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Enhancing the Equity of Distributed Workforces

By Mike Hicks
| | 8 min read

Summary

A one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work has two fundamental flaws inhibiting all types of workers from benefiting. Visibility can create more equity.


Knowledge workers are set up well for hybrid work; it’s time to consider everyone else’ needs.

The world of hybrid work we have today is still very much a work-in-progress. It does not yet offer the equity of experience or enablement to suit all work types or business requirements. But more to the point, it’s a world with two fundamental flaws.

The first flaw is that it disproportionately favors the needs of traditionally office-bound knowledge or information workers over everyone else.

We see this in research and the one-size-fits-all approach to tooling and strategy that all industries impacted by hybrid work are shoehorning themselves into following.

Knowledge workers are the easiest group to cater to because almost everything they do–with some enablement–can be performed entirely remotely. But they (and their experience) are not particularly representative of the broader employment pool.

Other worker types have had very different experiences adapting to a hybrid work world. Those in service industries, in particular, may be able to do some things remotely but have to attend a physical site, such as a factory, clinic, mine or other settings for the remainder. This arrangement is not akin to how knowledge workers experience hybrid work.

Organizations must place a greater emphasis on enabling more diverse hybrid work models. A one-size-fits-all approach to enabling all possible hybrid work scenarios and models is not viable.

The second flaw is that today’s distributed workforces disproportionately make digital experience the employees’ problem without giving them the tools, data, resources or skills to improve their experiences.

Hybrid work has driven a wedge between some employers and employees. We’ve seen employers blame employees for not having a good-enough home Internet connection, and employees blame their workplaces for not giving them good-enough systems.

The root cause of underperformance, and its potential remediations, may not be evident to either side.

Employers often see the sudden onset of congestion on a home Internet connection or flaky in-home Wi-Fi, for example, as outside their direct control and, therefore, not their problem to solve. But distributed workers may not be technically minded or have the administrative skills to diagnose and correct local issues, and yet they are often unfairly expected to, with little assistance.

Collectively, we overestimate the ability of people to troubleshoot their home environments, which may be due to the focus on knowledge workers when designing distributed and hybrid work setups.

The stereotypical knowledge worker knows enough about computers to troubleshoot issues or create a home-based or remote work setup that can deliver a standard corporate experience. But the reality is different. Many of us sit in virtual meetings where a knowledge worker’s audio or connection can be so poor that they cannot actively participate. Nobody wants to be left out; if they knew how to troubleshoot the issue, they’d do it. 

This technological know-how is even more critical now that more of the world’s working population is distributed. But we can’t assume every knowledge worker can create an always-optimal, corporate-standard setup and maintain it all the time. Nor can we assume that hybrid workers in any other industry will be able to do the same: to accurately diagnose in real-time what is preventing them from participating in a remote telehealth consultation or virtual induction session, for example, and to work around it.

Distributed work that works for everyone 

It's well-known by now that remote work took off during the pandemic. We expect that trend to continue to climb as a more equitable view of remote and hybrid work is adopted and as the specific needs of more types of workers, such as those in the service industries, are better catered to by organizations.

One way of catering to that broader cross-section of hybrid workers is by providing them with an understanding of what is happening on their end: visibility into what is occurring within their environment and actionable insight that allows them to correct issues when they occur.

In our earlier example, the person trying to participate actively in a virtual meeting or virtual training session may not be aware another person in their household has started to use a bandwidth-hungry application at the same time, leading to in-home congestion issues. Or they may not be aware of an upstream issue with their Internet provider causing performance degradation.

If they were aware or could be made aware of dynamic changes to their local environment in real-time, they would be able to understand what was happening and initiate a workaround. They could switch to a cellular connection to beat fixed-line congestion, for example, or provide evidence to their service provider of an issue on their end.

This same information can also help employers be more tolerant and accommodating of variables that cause experience issues between them and their distributed workers. And with this degree of insight, employers can prevent a scenario where a distributed or hybrid worker is allowed to become unproductive in the event their setup fails them.

Imagine a hybrid contact center environment, where some customer support agents work centrally and others log in remotely. The worst-case scenario is that some remote agents experience degraded connectivity, such that they are unable to participate in answering calls. 

If the degradation at the remote agent’s end is recognized and understood, however, the center operator may be able to adjust their workforce planning dynamically in response. For example, agents with low bandwidth connections can be assigned to chat-based support until their connection recovers, at which point they can rejoin the available pool of agents to accept voice calls. 

Everybody wins in this scenario: agents stay happy and productive, while the center can maintain its operating capacity. That should collectively keep the center’s business on track, delivering customer outcomes and revenue.

All hybrid workers need access to the right information at the right time to resolve experience issues they face. This information must also be understandable and actionable for people of all digital skill levels.

By leveling the playing field, we can create more equitable distributed work environments and experiences once and for all.

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