Today’s episode is timely, because it’s all about hidden biases that we might see in a fully remote work or hybrid work environment. We’re going over the things that get in the way of building positive working relationships with one another. Now this is a conversation the Inclusion in Progress team has often because we, too, have to check our own biases regularly when it comes to working with one another across EMEA, APAC and the Americas. We also know, from working with our client partners, that we’re not alone in experiencing this.
So on today’s episode, we’re going to look at a few of the hidden biases that we’ve witnessed in hybrid or remote work that you may or may not be aware of, and discuss some ways to avoid them. If you’re a forward-thinking leader who is interested in learning about and tackling your potential hidden biases for the betterment of your team? This is definitely an episode for you.
Welcome to the Inclusion in Progress podcast where we give you the ideas, actions and insights to help you build more equity at your workplace and in the world at large. I'm your host, Kay Fabella, international expert on diversity, equity and inclusion, a Filipina American living in Spain and your guide in navigating this DEI journey. Having worked with teams at companies such as Philips, the IMF, Red Hat, PepsiCo and more, I know firsthand that the work of inclusion only works when everyone has a seat at the table. Regardless of your personal entrypoint into this conversation: your race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, or educational background, we all have a role to play in creating inclusion for all and it starts with us having conversations we need to create the change we wish to see. So let's dive into today's episode.
Hello and welcome back to Inclusion in Progress! Now, at the time this episode is coming out, Team IIP and I are somewhere between Mombasa and Nairobi, Kenya! My husband will actually also be flying down from Spain to join me this week as well to celebrate our wedding anniversary and, of course, get some proper sightseeing. And while we're here, it really is… you know, now that I think about it… a privilege to enjoy the freedom to travel and experience other cultures, especially after the last couple of years, as well as really get to work alongside this team that I've built since the pandemic started.
Now I know, obviously, you listen to my voice as Kay Fabella on Inclusion in Progress every month as a DEI practitioner who's sharing her research-backed insights with a global perspective. But getting these episodes out to you really is a team effort. I cannot stress that enough! Because we really want to make sure that listeners like you continue to benefit from the conversations and resources that we share here about how the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conversation is evolving, how the future of work is being shaped by the companies that we are working with and others we are collaborating with, and how cross-cultural communication is critical in an increasingly distributed world.
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Now, today's episode is timely because it's all about hidden biases that we might see in a fully remote work or hybrid work environment. Basically all the things that get in the way of building positive working relationships with one another where we can trust and collaborate with one another - we know we have each other's backs - which is critical, even more so when we're working remotely and we can't always see one another to build that trust. Now, this is a conversation obviously the team and I have often because we too have to check our own biases regularly when it comes to working with one another across EMEA, APAC and the Americas, and we know from working with our client partners that we're not alone in experiencing this. Now some hidden biases could include things like timezone challenges, cultural and language differences, et cetera.
So on today's episode, we're going to look at a few of the hidden biases that we've witnessed in hybrid or remote work that you may or may not be aware of, and some ways to avoid them. As always, we'll be aggregating scenarios from our own experiences, and from those of our client partners. Now, every organization is different and every team is different but, as always, we're going to share what we see in real-time in a way that we hope is useful to you as our listeners.
So let's go ahead and dive right in!
The first of the different biases we're going to be looking at today that come up in a hybrid work environment is Location Bias. Now, Location Bias is where we have a preference for working with people who are working in the same geographic location. So, the same city, the same town, the same country, or even just the same timezone, more than those who aren't in the same location as us.
Now, this is particularly relevant in a post COVID period when companies are trying to figure out what “working together” looks like. Now, offices, as we know, have opened up in some parts of the world but, even still, some people are reluctant to come back into the office at all. Others are really keen to connect again, and still others are interested in a more hybrid model - just to know that they have the option to come in or stay at home or work from wherever if they need to - which means many companies are finding themselves in this catch-22: if they keep the office open will people come in and will those who actually come in find the connection that they need to whether it's connect with their own team members or, if they're newer in career network, with people who could help them advance?
While there are many great advantages to remote working - obviously, we are big proponents of it at Inclusion in Progress! - there are also challenges, of course, due to Location Bias and feeling more comfortable working with people who are in or around the same physical location.
So, for example, we can look at things like meeting times. Now, one of the companies that we worked with… the head office was in San Francisco, like many tech companies, along with most of the team. But the team that we were tasked with partnering with was actually based here in the EMEA region, mainly in the UK and in Germany, which meant that morning meetings out in California, my home state, were always around European dinnertime, which was a frustration that came up often when we were discussing ways that we can embed more remote work-friendly times. Teams in the APAC region, we particularly feel for, right? Working with folks out in India or Australia [or] New Zealand… those folks often feel like they get the short end of the stick when it comes to meetings if they're working with other teams internationally because they may have to jump on Zoom or Teams calls with the Americas or the EMEA region during either family time or later in the evening, or at odd hours in the morning just to coincide.
