How to protect hybrid work cultures from proximity bias — —

Contributed by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, general manager of boutique design consulting Disaster prevention experts, which helps advanced leaders avoid dangerous threats and missed opportunities. A best-selling author, his most recent book is Returning to the office and leading hybrid and remote computers. We asked Dr. Tsipursky as leaders can address the bias of proximity in the new normalcy of the hybrid work culture. Here’s what she shared:

Of the many changes accelerated by the pandemic, remote and hybrid work schedules are one that has created continuous waves of adaptation in companies around the world. Employees of the same organization often work very different hours: some work full-time in the office, some with hybrid hours, others are completely remote. Differences in work styles and schedules can understandably lead to resentments about flexibility and job performance.

The danger of accumulating a sense of resentment between “having” and “not having” when it comes to schedule flexibility is a reality. It calls for a work culture that recognizes these issues. Smart leaders recognize that they need to address proximity bias as they adapt their work culture to the hybrid, remote future of work.

Leaders who want to take advantage of a competitive advantage in the future of work use research-based best practices to create a culture of “Excellence from anywhere” to address these concerns. This cultural best practice is based on the guidance I helped develop for the leaders of 17 major organizations to implement effective strategies for an appropriate work culture for the future of work.

Our future is hybrid

Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. workers worked remotely during the pandemic. In addition, up to three-quarters of employers surveyed intend to maintain a primarily hybrid calendar after the pandemic.

Many large companies have already announced a change to a permanent post-pandemic hybrid model of one to three days of office work. Several other organizations will allow many or all of their remote work employees to work from home on a permanent basis.

These decisions match the wishes of workers, with surveys showing that most employees want a hybrid or fully remote schedule permanently, even after the pandemic. Thus, organizations need to adapt their work culture to suit these needs.

Why have organizations not adapted to the future of work?

Leaders often do not adopt best practices because of dangerous judgments called cognitive bias. These mental blind spots lead to poor strategic and financial decisions when evaluating options. They make it impossible for leaders to resist following their instincts instead of relying on best practices.

One of these biases is called functional fixation. It refers to the tendency to dispense with other more appropriate alternatives when we have a particular perception of good practices.

Trying to transpose existing forms of collaboration in “office culture” to remote work is a good example of functional firmness. That is why leaders were unable to strategically address the issues that arose with the abrupt transition to telecommuting.

Another cognitive bias related to functional fixation is called non-invented syndrome here. It is the antipathy of a leader to the adoption of uninvented practices within his organization, however useful they may be.

Defeating these cognitive biases requires the use of research-based good practices. It means adopting a hybrid model first with a totally remote minority. To do so successfully requires creating a new work culture that is appropriate for the hybrid, remote future of work.

How “Excellence from anywhere” protects you from proximity bias

Some organizations may require some employees to come to your facility full time. For example, one of my clients is a high-tech manufacturing company with over 25,000 employees. Many of these employees must be present at the factory.

Others may have to go into a hybrid schedule, even if they worked remotely full-time during the pandemic. An example: Research and development staff are able to innovate better if they can access the company’s laboratory equipment. Some team leaders may want employees to come one day a week to facilitate team cohesion and collaboration, even if they can do all their work remotely. Still other employees may have team leaders that allow them to work full-time at a distance.

These differences in flexibility have the potential to create tension among employees. Addressing these possible cultural divisions is vital to preventing the development of a sense of “possessing” and “not having.”

Leaders can address this by focusing on a shared culture of excellence from anywhere. This term refers to a flexible organizational culture that takes into account the nature of an employee’s work and promotes task-based policies, allowing for remote work whenever possible.

The Excellence From Anywhere strategy addresses divisive concerns by focusing on results, no matter where you work. Doing so also involves adopting best practices for hybrid and remote collaboration and innovation.

Promoting these good practices helps to integrate employees into an appropriate work culture for the future of the job while fostering good relationships with managers. Research shows that these are the most important relationships for employee morale, commitment, and retention.

By valuing deliveries, collaboration, and innovation through a shared work culture of excellence from anywhere, you can instill a focus on deliveries on your employees. The basic idea is to get all your workforce together to achieve business results – location doesn’t matter.

This work culture addresses concerns about equity by reformulating the conversation to focus on achieving shared goals, rather than on the method to achieve them. After all, no one wants their colleagues to have to move in spite.

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