The remote working bias that clouds your judgement

Inclusivity has never been more important, says WSP’s learning head.

by Jane Grant
Last Updated: 01 Jun 2020

The idiom “out of sight, out of mind” could easily take on new meanings during the coronavirus pandemic.

We have a natural tendency to favour people who are closer to us in time and space, those who come to us proactively. That means when up against looming deadlines we turn to those more comfortable using technology or who are natural relationship builders - even if research shows that this often flies in the face of the facts. 

During this time of prolonged remote working, if a leader is not careful they could easily succumb to distance bias. Now more than ever, being attentive to the voices and needs of all in your team - not the just the ones who scream the loudest - is critical. Not just in order to help your team feel more connected, but to ensure that your company is making the most of the knowledge within its ranks. 

So what can you do? 

Conversational turn taking and active listening will help all your team contribute, feel valued and ensure you are capturing all their ideas.

There could be a whole range of reasons behind why someone may not be reaching out. A discomfort with technology, introversion, they may even feel like they are bothering you, especially if you have a busy diary.

It sounds obvious, but a leader needs to signal that your team is your priority, you want them to reach out and that you will make the time for them to do so. Not doing so creates a bottleneck and that bottleneck is you!

Distance bias applies to tasks too. 

Tasks that appear difficult to tackle remotely can be put on the back burner, left until you are able to meet in person or kicked into the long grass. To overcome this, brainstorm with the team as to how specific projects can be delivered remotely.  

Personally, I find the whiteboard function in Microsoft Teams or Mural helpful when trying to virtually collect my team’s ideas. Alternatively, the old school method of writing ideas on Post It notes and sticking them to a wall works just as well, as long as you’ve got the webcam on. 

This extended period of remote working is a marathon, not a sprint. It is not short-term so prepare yourself and your teams for success. However, out of this time will come fantastic innovation, new ways of working and a greater diversity of teams, so when the initial phase settles, discuss with your team what you may want the new ‘normal’ to look like.

Wider reading

Trina Hoefling’s Working Virtually: Transforming the Mobile Workplace has really helpful advice on how to develop or sustain inclusive practices. 

If you have more time,  Hoefling runs a free 45-minute course that includes a self assessment. 

Jane Grant is UK Head of Learning & Development at WSP.

Image credit: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / Staff via Getty Images


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