7 Steps To Eliminate Bias In A Hybrid Workplace
The past nineteen months saw organizations adjust to the fully remote work model and now, the time has come to shift to a hybrid workplace. 74% of full-time employees are using a hybrid work model as seen by The 2021 Workplace Impact Report by VergeSense.
A hybrid workplace in 2022 can be synonymous with making the best of both worlds; flexibility and freedom, on one hand, productivity and structure on the other. You get to balance working from the office and working from wherever you want in a single workweek. You will save up on commute times, spend more hours with family, and not renege on face time with your teammates, all in one go!
This sounds like every employee’s dream, right? Well, not so fast. Every story has two sides to it, and this is no different. A hybrid work model comes with its own set of problems, the most major one being that of unconscious bias.
The downside of bias in a hybrid workplace
Research shows that managers tend to unintentionally favor in-office employees over remote workers. A prime example of proximity bias, it is a mental blind spot for most employers. There is a natural bias to building stronger relationships with people who are right in front of you. Consequently, managers may also tend to think that employees in close proximity to them are better workers and more productive than their hybrid counterparts.
While only human, managers need to consciously keep their biases in check as the consequences are vast and damaging to the company.
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For starters, it leads to accidental favoritism of on-site workers. Such employees are more likely to get higher raises, bigger bonuses, and better projects than hybrid workers. Unequal treatment of co-workers has a direct impact on productivity, employee engagement, and attrition.
A side effect of proximity bias is the halo effect. You tend to build an inflated view of the people closest to you; in the case of work, management might begin to excuse the poor performance of on-site employees while overlooking the skills and expertise of those they are not in regular contact with.
Proximity bias a.k.a. distance bias can leave remote employees feeling demoralized and excluded. Seeing the side effects of working from home, could pressurize employees into remote-work stigma – they come back to the office in the hopes of being on the good side of their managers. Even if that’s not the best option for them.
What can leaders do to ensure that out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind?
On a better note, proximity bias is not here to stay (unlike the hybrid work model). That’s a big relief, ain’t it? It can be overcome with intention, dedicated training, and awareness.
Hybridity can be a major breeding ground for inequity if not dealt with precise strategy and planning. Ensuring remote employees are treated fairly in a hybrid workplace should be the priority going forward.
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It all begins with awareness. Transitioning into a hybrid work environment from a fully remote setup is bound to have challenges. Accepting that one of the biggest challenges is cognitive bias at the employer level is a step in the right direction. Arrange for formal training and awareness sessions so that managers can learn to recognize their unconscious biases. Unless you are aware of your own biases, you cannot address the issue effectively.
Survey your employees’ perception of proximity bias. Just because there is a high chance of this issue affecting any hybrid workplace does not necessarily mean your company is prey to it. It is always a good idea to find out what your employees are feeling instead of forming your own assumptions. Ask them questions like:
- Have you ever been affected by proximity bias?
- Do you believe that on-site workers are given preferential treatment over remote workers?
- Do you feel pressured into coming back to the office because you believe in-office employees are perceived to be better workers?
Employees need a role model whose behavior they can emulate. And the shortest way to nip proximity bias in the bud is for the leaders to work remotely for a certain period. Begin at the top-level management to send a clear message that going hybrid is the future of work. If the managers are coming into the office every day, employees will find it uncomfortable to work from home even if the option is on the table. And unless they experience working from home themselves, the leadership cannot foresee the issues or the plus points of remote work.
Design all meetings with a virtual-first mentality. Proactively and intentionally invite remote meeting attendees to participate in the discussion, rather than allowing distance bias to get in the way. Another essential step is to equally distribute the burden of time-zone differences and rotate meeting times so as not to burden remote employees with too many early or late sessions.
Offer flexible work schedules for both on-site and remote/hybrid employees. This way it will decrease the effect of distance bias—if you’re allowing in-office workers to customize their office timings, you’ll be less prone to make negative assumptions about the productivity level of remote workers.
Create a level playing field for all your employees and as leaders, you have to be much more conscious in everything you do. If a new opportunity arises for an employee, carefully choose the best-qualified person for the job instead of picking someone who is right in front of you. Take the time out to discuss career development with all your employees, individually. This may reveal areas where remote workers are feeling left out. Also, intentionally keep everyone in the know with messaging apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc. With fewer watercooler conversations, it’s easy for hybrid employees to miss out on information, both work-related and non-work-related.
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Evaluate all employees (on-site and remote) on standard parameters solely based on performance. Managers need to keep their eye on tangible metrics instead of assessing an employee’s productivity by the number of hours they spend at the office. Set clear employee objectives and evaluate them based on the impact that they provide; this ensures a fair, equitable assessment of each employee. Hybridity causes an imbalance in the resources that different sets of employees have access to and the visibility levels of each set of employees. Quarterly reviews present an opportunity for managers and employees to review and discuss such imbalances and how to approach them going forward.
Consider hiring a head of remote operations. A head of remote will be the voice of remote/hybrid workers, ensure all employees feel like they belong, have access to similar resources, and create a culture of equitability while keeping proximity bias at bay.
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