That Location Bias is not just relevant for our teams in different countries. It's also important for those who might be considering relocating to a different state or country for a more affordable lifestyle. We've seen this in several tech companies that are announcing virtual-first or work-from-anywhere policies, and workers taking advantage of that to move to areas or cities or states or countries which are more affordable.
For example, I wrote a story in the LA Times back in May 2022 about how the number of US citizens relocating to Portugal - which is right next door to me, where I'm based in Spain - increased by 45% in the last year.
As they're looking for better health care, better housing, and just a more affordable standard of living overall than in my birth country in the US. And, of course, that's going to affect our teams. I'll be sure to link to that in the show notes in case you want to check that out. But I thought it was particularly interesting.
So whether you're looking at a globally distributed team that is across borders, or watching your own teams consider relocating to a different state or timezone for the first time, awareness of Location Bias is the first step to checking it and then solving for it. Just because someone isn't in the same geographic location or area as you doesn't mean that they're less capable of connecting and staying on task when you need them. Now, as always with biases, if you're aware of things like this - in this case, Location Bias - as a team or as a leader who's listening, you can communicate with one another to find meeting times that suit or work to create better workflow, those that don't require all of you having to connect as often and making the time that you do connect much more impactful.
So that was Location Bias. Now let's take a look at the next one that we have for you, which is Virtual Performance Bias.
Now, basically, what this boils down to is how we perceive whether someone is working hard or doing their job, which is really influenced by the tech platforms that we're using to stay connected while we're working in a hybrid environment or working remotely. For example, some remote workers are happy to stay connected on Slack or Teams because their work team or their work environment is where they found most of their personal relationships as well, whereas others may prefer to turn their notifications off after a certain hour, which is not necessarily a reflection on how hard they're working or not.
Now, in our experience, especially with tech companies, we've seen that there is a very distinct work culture in places like the US and the UK, which are a lot more hustle-driven. So this idea of turning off notifications might be considered… I don't want to say unacceptable, but maybe inappropriate, or it can be perceived potentially as - again, Virtual Performance Bias - that somebody isn't as willing to do their job if they're not connected. Whereas in places like Spain, where I live, there is more of a live-to-work culture. So, turning off notifications, shutting down that laptop after work, might be considered perfectly acceptable and, honestly, in my opinion, a lot more healthy!
So we can also see Virtual Performance Bias and how cultural differences show up with things like having our cameras turned on or off on virtual team calls. So when I deliver training or when I'm facilitating conversations virtually for US-based companies, I rarely have to remind people to turn their cameras on and tell them why it might be helpful. But when I'm working with clients in, say, the Middle East, or North Africa, the APAC region overall, those folks I found that might need a little bit more coaxing. And possibly for valid reasons, right? They may be having to participate in a work call during their dinner time or later at night from their home, and all of the things that come up from them being in that home environment.
Now, another example is my husband works for a Spanish company where people rarely have their cameras on. We always have a joke… I feel like I was on way more meetings where I had to turn my camera on during the pandemic the last couple of years, and I think he's used it… I can count on one hand how many times he's actually turned on his camera for calls, because people on his team rarely turn their camera on during meetings, unless you're the manager or the division director, and that's considered acceptable! It doesn't mean that he's not doing his job or he's not participating in the meeting because he's always scribbling and taking notes. But, again, it's just a different culture in terms of things like virtual performance and how our bias has changed depending on where we are and what our environment looks like.
So Virtual Performance Bias can show up in other ways, such as what we assume when we see that some folks are tech savvy and some people aren't; or what we assume when someone is trying to figure out a more healthy relationship with technology that works with their lifestyle and looks like they're disconnecting a little bit more than normal; or what we may assume when others have a language barrier to actually connect with us and they're not as responsive on our communication channels or on our all hands calls because there's an extra barrier for them. Now being aware of when or where you might be judging other people's performance, perhaps unfairly, based on your particular context or your own communication preferences with your technology is the first step to tackling this. Having an open conversation with your team about their remote work situation, how they like to communicate, if you haven't already done so, can be a really good place to start. Now, I talk about this a lot more on Episode IIP093: What Remote Teams REALLY Need To Feel Included At Work, so be sure to check that out after you listen to this episode.
Now, if we take a brief pause here, because at Inclusion in Progress we know the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion or DEI conversation is continuing to stay relevant as the future of work evolves, as our expectations of work change, as technology influences how we stay connected and how we work with one another and, of course, as our workforce continues to diversify in identity and representation, and geographic location to reflect the world that we already live in. Now, as an organization it's your job to understand what your people need today, to keep them long enough to continue to recruit the best people tomorrow, and continue to innovate and keep your competitive edge in a fast-changing world.
Now, trying to tackle all of the different lenses of DEI can often feel overwhelming. So if you want someone in your corner, that's where we come in!
