Bridging the divide between the office and WFH teams.

Posted: 27 January 2022

By Luke Upton

Attending an HR conference, at the end of last year, I heard the term ‘presence privilege’ for the first time. It’s the idea that in a world of hybrid employment, with some staff in the office, and others working from home, a divide will be created. And this division will favour those who physically in their workplaces, able to better contribute to meetings and planning, as well as better building those informal bonds of kinship and friendship with colleagues. Today we take a look at methods of bridging the divide between the office and WFH teams.

The concern in this discussion what that the division would damage both the individuals and the company and that some steps needed to be taken to ensure that it didn’t take place.

Examples given included everyone taking place in meetings from their computer, irrespective of whether they were in the office or not, and meetings need to be planned differently to ensure that everyone wherever they are gets a say.

Workplace fears.

The phrase ‘presence privilege’ might be a handy little phrase to cover this but, there is a real fear from some workplace traditionalists that the digital / office division is a ticking time bomb for businesses building a new working model post-Covid. What if remote workers, not able to be in their bosses’ ear, or at their colleague’s lunch table, be forgotten when it comes to decision making, promotions, pay rises and other forms of career progression. 

A CNBC Survey Monkey poll from April 2021, found that many workers are concerned about limiting their career potential by choosing to work remotely with more than half (52%) stating they expected people who work in-person to have better career opportunities at their organization in the future, while just 15% expect remote workers to have better career opportunities and 31% said remote and in-person workers will have equivalent career opportunities. 

Extra career opportunities.

Even some industries that have had large proportions of their workers at home, say in-person employees will have an advantage in terms of career opportunities. For example, finance professionals by a 4-to-1 margin they say that in-person workers will have better career opportunities than remote workers at their company a year from now.

Scott Dawson, author of ‘The Art of Working Remotely: How to Thrive in a Distributed Workplace’, told the magazine HR Brew; “Historically, there’s been kind of out-of-sight, out-of-mind bias. It’s this thing called ‘distance bias’ – it’s a tendency to favour people who are closer to us in time and space.” 

Humans typically favour those in close physical proximity, as Dawson continues: “We’re wired as humans to prefer someone who sits next to us over a person who’s just a thumbnail on a screen.”

So, what’s to be done? 

Firstly, there’s a major emphasis on managers to develop and deliver new ways of working for their teams. Hybrid working is a unique challenge, and bosses need to put learning and development in place to ensure it’s a success. Management of meetings is a clear example, be sure to ensure everyone contributes, and if those at home, aren’t, then softly try and draw them out. 

More junior staff also need to take the initiative, if mainly at home, it’s important to keep vocal and not be merely in the background. Ask for more responsibility. Take the lead in task delivering.  Ensure that weekly one-on-one meetings are always done, and also ensure regular (digital) face time with HR. 

Then there’s communication. When it’s poorly managed it can result in poor information flow, knowledge gaps and errors and misunderstanding particularly for those at home. Communication within hybrid teams needs to be planned and intentional as casual or ad-hoc conversations will be limited. But it’s not just down to the managers, effective communication needs to be seen as the responsibility of everyone in the team.

Allied with communication, comes technology, which underpins hybrid working and employees need to be able to work seamlessly between workplace and home. Investments in time and money must be made to ensure there is an ease of connectivity between people in the office and those working remotely.

Bridging the divide between the office and WFH teams is an important part of the modern workplace. There’s no secret to success and this is a new world for most of us, but we are all humans, and all colleagues so be sure to keep this in mind, and keep focussed on the bigger goals of success.