Remote and hybrid employees are concerned that once they drop out of their manager’s field of vision, they’ll be forgotten or overlooked. Employees believe the in-office staff will be seen as harder working, stand out, and have more opportunities for interactions with decision makers.
CNBC predicted that 45% of US companies would be operating remotely in the second half of 2021, which is very close to reality. The Return to Work Study by Medallia found that 96% of employees enjoy and prefer hybrid work. Without the stress of commuting or concerns over childcare, working from home provides the flexibility to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
But, this shift away from the traditional work setting can create anxiety, particularly concerning career advancement and promotion. Will those who regularly arrive in the office at 7 am curry more favor than those putting in equal hours from their spare bedroom?
We’ve rounded up our top tips on how you, as a manager, can navigate the hybrid-working landscape and ensure all members of your team are treated fairly.
Out of sight, out of mind?
Proximity bias is a genuine phenomenon whereby leaders incorrectly assume people will be more productive if they are physically present in the office. As a result, at-home workers may fear that it isn’t enough to simply work hard; they also need to be seen putting in those hours.
Historical data provides further justifications for some of these concerns. According to statistics from the ONS in the UK, remote workers are 50% less likely to be promoted compared to their in-office peers.
There are also logistical challenges to working from home. For example, those in the office can find out information by simply walking over to their colleague’s desk. Remote workers, however, are more likely to be hindered by unanswered emails or forgotten voicemails. Spontaneous conversations, post-meeting chats, and impromptu catch-ups with managers are also more difficult for at-home workers.
Homelife and work-life are intertwined
There are unique challenges of remote and hybrid work that are further complicated by the fluid state of the world. Employees may have a variety of personal life issues or changes in circumstance that vary from month to month as their community and family continue to be impacted by world events.
Employees both in and out of the office may not feel comfortable sharing these personal struggles even though it impacts their ability to do their job. This can lead to burnout which takes longer to recover from.
An employee suddenly forced to care for an elderly parent may, for example, worry that raising this issue in the workplace could cause questions regarding their availability. Likewise, a parent whose child care arrangements have suddenly changed may fear that needing to rearrange their working day could be detrimental to their professional development.
Challenges for managers
While hybrid working creates uncertainties for employees, managing a team under these circumstances also brings challenges for leaders. With members of your team having different needs—and shifting work patterns—based on their circumstances, key individuals may be unavailable during crunch moments.
You may need to rely on bug-prone technologies such as video calls to facilitate communication. Neither is ideal for creating an agile workplace. Hybrid working can negatively impact employees’ morale, productivity, and retention rates.
There’s a risk of creating an “us and them” mentality. If you spot this happening, it’s crucial to boost workplace morale. For example, consider virtual team-building exercises in which everyone participates online.
While a team’s mental health is, of course, key, leaders also need to take care of their wellbeing. Like employees, leaders are also learning to navigate a new landscape. Be kind to yourself if things don’t go smoothly at first. And, if you do find yourself struggling, try talking to other leaders in your network or departments in the company who could provide support.
Remember, that although this is a challenging time for businesses, it also brings plenty of exciting opportunities to innovate and rejuvenate. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to boost equality in your workplace.
4 Practical tips for creating fair practices
1. Track performance
To level the playing field for all workers, implement a robust system to monitor your employees’ productivity. For some, success is best measured by the number of deals closed or sales made. For others, it might be the number of contracts written up or customer service tickets completed.
The key is to devise a system that works best for your business. Using this information, you can get a clear indication of which individuals are indeed the most productive—and deserving of promotion—and which are simply the most visible. This can also be a metric employees track and lets them know how they are measuring up to their in-office peers
2. Take an honest look at your remote training
If your employees would like to advance, chances are they’ll need to hone their skills through additional training. For remote workers, these sessions will need to be made available online. Try taking one of these modules yourself. Did you take away all the information you needed? Did technical problems hinder your experience? Whenever courses are taking place online, try to be present yourself as this will send a message that remote training has as much value as in-person learning.
3. Shift all meetings online
We all know the difficulties involved in holding a meeting in which half the participants are joining in person, while the other half are dialing in from home. By moving all meetings online, you can overcome these obstacles and remove a barrier to career progression for remote workers who may miss critical information if a meeting takes place both in-person and online.
4. Schedule regular one-to-one meetings
Ensure you have one-to-one contact with all your subordinates to discuss their progress and professional development. When you’re scheduling these meetings, make sure you consider the peculiarities of working from home.
Check on your employees’ work-life balance and ensure they have all the material they need to perform their roles effectively. Ask about any obstacles hampering their work and how you can improve the situation.
Trial and error
The working world has changed irrevocably, and both employers and employees are learning to adjust to this new normal. Leveling the playing field for all employees in a hybrid-working environment will inevitably come with challenges. The rewards, however, far outweigh initial growing pains.
The most important step you can take is to keep the communication lines open and demonstrate that you value top talent above traditional workplace practices. Be transparent with your team and navigate what works best together.
Someone on your team need extra support? CareerPoint’s coaches are industry experts with at least ten years of experience in leadership or coaching. They provide customized career development plans to help your employee feel supported and grow into top talent. Learn more here.
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