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Gleb Tsipursky

Management

Addressing Proximity Bias for a Hybrid and Remote Work Culture

Don't let resentment build up around schedule flexibility

Published: Wednesday, March 30, 2022 - 12:03

The pandemic has forced organizations to recognize that they need to address proximity bias to adapt their work culture to the hybrid and remote future of work. Proximity bias is the unconscious perception that those with close proximity to their team or leader are better employees. These employees tend to get preferential treatment to those who are not.

Remote work has exacerbated the problem. Employees may have different office schedules: Some essential employees might be there full-time, others will be there one to three days a week, and some may be fully remote. The danger of resentment building up between “haves” and “have nots” around schedule flexibility calls for a work culture that addresses such issues. Leaders who want to seize a competitive advantage in the future of work should use research-based best practices to create a culture of “excellence from anywhere” to address these concerns. This cultural best practice is based on guidance I provided for leaders at 17 major organizations to develop and implement effective strategies for a work culture suitable for the future of work.

Our future is hybrid

Although the percentage of employees working at least partially from home has decreased since early 2020, surveys show that about 45 percent still continue to do so. Moreover, two-thirds to three-quarters of surveyed employers intend to have a mainly hybrid schedule after the pandemic ends.

Plenty of large companies already announced a switch to a post-pandemic, permanent hybrid model of one to three days of work in the office. Meanwhile, several big companies decided to let many or all of their remote-working employees work from home permanently.

These decisions match worker desires. Surveys show that one-quarter to two-thirds of all employees want a hybrid or fully remote schedule permanently, even post-pandemic. Thus, organizations must adapt their work culture to accommodate these needs.

Protect from proximity bias via the ‘excellence from anywhere’ strategy

Some organizations may need some employees to come in full-time. For example, one of my clients is a high-tech manufacturing company with more than 25,000 employees. It needs many employees to be on the factory floor.

Others may need to come in on a hybrid schedule, even if they worked remotely full-time during the pandemic. A case in point: Some research and development staff are able to innovate better if they can access equipment in the company’s labs. Others may have team leaders who want them to come in one day a week to facilitate team cohesion and collaboration, even if they can do all their work fully remote. And still other employees have team leaders that who permit them to do full-time remote work.

Such differences over flexibility have the potential to create tension between employees. Leaders can address this by focusing on a shared culture of “excellence from anywhere.” This term refers to a flexible organizational culture that takes into account the nature of an employee’s work and promotes task-based policies, allowing remote work whenever possible.

The “excellence from anywhere” strategy addresses concerns about divides by focusing on deliverables, regardless of where you work. Doing so also involves adopting best practices for hybrid and remote collaboration and innovation.

Boosting such best practices helps integrate employees into a work culture fit for the future of work while fostering good relationships with managers. Research shows these are the most important relationships for employee morale, engagement, and retention.

By valuing deliverables, collaboration, and innovation through a focus on a shared work culture of excellence from anywhere, you can instill in your employees a focus on deliverables. The core idea is to get all of your workforce to pull together to achieve business outcomes. The location doesn’t matter.

This work culture addresses concerns about fairness by reframing the conversation to focus on accomplishing shared goals, rather than the method of doing so. After all, no one wants their colleagues to have to commute out of spite.

Why have organizations failed to adapt to the future of work?

Other biases also keep leaders from adopting best practices. One of these is functional fixedness. When we have a certain perception of appropriate practices, we tend to disregard other, more appropriate alternatives. Trying to transpose existing ways of collaboration in “office culture” to remote work is a prime example of functional fixedness. That’s why leaders failed to strategically address the problems arising with the abrupt transition to telework.

Another cognitive bias is called the not-invented-here syndrome. It’s a leader’s antipathy toward adopting practices not invented within the organization, no matter how useful.

Defeating these cognitive biases requires the use of research-based best practices. It means adopting a hybrid-first model with a minority fully remote. To do so successfully requires creating a new work culture well-suited for the hybrid and remote future of work.

Conclusion

The transition to a hybrid and remote work culture in the post-pandemic recovery leads to the threat of resentment between those who must come to the office and those who come less often. Addressing such concerns requires creating a work culture of “excellence from anywhere.” This reframes the conversation to help everyone focus on pulling together to achieve shared business objectives, and prioritizing deliverables rather than where and how you work through research-based best practices.

Discuss

About The Author

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

Gleb Tsipursky

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps quality professionals make the wisest decisions on the future of work as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. He is the best-selling author of seven books, including Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage. His cutting-edge thought leadership has been featured in more than 650 articles in prominent publications such as Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and USA Today. His expertise comes from more than 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and more than 15 years in academia as a cognitive scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter@gleb_tsipursky, Instagram@dr_gleb_tsipurskyLinkedIn, and register for his Wise Decision Maker Course.