3 Biases Blocking Hybrid Work Success (and How to Combat Them)

April 10, 2024
Hybrid Work
3 Biases Blocking Hybrid Work Success (and How to Combat Them)

TL;DR Article Summary

While the hybrid work debate is over, knowing how to build a great hybrid work experience is far from over—especially when it comes to ensuring equity between remote, hybrid, and onsite employees. 

According to Live Data Technologies, remote workers were promoted 31% less frequently than people who worked some time in an office in 2023. A recent ZipRecruiter survey revealed that hybrid workers are paid less than fully onsite workers. As of March 2024, the average wage of a hybrid employee is around $22,000 lower than their fully in-office counterparts.

Instead of fully embracing all the benefits that hybrid work offers, some employers are reverting to traditional ways of working that often penalize hybrid workers. The data points to three biases that some employers still hold around where people should work:

Proximity Bias

Proximity bias (also known as distance bias) refers to people’s unconscious bias of favoring people and things that are physically close. It can describe how people in positions of power tend to treat workers who are physically closer to them more favorably. It can also fuel the belief that those who work remotely are less productive than those who work from the office.

“It wasn't that people were leaving me out on purpose. It was an unconscious bias that because I was not there in the building, that sometimes I was not being thought about or undervalued.” - Sacha Connor, Founder/CEO of Virtual Work Insider

Status Quo Bias

Status quo bias refers to a preference for the current state of affairs. The shift to a hybrid model is a change from the traditional work culture that employers may perceive as a threat rather than an opportunity. The comfort of the known might overshadow the potential benefits of the unknown, leading to a reluctance to embrace the hybrid model. 

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias refers to the tendency to seek, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms preexisting beliefs. This bias can lead to resistance against adopting hybrid work models, especially if employers believe that traditional in-office work setups are better. This belief can lead people to discredit the benefits of hybrid work and thereby refuse to take action toward making it successful. 

Organizations need to invest in new processes and training that counter these biases to ensure business continuity and be truly ready for the future of work.

Training Is a Top Priority for HR Leaders

Many organizations have not adopted new practices and processes to support a great hybrid work experience. According to a TechSmith's Snagit survey, less than a quarter of employers have:

  • Trained their managers in managing people they cannot see.
  • Trained their people on best practices for distributed teams.
  • Rethought their collaboration practices to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, and equity.

Not only is the lack of training leading to hybrid work woes and manager burnout, but it’s also hurting businesses regarding talent acquisition and retention. 44% of 2023 graduates prefer hybrid work (ZipRecruiter). Gen Z workers, who will account for roughly 30% of the workforce by 2030, are the biggest proponents of hybrid work because they want mentorship opportunities in person. Yet, they're entering workplaces that are either not ready for hybrid work or not hybrid-work friendly.

The data tells us that training should be among HR leaders' top priorities if they want to develop a strong future workforce. Instead of reverting to old ways of working, employers need to establish and carry out training programs that ensure hybrid work success.

“WFH has stabilized as the RTO has ended. It is time to optimize management practices, training, office space, and geographies for the new normal. Indeed, longer-run WFH will slowly rise as technologies to support this improve.” - Nick Bloom, Stanford Economics Professor & WFH Research Co-founder

How To Train Managers for Hybrid Work

Training your people—specifically managers responsible for ensuring your employees are productive, engaged, and aligned—is the best way to mitigate hybrid work's unique challenges and create a more successful hybrid workplace. 

Here are six manager training pillars for organizations aiming for hybrid work success:

1. Shift Focus From Presence to Performance

Assessing and providing feedback on employee performance can be trickier in a hybrid setup. Managers need to be aware of proximity bias and ensure they’re not rating performance based on physical presence. Part of that is building trust and accountability in your team to ensure that work gets done and goals are met, even if team members are remote.

Organizations should train managers on fairly evaluating performance for hybrid teams. That includes setting clear, measurable goals for all team members and having metrics to track productivity holistically. In a hybrid environment, managers don’t always have the luxury of meeting their employees in person all the time. Having measurable goals and metrics can help managers make compensation and promotion decisions equitably, as they measure employees' performance by outcomes and results versus where they work. 

“We end up rewarding people based on the visual aspects of hustle culture—as opposed to outcomes. How do we actually make sure that our reward systems are based on the delivery of outcomes—not on presenteeism?” - Brian Elliott, Co-founder of Future Forum

2. Leverage Different Communication Methods

Communicating with team members in different locations and time zones is challenging. It’s tempting to hold countless meetings to ensure that team members are working, but doing so can actually harm productivity. The number of interruptions caused by meetings in a hybrid work setting can be costly. Six unwanted interruptions a day cost a company with 1,000 employees over $1 million annually in lost productivity (Snagit).