Inclusion in Progress partners with forward-thinking leaders like yourself, who know that the future of work will require creativity, agility, and consistency to meet the challenges of a distributed workforce. One of the ways that we can support you is through our Inclusive Virtual Work Survey. Sometimes it's just understanding whether or not some of the biases that we've talked about even exist, or whether or not different folks are being given equitable and inclusive access to opportunities just because they're working remotely or in a hybrid environment. Now, as a fully remote team that is comfortable gathering data across cultures and borders, that intimately knows the challenges and benefits of supporting teams working virtually - including ourselves! - we guide the likes of client partners like Red Hat, Instagram, and more with how to implement structures and systems that support your teams in achieving their best no matter where they come from, or where they choose to work so that you can increase the likelihood of retaining and holding on to your best people on your teams and renew your commitment to greater equity and inclusion.
So if you'd like to learn more about our Inclusive Virtual Work Survey and how we can start rolling it out for your global DEI strategy to support equitable and inclusive work environments, head to the link in the show notes to book a call to learn more!
Now, again, we've already started finalizing work for client partners for the first half of 2023 at the time of this recording, so if you would like to learn how we can support you before 2022 ends, book a call with us or email us directly at email@example.com to book a call and learn how we can help you gather the data you need for creating an inclusive flexible work strategy that retains your best people and ideas.
Now let's look at the bias that is the most common, and we'll probably bang on about because we are also a cross-cultural team ourselves… Cultural Bias.
Now we've talked about this already in several conversations on the podcast, but cultural bias really takes root even more when you're working in a hybrid or remote environment. We're becoming much more aware that culture and how we define it is just so much more than where you come from, what your ethnicity or nationality or even passport is. Your cultural lens can be shaped by things like whether you live in a city or a town, what state you live in, what your political beliefs are, whether you've traveled outside of your country or not, where your parents come from versus where you were born. There are many different cultural lenses that influence or cause cultural bias in a remote or hybrid work environment.
For example, if everyone speaks one dominant language on a team, there may be inside jokes or cultural references that they share. So, for example, if you're working on a team where most people are German or German speakers and you're not, there may be shared experiences that you may not understand and may even cause you to feel excluded. The recent passing of the Queen of England is another really good example. Now, if you're working in a remote team with someone who is from the UK who is being asked to honor the 10-day mourning period alongside someone who is from a former colonized nation of the British Empire, there are likely to be a few mixed feelings. So acknowledging that there may be differences in the way that people feel about an event like this because of their cultural lenses instead of assuming that everybody has the same reference point is a really great start. Simply recognizing that we all have cultural biases that are shaped by how we see the world and our environment and how we grew up and what our experiences are and being able to hold space for people to have multiple perspectives on the same thing is really important.
As always, this comes back to having conversations with your team, rather than labeling those you perceive as different from you as such. It's all about acknowledging that each of us brings our own cultural lenses to the table and being able to recognize how those differences may show up on our hybrid teams before making assumptions about one another. Instead, it's about leveraging and acknowledging those differences and using them to create a space of psychological safety where people feel they can safely contribute and move the team and the organization forward.
So there you have it, the three hidden biases in hybrid or remote work, how they can show up on your team and ways that you can address them! So we covered Location Bias, Virtual Performance Bias, as well as Cultural Bias.
Now, at Inclusion in Progress we know the DEI conversation, when we're looking at everything from different levels of unconscious bias to how to structure a hybrid work environments, can feel urgent and daunting for organizations, especially as our leaders and our companies are now taking on a new role in defining our future workplaces to work for everyone. Now, if you're a forward-thinking leader listening to this, if you know that you care about understanding what your people need today to know how to get them to contribute their best ideas and help recruit even better people tomorrow, trying to tackle all the different lenses that DEI has and spans and offers can feel a little bit like a minefield some days. But rather than looking at the entire room of options, as we often say on the podcast, we recommend starting in one corner, and working your way outward.
So if you want someone in your corner to tackle how to make flexible work inclusive for your teams, to hold on to your best people, and to continue to have the competitive edge that you need to continue to evolve and innovate in the world that we live in, we can help at Inclusion in Progress! One of the ways we can support you is through our Inclusive Virtual Work Survey, to understand where your teams are and where they need to go to be able to create policies and structures that will move your team and your organization forward. We're a fully remote team that's been comfortable gathering data across cultures and borders for years and we intimately know the challenges and benefits of supporting teams who work virtually, being able to guide you on how to implement structures and systems that support your teams, and contributing their best ideas and perspectives to your company from wherever they work is our specialty. And we want to help you retain your best and live up to your desire to create inclusion for all.
So to learn more about our Inclusive Virtual Work Survey and how we can start rolling it out to support your global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy, head to the link in the show notes for this episode, and book a call to learn more! Again, we're finalizing bookings for client partners in Q4, and even in Q1 and Q2 of 2023. So if you'd like to learn how we can work together, book a call with us, or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
As always, thank you so much for listening. Thank you for sharing these episodes with others. And we'll see you next time on Inclusion in Progress!