What do women want from the workplace? Flexibility, according to a growing number of studies. Employees with young children are more likely to prefer primarily remote-working models and flexible work locations, according to a recent McKinsey & Company survey[1] on the future of remote work. Only 8% of respondents with young children said they would like to see a fully on-site model in the future. 

“The flexibility resulting from pandemic shutdowns was wonderful for many working women,” says Leanne Meyer, executive coach and author of Climbing the Spiral Staircase: How Women Can Navigate their Careers and Accelerate Success. “Everyone – women and men -- suddenly could work remotely and performance didn’t suffer. And the people who benefited the most from flexibility and not having to spend hours a day commuting were women.”

In addition to new levels of flexibility, we also experience increased empathy in the workforce during the pandemic,” Meyer adds. “As we peered into one another’s homes and lives, for the first time, leaders were developing a real understanding of the ‘double shift’ where women found themselves.”

But Meyer is concerned that the so-called return to normalcy and proliferation of remote and hybrid work opportunities will erode employees’ new-found empathy and may give way to two-track careers: advancement for those who come into the workplace, and fewer opportunities for those who don’t.

“To be successful in a hybrid model, we have to listen to one another and build community differently,” says Meyer.

Tips for women on a hybrid schedule

“To be successful at work, you need to be seen,” says Meyer. “People need to see you demonstrating your skills. That’s what leads to stretch assignments and advancement.”

  • Virtual meetings are opportunities for visibility. “Get comfortable with the technology so you can use it effortlessly, turn on your camera, and talk during meetings so you’re heard and seen,” Meyer advises.
  • When you can’t be on camera, use the chat feature for visibility. “Chat can be a woman’s superpower,” says Meyer.
  • Realign your calendar to prioritize relationship-building during your in-person days. Schedule physical meetings and luncheons when you’re in the workplace and save virtual meetings and quiet working days for when you’re remote.

Tips for hybrid leaders

Meyer suggests that hybrid leaders begin to think of the workplace as a “tool or “channel” rather than a “destination.” For brainstorming new ideas or solutions, the office or factory floor where employees can gather in person may be the ideal channel. But for one-on-one meetings, the virtual tool is probably sufficient.

Meyer offers these additional tactics for leaders in a hybrid work environment:

  • Establish designated in-person days and model the behavior by sticking to them. “When managers designate two in-person days per week but show up in person five days a week, it puts pressure on employees to also show up -- and that can jeopardize the career advancement of those who choose to work from home more often,” says Meyer. “Leaders need to be mindful of the example their behavior is setting.”
  • Implement virtual office hours when employees can informally drop in to ask a question or share an idea, just as they would if your physical office door was open.
  • Schedule 60-minute virtual meetings but conclude the business 10 minutes early, encouraging participants to use the remaining time for the relationship-building chit-chat that normally happens in an in-person setting.