women and Gen Z colleagues in hybrid office
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Multigenerational workforce

The power of proximity


June 23, 2024


June 23, 2024

Discovering the hidden dynamics in hybrid work for women and Gen Z

Is hybrid work the new glass ceiling for women and Gen Z? 

While hybrid work has been celebrated as a flexible game-changer, it is crucial to look beyond the surface. Despite its progressive facade, hybrid work could amplify existing workplace inequalities, particularly for women and Gen Z

The influence of physical proximity, or the lack thereof, on career trajectories is profound and often overlooked. Hybrid work, with its potential to limit in-person interactions, could significantly impact this aspect. 

As hybrid work entered the world-work scene, it offered maximum flexibility to manage work-life balance while potentially reducing employers' overheads and enabling them to recruit a wider talent pool.  But this new model is not entirely flawless, and over time, some issues have come up.

For some—mainly women and young workers—this hybrid work environment can further perpetuate existing inequities

They lack visibility, networking, and informal mentoring in career advancement. These minor but critical drawbacks indicate hybrid work may be the glass ceiling for women and Generation Z employees. 

The gender dynamics in hybrid work

In male-dominated fields, the struggle for visibility and the need to progress in careers among women are always tricky; hybrid work often requires long-term periods away from the office, making the situation more complicated. 

A recent McKinsey study showed that women working from home are 20% less likely to be promoted than men in male-dominated sectors who work in the office. It compounds with visibility and mentorship gaps crucial to success in any competitive, male-dominated environment. 

It's not just accomplishing tasks; it's part of the flow of office life, where connections are made and information is shared. Office environments provide many opportunities for informal links: bumping into a senior manager in the hall, pulling into a spontaneous brainstorming session, or being noticed for staying late to work on a critical project. 

These are high-impact moments in career trajectories where visibility and the opportunity to show competence and commitment arise. When women are not present for these organic moments of recognition and bonding, their absence tends to affirm stereotypes and perceptions that they are either not so committed or perhaps even not capable enough, further driving this gender inequality. 

Fresh faces: newbies and proximity 

The traps of hybrid work are gendered, but not just for that; first-year employees across the spectrum have a 25% lower retention rate in remote work cases. Proximity builds relationships and knowledge transfer, essential for acclimating to corporate culture and internalizing those unspoken workplace norms. 

The first days on the job establish a critical base for a new employee's future with a company. They help the newcomer understand the organizational culture, values, and expected orientation. In an office where everybody is physically present, a new hire can learn all these by observing others. 

Casual exchanges would give them an idea of what to expect in this firm, such as participating in team-building activities or getting instant appraisals or correctives from the supervisor and colleagues over work turned in. Such opportunities are significant for establishing confidence, relationships, and belongingness. 

Like their traditional counterparts, remote new hires will find it hard to adapt to the new environment and organization's culture. They may also miss out on information exchange within informal networks, which usually facilitates an individual's professional development. 

Due to their lack of physical presence, they may feel left out and less valued, resulting in higher turnover rates and lower job satisfaction.

Age factor: Gen Z and the hybrid era 

Gen Z, the latest cohort in the job market, experiences a pretty challenging hybrid workspace. Recent studies concluded that 72% of Gen Z employees still prefer the in-person office experience to remain close to mentorship and opportunities for professional development. 

Younger employees benefit disproportionately from proximity because they need guidance, instant feedback, and skill acquisition during these formative years. It is all about the ability to learn and grow for new entrants into the job market. 

Learning is richer through in-person interactions, allowing for subtleties that are difficult to capture through virtual interactions. Physical presence permits novice employees to observe the behavior and decision-making mechanisms of more experienced colleagues, ask any questions right away, and get instant feedback. 

Experiential learning forms the basis for skills and confidence that allow people to progress in their careers. Being in a social environment at work—making friends, finding a mentor, feeling part of a community—contributes largely to job satisfaction and professional growth

Gen Z employees grew up in an age where digital connection meant many things but still somehow missed the personal interaction that physical presence tends to lend. This model, however, takes away these opportunities from employees in their formative years, which can stall their growth on the job and career altogether. 

The interplay of tenure and proximity 

It isn't only flexibility that younger workers experience a downside to; younger workers are just as disadvantaged when working remotely. 

Research shows younger employees suffer more adverse effects when working from home than older colleagues. This accumulated disadvantage calls for targeted policies to help young professionals. 

Young workers generally lack the kind of network and institutional knowledge to call on par with how long they have worked for a particular business. These facts make them more susceptible to the pitfalls of remote work mentioned above. 

A more experienced employee may already have achieved a reputation and built a network to continue providing for their career development, even remotely. 

Younger employees, who are still building their professional identity, are less able to lay down markers and demonstrate their worth when they are not physically present. They miss out on mentoring and coaching, which can only transpire organically in the workplace. This, in turn, delays their professional development and correspondingly shrinks their space to succeed in their careers. 

Workplace psychologists say the need for physical presence in young employees is of the essence. Proximity fosters a sense of belonging and allows young workers to absorb the subtle nuances of professional behavior and office politics crucial for career advancement. 

Reimagining hybrid work 

The need for companies to redefine hybrid work policies becomes obvious. 

While the benefits of flexible working are undeniable, it's equally important to address the potential for extending inequalities. To create a truly equal environment for hybrid workers, companies must purposefully consider structured in-person opportunities for mentoring, team-building, and professional development in blended work models. The need for companies to redefine hybrid work policies is therefore paramount. 

For example, teams can hold in-office days to collaborate, brainstorm, or build relationships. These should be strategically planned to maximize impact and allow for in-person interactions. 

Companies should also invest in training their managers to effectively support remote employees on critical projects and give them equal opportunities for career advancement. 

The company may need to design mentorship programs that provide guidance and support to remote employees like those in the office. 

Performance appraisals should consider the different nature of remote work. They should be results-focused rather than presence-based. Organizations could adopt these best practices to use hybrid work as a model for harnessing the benefits of flexibility with minimal hazards. 

Proximity - a silent catalyst for equality 

Hybrid working should not become a new glass ceiling for women and Gen Z employees. Instead, it is more of a model that should combine the best of both worlds: flexibility at remote work and the opportunity for developing one's career when on the job.

In pursuing flexibility, let us not forget that proximity is a tacit catalyst for equality and growth. Let's not build new barriers in the name of breaking old ones. 

Rethinking, redesigning, and renewing hybrid work policies can help ensure that these companies provide an inclusive environment where everybody, regardless of gender or age, is considered an opportunity for success. This isn't just about what is fair or not; it's also about realizing the potential of a diverse workforce to drive innovation and success in the modern workplace.

Those who can translate these ideals into a reality of equity within the hybrid work model will find themselves on the cutting edge regarding improved employee satisfaction and retention and emerging as a leader in this new world of work. 

The power of proximity

Graziella Moschella

Graziella is a seasoned content marketing professional passionate about storytelling and new media. She writes about DEI, women in tech, and flexible work models. When she's not writing about hybrid work, you'll find her reading or knitting something colorful (that nobody will ever wear).

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