Among all of the challenges and opportunities presented by COVID-19, there is a potential impact that that isn’t being discussed very much – if at all: The remote work situation provides fertile ground for unconscious bias.
As I talked about in a previous blog, unconscious biases are assumptions our brains make and conclusions our brains jump to without any thought or awareness on our part.
Without giving your answers any thought, what is your very first reaction to these questions:
◻ Are people with kids more or less productive when working from home?
◻ Are women or men more productive when working from home?
◻ Are older or younger employees more likely to put in a full day of work while remote?
◻ Are those who come into the office more dedicated than those who stay home?
REMOTE WORK IS FERTILE GROUND FOR BIAS
When we see and interact with people regularly, our existing biases and assumptions are challenged constantly – often unconsciously – when they are inconsistent with what we physically see and experience with the other person. In the absence of these personal interactions, we tend to “lose sight” of the individual, we start to think about people in a more generic categories – and our biases gain greater influence.
Not only does remote work decrease our brain’s ability to challenge our biases, but it also opens the door to a new set of biases. Many leaders have negative assumptions and beliefs about the dedication and productivity of remote workers. In industries and companies where loyalty and dedication have historically been measured by the amount of time spent in the office, the negative biases and assumptions about remote workers are even stronger.
These biases are in play now and will be prevalent as the ban is lifted and employees differ in when and how much they return to the office.
REDUCING THE IMPACT
One of the keys to mitigating unconscious biases is to understand that we all have them in one shape or another, and with that understanding in mind, you can take an objective approach to identifying and arresting unconscious biased actions or behavior. Taking an inventory of your actions is an important step in uncovering the influence of your unconscious biases.
This is just for you. Be candid with yourself. Reflect on your actual actions with each member of your team before you answer:
◻ Am I providing more guidance and coaching to some employees than others?
◻ Am I assigning challenging work equally?
◻ Am I providing more clarity on assignments to some employees than others?
◻ Am I ‘staying on top of’ and micromanaging some employees more than others?
◻ Am I giving some employees the benefit of the doubt more than others?
◻ Am I offering to help some employees more than others?
◻ Am I addressing issues directly with some employees but complaining about others?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Treating employees differently may not be the result of bias. But it’s wise to explore and pressure test our reasons. In the areas where you treat people in the organization differently:
◻ Is there a deliberate reason or is that just how it worked out?
◻ Are there any common characteristics of the people I treat differently?
◻ What thoughts are hovering around in the back of my mind when I think about this person? (Even if I don’t act on them).
◻ What portion of my actions is based on assumptions about the person?
As we shift to a new paradigm of more remote working situations, our ability to make objective, unbiased decisions is being challenged. As a result, we need to be aware of and willing to challenge our thoughts before we use them to justify our actions, comments, and decisions.
To find out more about how PeopleCap can help your people, take a look at a few of our clients’ stories.