by Mya Ramanan, Head of Demand Generation at Juggle
A ‘seat at the table’ is a phrase steeped in history. It originates in the desire for access to the boardroom where historically, important decisions were made.
In recent years though, it has taken on a new meaning, becoming central in conversations around Diversity and Inclusion. Do ethnic minorities and women have a seat? If so, does it carry real clout to make change, or is it tokenistic? Or does the table itself need dismantling in favour of something new?
And since the pandemic, we have seen new questions around how those that are remote will continue to have a seat at the table. Of course, all of our lives changed when working from home was universal, but as we transition into a hybrid landscape — where some of us are in-office, and some of us aren’t — new problems arise. Presence bias is the most concerning of these.
What is presence bias?
If you’re looking for an illustrative example of presence bias, look no further than Japan. The culture of presenteeism can be so toxic, many workers fail to ever register any holiday time at all. Fear of being considered ‘lazy’ leads to some employees never leaving before their bosses.
In the West, presence bias manifests itself more insidiously. Raised eyebrows when someone leaves at 5:55pm, say. Or productivity software that tracks staff mouse patterns to gauge how long they are working (not how well or how hard).
In the past, those working from home were misconceived as being less productive, simply due to the optics of not being right there tapping at their keyboards. Evidence suggests that remote workers are just as productive (and often more productive) than their in-house counterparts; a study of 1,000 firms by the Institute of Directors found that 74% of leaders plan on maintaining home working for staff post-pandemic.
Presence bias can lead to suboptimal outcomes for individuals and businesses alike. The promotion or offering of benefits to those that are undeserving is the most concerning. Other problems also arise, like the impact it can have on remote staff’s mental health. Thankfully, there are things we can all do.
How to combat presence bias in hybrid workspaces
Think deeply about individual needs
You may wonder why we brought in the theme of diversity earlier. The reason is this: presence bias is more pernicious in how it affects minority groups. Take someone who is disabled, for example, and has a hybrid work set-up. Their disability could make it complicated for them to come into the office, and therefore they could be affected by presence bias more than their colleagues. To combat this kind of additional discrimination, don’t just think about who is working hybrid — employers need to consider home life, accessibility and other individual needs when implementing the right processes for all employees.
Foster dynamic remote calls
Messaging is a handy way of keeping up with people, but hybrid collaboration is most powerful when speaking, ideally with video. Create an environment for conversation that empowers an equal playing field when doing so. Here’s a suggestion for group leaders:
- Ask the entire group a question, wait for the first responder.
- Err toward redirecting the conversation toward those that are remote — ask them for their views and encourage them to answer.
- Ask in-house people to respond to those that are calling in. Always encourage across-the-watershed dialogue.
There are many other tactics like this — asking a remote staff member to briefly explain what they’ve been up to over the past 30 minutes, for example. Whatever you go for, try to make the focus all about humanising the team.
Have a genuine focus on outcomes
Optics are important — what people appear to be working on. What’s more important? What they’re actually doing. Get back to basics by ensuring everyone on the team has clear, achievable, ambitious goals. When it comes to reviews, they will help you see from the woods from the trees: who, regardless of location, is actually doing a good job? Who is exceeding expectations? Who needs support?
Every company wants to do this, but humans are human and will always tend to think those they see doing work are actually doing more work (when really, there’s likely to be little correlation). If everyone is delivering what they need to in a transparent context, it also doesn’t matter when they are working — 9 am to 5 pm, or 3 am or 11 am. The best companies know this and work for outcomes, not hours.
Provide the right set up
A third of remote people claim to have had their productivity negatively affected by intermittent wifi. That’s a startling figure that illustrates how the right set-up is vital for working from home. Regardless of where remote people are (cafes, co-working spaces, the Moon), the onus is on employers to ask staff, periodically, ‘do you have everything you need to work properly?’, ‘is there anything that is niggling you when you’re not in the office?’. By smoothing these issues, you’ll make your team feel valued. And plus, the outlay is rarely, if ever, more than in-house desks.
Treat remote staff equitably regardless of location by offering to pay part of their energy bills, in lieu of the savings you make by not having them in-house. Benefits and budget should translate approximately per person wherever they work.
For more advice and resources into careers and the future of work, check out Juggle’s blog.
Juggle‘s mission is to make flexible working the future of work—with an increased focus on gender equality.
A note from Hubble
As we prepare to enter the hybrid world, combating presence bias is a priority. The pandemic has shown us that the “workplace” is no longer one space—but a network of flexible environments and frictionless experiences. In our recent survey, 76% of respondents said they feel as productive, if not more so, at home—but 71% still wanted their company to have an office of some sort.
So, it’s clear that the future is looking hybrid. There are many positives to embrace, as well as challenges—and businesses will need to prepare for them when establishing their future workplace strategies. Some employees may be particularly concerned about presence bias, and it’s crucial to know this upfront. So, to avoid making any blanket or hasty decisions that may negatively impact your team, we strongly recommend asking your employees how they want to work in the future first and using those insights to guide your decisions.
To help you do this with ease, we’ve created our free-to-use Workplace Strategy Tool. This allows you to survey your team using our curated questionnaire, as well as obtaining the data instantly via your own personalised results dashboard. You can also get free, professional advice on the best workplace solutions from our team of experts. Check it out below: