Combatting Bias in Remote Work

leadership transition Jun 08, 2021

- By Sophie Pinkoski

According to a Harvard Business Review study in July 2020, 38% of leaders worldwide believe remote workers perform worse than those working in office. Perceptions may have changed, but given how much we’ve come to depend upon remote work to keep business afloat during the pandemic, this is still shocking. What’s more, once pandemic restrictions ease, many leaders will be keen to shift back to in-office work. But in doing so, it’s crucial to keep in mind that some workers simply cannot or will choose not to go back to the way things were.

When moving into a fresh start with a hybrid work model, leaders face the possibility of disadvantaging their remote workers with their biases, whether they’re aware of them or not. 

While transitioning into hybrid work, everyone on your team should be treated fairly regardless of work location, so ask yourself how your new protocols might favour some workers over others. 

The biggest concern leaders have about their remote workers is keeping them motivated long-term. This paired with remote workers’ lack of visibility in the office may cause leaders to question the competence and productivity of those working from home. Here, remote workers are assumed to be lacking in knowledge and skills. Yet these biases can be easily combated by exploring certain gaps in your hybrid working model: 

Accessibility – The accessibility of resources depends on a worker’s location. People working in office have more immediate access to resources, while remote workers won’t have the same technological setup or access to physical files from home. This leaves a significant gap in efficiency where remote workers don’t have the same access to both resources and in-person communication. Furthermore, remote workers often feel left out of in-person meetings, even when they’re virtually in attendance. 

Visibility – When a leader shares office space with their team members, they’re more likely to recognize the work being done. The proximity bias here means there will be more opportunities for those in office to take on new projects.  It’s more difficult for leaders to monitor and assess remote workers’ progress, which means credit for the work they’re doing may go unnoticed and new assignments may be given only to workers in the office.  

Ability to ask for help – Some remote workers are less able to adapt to a hybrid model. It’s often up to the employees to take responsibility for keeping their leader up to date on their individual progress, as well as asking for any help or resources needed. Not everyone is comfortable speaking out when necessary. Hence, more outgoing, relationship-building workers will often gain more attention than their more introverted counterparts, which is further complicated by remote work. 

How then, do we avoid disadvantaging our remote workers in favour of those in office?

Access to resources and communication – First and foremost, when returning to the office, identify who is working where and when. Address the challenges each team member will face in their own unique circumstances. Once it’s clear who is working remotely, in-office, or both, create new protocols that will benefit everyone’s needs, including setting guidelines on how information is shared and when, as well as accommodating remote workers who need access to certain resources. 

Inclusivity – Individuals should be comfortable in expressing their preferences and concerns. Part of fostering that comfort is ensuring the safety of your team. Your team members should have a say in safety protocols such as access to protective equipment, cleaning, COVID testing, and infection track and tracing. Everyone’s comfort levels are going to be different and they should be understood prior to finalizing work arrangements.  

Keeping everyone in the loop – You may find yourself dividing your time unequally between your remote and in-office team members. It’s important to be aware of who you’re spending more time with and why. Keep in mind how you are monitoring your remote workers’ progress. Check in with them to ensure they’re not missing anything and keep them updated on a regular basis. Remote workers may want reassurance, not to be ignored or micromanaged.  Use performance reviews and evaluations as a way to open up a discussion on existing imbalances. Address these imbalances with your team so everyone is on the same page on how to handle them. 

At the end of the day, remote workers deserve to be on the same footing as everyone else. Let your team know you are committed to appreciating everyone’s needs.

Be sure they have the equipment they need and offer training support to fill any further gaps.

When everyone’s unique situations are properly accommodated, your team will be able to work far more smoothly together. 

 

Further Reading: 

Remote Managers Are Having Trust IssuesHarvard Business Review 

How to Manage a Hybrid TeamHarvard Business Review 

Making the Hybrid Workplace Fair, Harvard Business Review 

Safety First: Working People’s Plan For Reopening the Economy the Right WayAFL-CIO 

Returning to Office Sparks Anxiety and Dread For SomeNew York Times 

What Employees Are Saying About the Future of Online WorkMcKinsey & Company 

Reopening Businesses in Canada: Considerations for EmployersFasken 

Getting Hybrid Right: How Companies Are Adapting to the New Workplace Model, LinkedIn 

 

 

 

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