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Challenging Unconscious Biases for a Inclusive Workplace

leadership transition Mar 02, 2023

- By Sophie Pinkoski

When it comes to assessing your team’s work, it’s a far simpler process to evaluate those working with you in the office. As a result, leaders must be intentional so remote workers are not excluded from future opportunities and promotions.

We may have adapted to hybrid work, but did it come with new unconscious biases?

Even when remote workers meet goals and deadlines, in some leaders' perspective these workers are still often considered absent from the workforce. “Sometimes we forget that we have colleagues who are not physically present. Managers and employees need to be very intentional about including their peers who aren’t there in the office culture,” Johnny C. Taylor of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) explains. Jason Liem, founder of MINDTalk Coaching agrees: “There is the tendency to overvalue colleagues that are physically present over those that are connected remotely”.

The fact of the matter is, proximity offers workers the privilege of access, and therefore opportunity.

The level of separation created between remote workers and their leaders leaves them out of sync with one another, which means it takes more conscious effort to support team members working from home. If your organization has chosen a hybrid workplace, it’s crucial to create an inclusive and equitable hybrid culture that brings out the best of everyone in your team.

So what can be done to nurture a more equitable office culture?

Challenge your unconscious biases – Proximity and familiarity biases are common in any workplace. Are you sure that your organization and you have not fallen into those with your team members who connect virtually?  

While it is more challenging to evaluate remote workers’ contributions due to lack of visibility, if the quality of their work is consistent with that of their in-office team members, it may be worth reflecting on why you might be favouring your in-office workers.

“Managers have to be able to invite all the voices in the room to solve problems in new ways,” says Jeanne Schad, formerly of career transition firm, Randstad Risesmart. In order to do so, you must break down your unconscious biases. Pay attention to feedback and act on it. For example, are others showing biases in their comments or assignment of team members? Who are your "top of mind" team members and why is that? To get started to track and review how often you meet with in-office workers versus remote workers to catch if there is an actual imbalance.

An equitable workplace means giving a fair amount of attention to everyone according to their individual needs.

Implement equitable review processes – Accurate data tracking and collection means assessing with clear goals and metrics. Who are you commending for their good work most often? Is this recognition evenly distributed throughout your team? If not, what can you do to improve? “If you’re a manager or a leader and you’re showing favouritism toward some employees, you aren’t doing your job,” Ali Shalfrooshan, head of PSI Talent Management International notes. Another way to collect equitable data is through pulse surveys to assess who is most engaged.

Identifying what keeps those particular team members engaged could offer further insights into how to engage those either disengaged or on the bubble.

Maintain social capital by building stronger internal relationships – The disconnect between in-office and remote workers largely comes down to a lack of human connection ordinarily fostered by having everyone congregating in the same place. When we all worked in-office, we received the benefit of more informal interactions with our colleagues, and were more easily able to build that internal network. In comparison, remote work is a solitary pursuit which leads to isolation from your peers.

It’s therefore important to foster connections between in-office and remote workers in more creative ways.

For instance, this could be through pairing remote workers with office workers on projects to keep your team in sync. Scheduling regular meetings with your whole team will also make your remote workers that much more visible to your in-office workers, thus demonstrating their contributions as equally valuable.

By prioritizing your team’s social capital, you’re able to encourage more collaboration, innovation, and creative problem solving, all while bringing your team together to support one another.

By increasing your awareness of your behaviour toward your remote workers, you can begin to identify biases, develop more inclusive work place, and  maximize your team’s strengths

It’s time to embrace remote work as a natural evolution of work culture to drive productivity and mental wellbeing of our teams.

The best thing to do now is start. Pay attention to your thoughts and behaviours. Once you see them, you can lead your team into a more inclusive workplace.


Further Reading

Every Single Cognitive Bias in One Infographic, Visual Capitalist

96% of Bosses Say They Give In-Office Employees More Recognition- How to Combat ‘Proximity Bias’, CNBC

Preventing Proximity Bias in a Hybrid  Workplace, SHRM

What You Need to Know for Post-Pandemic Remote Team Strategy, Brightful

The Rise of ‘Proximity Bias’ and how You Can Tackle It, Pearn Kandola

Proximity Bias: 3 Ways Leaders Can Ensure Remote Worker Aren't Left Out In the Cold, lhh

How to Engage Remote Employees: 10 Actionable Tips and Tools for Hybrid Workplaces, workhuman

Canadians Concerned About Post-Pandemic Proximity Bias, ADP

Remote Employee Engagement- The Manager’s Guide 2022, People Box

Challenging Proximity Bias Could Be Key to Culture and Retention in Post-Pandemic Work, Forbes



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