Organizations need to train their managers to allow for more uninterrupted heads-down time so employees can focus on completing their work. That might mean leveraging more asynchronous work and being more intentional with time spent synchronously together. To ensure everyone is on the same page and gets their messages across clearly, managers need to give their teams communication goals, priorities, and timely feedback. 

Read More: Hybrid Communication is Broken: The Pros and Cons of Synchronous and Async 

3. Invest in Improving Tech Proficiency

Managing a hybrid team requires a firm grasp of the various technologies and tools for collaboration, communication, project management, and more. Organizations should provide comprehensive training for their managers on the software/platforms to ensure communication and collaboration do not suffer in a hybrid environment.

For example, training managers on using space management software to book desks and meeting rooms is essential to ensuring in-person days go smoothly. Employees have a workplace when they arrive to do their best work, and teams have conference rooms with all the resources they need to hold effective meetings. Additionally, organizations should train managers to utilize different communication channels to convey particular messages better.

Read More: Zoom, Loom, or Get a Room - Tech for a Great Hybrid Experience

4. Train for Inclusive Leadership

Hybrid teams risk certain colleagues feeling excluded or like second-class citizens. Managers must champion inclusion by creating team norms that make everyone feel valued no matter where they work. That might mean setting up meetings for different time zones, holding core hours that work for all team members’ schedules, and offering schedule flexibility for "life" events.

Managers should also be aware of holding inclusive hybrid meetings that provide equal airtime. Only 24% of employees said their organization has established norms to ensure that meetings are effective and inclusive (Snagit). Sending out an agenda beforehand, using features like the chat function and hand raises, and limiting side conversations between in-person attendees are all ways for managers to lead more inclusive hybrid meetings.

“You start to look at the data over time. Are you promoting people faster who are right near your conversation spaces or Hub locations? It takes time to make sure that the system is fair, and you have to reinforce those principles because you can slip back to old ways of working.” - Dena Upton, Head of People at Dandy

5. Build Company Culture and Connectedness

A key challenge in hybrid work is maintaining team cohesion and morale when people are dispersed. A Gartner research found that employees must be both aligned and connected to organizational culture for it to truly succeed. To ensure employees buy in and live the desired culture, organizations must do two things:

  1. Help their leaders truly understand the organization's values and what they are trying to achieve, and
  2. Training leaders to be more intentional about building employees’ connection to culture, as they no longer have the luxury of having employees learn about company culture just by being in it day in and out.

Managers can help build team cohesion and morale in hybrid environments through intentional virtual team building. Holding one-on-one check-ins to connect personally is a great place to start. Regular team-building activities like virtual coffee chats and collaborative games allow employees who don’t work in the same location to see each other’s faces and learn more about each other.

“Based on employee feedback, we launched PI Grow—a wellness program dedicated to organizing in-person and virtual experiences that work well in a hybrid environment. For each event, there is always a remote option and an in-person option. For example, during office olympics, games like charades offer both Zoom and in-person team participation.” - Jackie Dube, Chief People Officer of The Predictive Index

6. Promote a Learning-Oriented Culture

The transition to hybrid work is an enormous transformational change for most organizations. Hybrid work brings new processes, technologies, and ways of collaborating. Managers must have a learning mindset and provide opportunities for continuous learning and development to help teams adapt successfully.

Organizations should train managers as change leaders to communicate the rationale for new ways of working. Managers should involve the team in developing hybrid work processes and work together to identify and resolve obstacles and resistance. Many employees have experienced change fatigue over the last few years, which impacts employee confidence and engagement. Managers can support their teams by celebrating progress and quick wins and by modeling the desired mindsets and behaviors. 

Read More: 6 Tips for People Managers in the Year of Efficient Hybrid Work

Unlocking Hybrid Work’s Full Potential

When done right, hybrid models can boost productivity and revenue, improve work-life balance, expand the talent pool, and drive higher employee engagement. However, this transition requires a fundamental shift in mindset, processes, and leadership capabilities. Properly training managers is just the first step in unlocking the full potential of hybrid work. By tailoring hybrid work models to meet the evolving needs of the workforce and the overarching business goals, organizations can successfully embrace a future of enhanced flexibility, collaboration, and productivity.

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