A recent survey of more than 10,000 global knowledge workers and their leaders shows the current concern of executives is over hybrid telework and remote working schedules, and something called “proximity bias,” a fear that those who choose to return to offices will get ahead, while those who stay home will fall behind.
Responding to the Pulse survey, 41% of executives said they’re worried about the negative impact on work culture and the prospect of inequalities rising between office-centric, hybrid and fully remote employees.
The difference in how much time we spend in the office can lead to concerns ranging from decreased career mobility for those who spend less facetime with their supervisor to escalating resentments against staff who have the greatest flexibility in where they work.
Most employees surveyed say they prefer a hybrid or a fully remote schedule. Less than 25% said they want a traditional office-centric schedule, according to Pulse, the consulting consortium launched by Slack. That’s because of the high degree of location and schedule flexibility provided by working from home, which has become the most desired perquisite for the large majority of workers. It’s critical for retention and job satisfaction as well: The survey indicates that of those knowledge workers not satisfied with the flexibility at their workplace, 72% are likely to look for a new job in the next year.
That’s an especially important issue from the perspective of diversity. While 75% of white knowledge workers want a hybrid or fully remote schedule, 86% of Hispanic/Latinx and 81% of Asian/Asian American and Black knowledge workers want such flexibility.
So why haven’t leaders addressed the obvious problem of proximity bias? Unfortunately, leaders often fail to see the threat in front of their nose due to mental blind spots called cognitive biases, which cause leaders to resist best practices in transitioning to a hybrid-first model.
Leaders can address this by focusing on a shared culture of “excellence from anywhere,” as I did in helping 17 companies transition to the future of work. This term refers to a flexible organizational culture that considers the nature of an employee’s work and promotes task-based policies, allowing remote work whenever possible.
The strategy focuses on deliverables, collaboration and innovation regardless of where you work. The core idea is to get your workforce to pull together to achieve business outcomes: The location of employees 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 achieving them. After all, no one wants their colleagues to have to commute out of spite.
But what about facetime with the boss, or lack of it? Addressing this problem necessitates shifting from traditional, high-stakes, large-scale quarterly or even annual performance evaluations to weekly or biweekly brief performance evaluation check-ins.
Here’s how it can work: Employees agree on three to five weekly or biweekly performance goals with their supervisor. Then, 72 hours before their check-in meeting, they send a brief report to their boss on how they did on the goals, challenges faced and how they overcame them, a self-evaluation and proposed goals for next week.
Meeting one-on-one, supervisors can coach the employee, agree or revise goals, and affirm or revise the performance evaluation.
This type of brief performance evaluations addresses underlying concerns about career mobility by giving staff a clear indication of where they stand, a key employee concern.
Such best practices help integrate employees into a work culture that will fit the future of work while fostering good relationships with managers. Research shows supervisor-supervisee relationships are the most critical ones for employee morale, engagement and retention, so important in this time of the Great Resignation.
The “excellence from anywhere” strategy reframes the conversation to help everyone focus on shared business objectives rather than where and how you work. By giving employees personalized facetime with the boss and a constant knowledge of where they stand, this approach can ease concerns about career mobility and office-place inequities.
We can’t and should not try to turn back the clock after over two years of pandemic-induced work flexibility. Companies that realize this new reality and adopt methodologies fit for our new hybrid and remote world will seize competitive advantage, while those that try to return to old management habits will be left behind in the future of work.
Gleb Tsipursky is a thought leader in the future of work and author of several books, including “Returning to the Office,” and “Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage.” He lives in Columbus, Ohio.