It’s easy to see why the remote working revolution is here to stay. Put simply, the benefits are too good to ignore. It enables employees to have the flexibility they have craved for so long and means they are more productive – saving valuable time on the commute.

Studies also show employees who work from home are less likely to quit and generally more satisfied in their work. As a result, even in jobs that no one imagined could be done virtually, we continue to see a growing number of companies announce permanent remote working.

However, that’s not to say remote working doesn’t have challenges. Principally, one of the biggest amongst them is the risk that it could make women less visible and therefore further widen the gender divide. Why, you may ask?  Women still earn less, have less parity and feel the brunt of the ‘motherhood penalty.’ Even amongst the ‘female dominant’ marketing sector, the stark reality is that men still occupy the more senior roles and take home the top salaries.

At the same time, women are more likely to work from home to have a better work and life. Yet studies show that people who visit the office less are less likely to secure a promotion. Thus experts suggest that there is a risk that women at-home workers may find it even harder to get the career benefits that come with being in easy contact with decision makers. Therefore, for those brands and agencies going remote, the big question is –  what can business leaders do to support better gender equality and inclusivity?

Storyblok is fairly unusual in that it has been fully remote since it was founded in 2017. We’ve grown to a team of 230+ people in 45+ countries, and have a proven track record in providing a supportive, progressive workplace for everyone –  including women who make up 40 percent of our team. This has meant we’ve had to spend a lot of time developing processes and policies that fit remote work, and employing technology to ensure an inclusive, nurturing team –  of all genders, ages, abilities and backgrounds.

Close-knit culture

Culture is everything when it comes to creating a fair and harmonious workplace. This requires creating an environment which is not just innovative and progressive but underpinned by an inclusive feel, where every employee is able to have a voice.

At Storyblok, for example, we go to great lengths to ensure a variety of points of communication to ensure that everyone gets their chance to speak up and express their thoughts, needs or ideas. From regular ‘Ask me Anything’ sessions under the premise that no question is wrong or ‘too out there’, through to regular employee surveys and annual reviews, the remit is to ensure our people feel safe sharing any concerns and putting their suggestions forward. We also organise randomised ‘coffee chats’  where people speak for 30 minutes to their colleagues in different teams. This enables people to break the ice with people they may not get the chance to regularly interact with.

For us, it’s about bonding people on a human level so they fully understand each other’s perspectives and create a unique culture where everyone is able to bring their true authentic selves to work as an important, valued member.

This approach is especially important for employees returning to the office for part-time employees, those returning from maternity or paternity leave, or working flexible hours who may not feel as tight-knit in the workplace community.

Management matters

Management, of course, has a big role to play here too. Inherently, virtual meetings or Zoom do not afford the same rapport-building and feedback mechanisms essential to traditional management practices, so it’s important for managers to think outside the box.

It may sound obvious but to begin with as a good manager, it is essential to ask your team members – what is your preferred way of communicating? From our experience the virtual forum isn’t necessarily always conducive to introverts, making it easier for quieter team members to fade into the background. Given that studies show that many female workers already struggle to speak up, this becomes an even more crucial focus.

To address this, we hold regular check-ins where we go through each team member’s goals and ask where they are. For some members it can also help to have a meeting at the beginning of the week and define the weekly tasks and review them at the end of the week together. Communication can happen via Slack, recorded videos or meetings. What’s great here is that quieter team members who may not necessarily want to shout out on team calls are able to share their thoughts and ideas in written form if they prefer.

Making more data-driven assessments of performance can help to take human bias out of the equation too.  For example, some managers may subconsciously favour in-house team members they talk to face-to-face and reward them accordingly. Relying more on the hard facts (achieved goals, met deadlines, met KPI) can remove this danger and also help with diversity and inclusion.

Keep it human

Next, it sounds obvious but make sure that you take the time to genuinely get to know your people, who they are, what they like, dislike, how they are feeling.  All too often, especially in busy agencies, it can be easy to have all these great team-bonding and wellbeing initiatives, only to get swept away in the day-to-day or the next new brief. This is a mistake. Whether it’s something as simple as asking a team member if they had a good weekend or arranging an impromptu virtual coffee catch up, it’s about showing them that you genuinely care and that they are important. You do not want anyone falling through the cracks and it is very easy for a remote worker to suffer in silence, especially female employees who may be even more unlikely to speak up and share any personal struggles.

It also helps that we have a very diverse, vibrant team made up of lots of female senior leaders who are able to provide mentorship to other female employees. Drawing on their own first-hand experience of working in the male-dominant tech space, they are able to provide inspiration and advice on breaking through boundaries and reaching their potential. Going beyond even gender, our belief is that we should break down cultural norms, beliefs, stereotypes, and patterns – we can all be whoever we want to be

Tech tools

As a final point, it’s important not to underestimate the role that technology has to play in enabling your hybrid or remote startup to work efficiently and productively. From day one, we invested in Notion, Slack, top end IT equipment such as webcams, microphones, headphones, G-Suite, Salesforce and simple time savers such as DocuSign. This is underscored with a holistic strategy which details communication, documentation, collaboration, onboarding and synchronised work to ensure everyone has the means to work effectively, efficiently and towards the same goal.

Rethink and reconfigure

Amid the current economic climate, It’s no surprise to see more businesses are reverting to permanent or extended remote working to streamline efficiencies and reduce overheads. With this transition it’s important that they also rethink and reconfigure their practices and policies to create an environment that is inclusive, nurturing, inspiring, productive and, importantly, equally advantageous for both female and male employees.

VP of Operations at Storyblok | + posts

Lydia Kothmeier has been working for Storyblok, an enterprise CMS, since February 2020. Storyblok was founded in Linz in 2017 and is now an internationally active company that is 100% remote. As VP of Operations, Lydia plays a major role in ensuring that Storyblok remains successful and continues to grow. Her tasks are as varied as she is. With background and expertise in accounting, controlling, business consulting, and even experience as an authorized signatory, Lydia is able to apply all the more knowledge to her work at Storyblok today.