everyone has roughly the same computer, the same internet access, the same ability to ring IT to get a problem fixed. But while remote employees are generally provided with a standard laptop, that’s usually where the tech provision ends. 

Take an average working day. Most hybrid workers will need access to multiple systems, services and applications, all running in tandem, in order to do their job and communicate with colleagues and clients. 

Internet quality will determine if those systems are running slowly, if access is difficult, or if information isn’t available when it’s needed. 

But internet quality varies greatly. Those in rural areas and localities with poor connectivity are naturally at a disadvantage. The same applies to those who can’t afford faster broadband provision or Wi-Fi booster technology. Even employees on higher incomes may struggle with a home setup that must accommodate several family members visiting cyberspace simultaneously. Likewise, those with less technical knowledge might not even be aware that there is a solution – or a problem, for that matter.

Global companies may witness these inequalities on a national scale; some countries simply have better internet infrastructure than others. 

What’s the cost? 

For employees: increased frustration and reduced wellbeing caused by lagging load times, connectivity delays, and interrupted conversations. On an organisational level, it can mean poor productivity, reduced profitability, wasted time, falling customer service standards, and damage to your reputation and revenue. 

On average, six hours are wasted every month per employee experiencing digital inequality. 

On an individual level, deadlines and targets may not be hit, impacting performance and potentially the future of individual careers. 

Equally, there’s the effect on stress levels. Whether it’s web pages taking too long to load, not being able to log onto the company intranet or having to regularly ask people to repeat themselves on a video conference call because connections keep dropping out. Daily frustrations build. Employees can feel angry, disconnected and unmotivated. And that’s never good news for your business.

When it comes to employee internet capabilities, the bottom 10% of a company will be facing more daily frustrations, dropping off more calls and wasting more precious minutes every time they access the company cloud storage. This might lead to falling behind, or having to catch up while others are enjoying their leisure time.

When you narrow the assessment to the bottom 5% or 2% of a company, the impacts of poor internet are even more extreme. Those disadvantaged structurally find it much harder to jostle for position. They’re more likely to miss targets, sacrifice bonuses and lose out on promotion opportunities. 

Solving digital inequality, the right way 

Businesses sometimes stop short of settling the matter because firstly, they don’t know how to identify who is struggling, and secondly, they don’t know where the root cause sits in their internet infrastructure. Or indeed, if it’s the internet infrastructure at all! (Perhaps users have too many programmes installed, or an overabundance of software running, for example.) 

Between the router in an employee’s home and the digital destination of their work – whether it’s a data centre, cloud host or software application – there are a whole host of factors that can slow down or stop a person’s work. 

There’s no point in shipping routers when it’s internet providers that are the problem, or installing business broadband for people when the largest issue lies with a work app. 

So how do we find these elusive answers? 

There’s no need to forfeit weeks for IT diagnostics, waste hours of downtime or spend thousands on unnecessary equipment upgrades. 

If we want to make the most difference to the right people, at the right place, in the right way, we need data. Unfortunately, our research, which surveyed over 300 C-suite execs, found that less than one in five (18%) believe they have a ‘very effective’ understanding of the digital needs of different employees.

But not all data is created equal

The traditional way to collect data has been the humble survey. And there’s still something to be said for its ability to record how someone is thinking or feeling at a specific moment in time and to gather information relating to sentiment and culture. But surveys alone don’t tell you the whole picture. They aren’t ‘always-on’. And it can be challenging to extract actionable insights from the data.

Perhaps answers can be found via your IT department. But if someone hasn’t raised a ticket for an issue, how can you know there’s a problem? Not every employee will be confident enough to speak up and ask for help – especially if it could be considered a personal issue, such as not being able to afford decent broadband. And some won’t even realise their challenges have a solution, assuming that poor internet connectivity is just something “everyone has to put up with”. Information obtained in this way will be anecdotal at best.

That’s why being able to accurately measure a hybrid worker’s digital environment is so important. Most businesses have IT-level monitoring in place to analyse the technical performance of their technology. But far fewer understand the critical need to quantify the human experience of using it – and the organisational-level impact that can have. 

More than this, through a data driven approach, HR executives are given the information and the tools to accurately highlight which employees are struggling with which specific aspects of the digital infrastructure. This way, these employees can be provided with the specific help they need to have an equitable chance to succeed in the workplace.

Want to learn more?

To learn more about how executives are adapting the C-suite to fit the new hybrid world access our full, free and ungated report here.