By Donal Laverty, Consulting Partner
A recent survey by McKinsey revealed that 87% of Americans prefer working on a hybrid or fully remote basis. This dynamic is widespread across demographics, occupations and geographies, and the work-from-anywhere trend is likely to dominate the rest of the decade.
The hybrid model meets the needs of those stimulated by the office environment without leaving out employees who are more productive working remotely. It is also a complex arrangement that brings new power dynamics and challenges.
One such challenge is employee visibility, an important factor in maintaining fairness, productivity, and morale. The fact that work is no longer confined to one location means employees can easily feel they are being overlooked, and managers can feel out of touch with their team.
With some employees working in the office and others working remotely, there is a natural challenge for remote workers to build relationships and establish a presence within their organisation.
Teammates may struggle with accessing information and opportunities, staying in the loop of latest decisions, or even gaining enough credit for their work. Yet, connectivity is integral to a positive organisational culture.
One explanation for the issue is proximity bias, the notion that managers pick favorites or build trust and connection with those working closest to them. This can leave others to perceive the situation as a lack of recognition and can quickly evolve into a lack of motivation and valuable contribution to the business.
At the very heart of visibility is trust, and employee needs will differ depending on their level and role within the company. Employers must therefore pay attention to the design of their operations and take steps to improve staff visibility and shine a spotlight on those who may be feeling isolated.
The first step is to understand what kind of visibility teammates of different seniority levels need. By understanding the level of information a person needs for peak performance, leaders can avoid overload while making sure everyone is fully equipped to stay engaged.
Moving discussions and resources online will eliminate the disproportionate advantage office-based teams have over their remote counterparts. Digitisation of systems means everyone can access information instantly or reach out to a colleague, so keeping a documentation hub and sharing information widely is vital.
Also beneficial here are the steps employers take to encourage engagement and visibility. ‘Camera on’ policies and asks for participation in meetings will improve a team’s familiarity with each other and ultimately boost teammate confidence and participation.
Employees are equally responsible for their own development, and so should express their own willingness to actively participate. It’s a simple reality that teammates can’t expect opportunity to come their way if no one knows who they are, so asks for feedback, offers to present at a staff meeting or town hall, and offering to help on additional projects can go a long way. This type of attitude builds mutual respect and can make the employee-manager dynamic a more productive one.
With the new hybrid working trend, organisations from large global corporations to small businesses are figuring out the right approach to combining offline and online work. There is a direct relationship between acknowledgement and involvement with our desire to contribute and embrace our job role and responsibilities. Employers need to first recognise the bias problem that exists, before taking steps to support visibility and the unique needs that come with a dispersed workforce.
This article first appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 11th July 2023.