Distance Bias and Creating Opportunity for Connection in a Remote Work Environment
More likely than not, you’ve dialed into a meeting as a remote attendee and battled the difficulty of engaging fully and being truly included in the conversation. The inability to read other attendees’ body language, the often limited opportunities for collaboration and the potential for exclusivity in conversations can understandably lead to frustration and a lack of sustained attention. These habits aren’t necessarily the fault of the other parties; it’s actually a part of our nature.
Whether you were already working remotely long-term or are now acclimating to a remote work environment for the first time, the odds are that you have experienced distance bias.
The NeuroLeadership Institute, an organization combining a science-based approach with leadership principles, defines distance bias as “preferring people or things closer in space and time than what is farther away.” The same bias affects people working in your office, and now even more so than ever. After all, it’s called “face time” for a reason. And with a staggering number of workers going remote in the current climate, the old adage “out of sight, out of mind,” is proving more true than ever before. Despite the current necessity for remote conversations, we are naturally wired to act on our distance bias.
While many areas of our lives can benefit from distance bias, it can be a disadvantage at times for remote work. Most human behaviors are learned or created from habit, but certain biases are inherent and cannot easily be eliminated, meaning it is even more important than ever for employers and coworkers to deliberately structure processes to mitigate these biases. It is through honest reflection and deliberate consideration that we find opportunities to connect with one another and create more inclusive work environments, regardless of proximity.
Opportunities for Connection
For many, working remotely has become the “new normal,” but even distance work scenarios hold ample opportunity for regular connection.
Allocating time to maintain regular check-ins with your team is one effective way to connect. The lack of “water cooler conversations” and elevator pleasantries can make the distance feel even greater at times. Pair this with a varied level of comfort and proficiency with electronic communication, and there emerges a more pressing need for intentional connection with both employees and peers. Consistently carving out individual time aids in working against distance bias in the workplace.
Battling Distance Bias Head On
Developing a culture that is resistant to distance bias is imperative in both temporary and permanent remote scenarios. Inclusivity is key in combating distance bias. When leading a virtual meeting, create a habit of asking for the opinions of remote workers first in order to ensure those voices are heard and valued in the conversation. By creating the opportunity for immediate involvement in the topic at hand, you are in turn giving remote workers the ability to find value in more readily engaging in the meeting.
Creating deliberate structures and processes that mitigate distance biases is also key in battling this natural inclination head-on. While regular communication is beneficial, regulating our bias on temporal proximity isn’t always as simple. It is important to rely on a person’s track record rather than basing your opinions and decisions solely on the most recent interaction. Keep evaluations reflective of a cumulative time frame in order to avoid skewing perceptions based on a recent event that may still be fresh in your mind. This may require the development of a new process such as a note-taking system to track ongoing details and form a more holistic representation of the performance of the person you are working with.
While the duration of many employees’ remote work status may remain unforeseen, these challenges will remain constant. Distance bias may be something we have a natural tendency toward, but those biases don’t have to rule our decision making. Now more than ever, it is important to do what is in our power to account and adjust for those biases in order to foster workplaces that are inclusive and supportive. Extraordinary opportunities for connection become possible when we do just that.