96% of bosses notice people’s work more in the office, research finds

The most avid supporters of the return to the office have touted the benefits of Facetime: impromptu brainstorming sessions at the coffee machine, chance encounters with bosses, networking in the elevator.

As more companies adopt hybrid working arrangements, with teams split between in-person and remote workers, a pressing question arises: how important is it really to work in-person with your bosses and co-workers?

New research suggests it may matter — a great deal. According to a Sept. 27 report by workplace platform Envoy, which surveyed 1,000 employees and 250 executives in the United States, about 96% of executives say they notice and appreciate employees’ contributions in the office far more than working from home

While an overwhelming majority of executives place greater value on in-office contributions, 42% of employees believe their bosses perceive their remote contributions as much as their in-office work.

Proximity bias — the idea that executives favor employees who are in the office more often in order to secure promotions and raises — is undoubtedly real, and as more companies return to the office, “the problem is getting worse,” says Annette Reavis, CEO of Envoy People Officer, tells CNBC Make It.

“People don’t change as easily as we’d like to believe,” adds Johnny C. Taylor Jr., President and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Many executives have worked this way and have relied on their teams working in one office throughout their careers, and even after three years of remote work, many of them have never grappled with the consistency of this new way of working.”

However, opinions between managers and employees differ on the importance of Facetime. Envoy found that a larger percentage of female executives (8%) perceive employees’ remote contributions as much as they do in the office compared to their male colleagues (3%).

Gen Z workers were the most likely to agree with leaders, with 73% of Gen Z workers believing their contributions would be more visible locally, while only 56% of workers across generations agreed.

How to create a more inclusive hybrid culture

Examples of proximity bias can range from inadvertently excluding remote employees from in-office meetings to offering projects for development opportunities to on-site employees first.

Leaders have the greatest power to reduce the proximity bias by adopting more inclusive practices that consider the skills and needs of remote workers and pay attention to the contributions of their employees, regardless of where they work, Reavis says.

She encourages managers to establish fair, transparent performance and salary review processes based on clear goals and metrics rather than behaviors that both personal and external employees can achieve.

Reavis also recommends setting firm start and end times for meetings so remote colleagues don’t feel “left out” by hallway conversations, and if an impromptu innovation session takes place in other cubicles or the canteen room, call or fill in your remote employee them after the fact.

The same rule applies to employees with distant teammates, Taylor adds. “Sometimes we forget that we have colleagues who are not physically present,” he explains. “Managers and employees need to be very conscious of involving their colleagues, which isn’t present in office culture.”

Prior to meetings with remote and face-to-face colleagues, Taylor writes a reminder on a Post-It note and sticks it to his computer as a reminder to highlight a positive contribution from one of his remote colleagues or to ask one of them a question.

Remote workers can also do their part to combat proximity bias, Taylor said, whether it’s by scheduling weekly or monthly virtual coffee appointments with your co-workers or introducing yourself to bosses via email and sharing what you’ve been working on.

It’s too early to say what the long-term effects of proximity bias will be, but Reavis worries remote workers’ careers could be hurt if most or all of their team is in the office — particularly for women and people of color who are more inclined to pursue opportunities from afar.

“People choose to work remotely with the expectation that their careers will evolve at the same pace as their in-person counterparts,” says Reavis. “If the tendency towards closeness persists, it could hamper their career advancement without them understanding why … and that worries me the most.”


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