As the world seeks a new future “normal”, The Inclusion Initiative (TII) and a talented group of MSc Behavioural Science students at the London School of Economics and Political Science, have created a dictionary of biases that firms can use to identify barriers to inclusion as we move to more hybrid models of working.
I hope it inspires some readers to monitor the issues that we raise so that hybrid working does not have winners and losers, but rather makes possible the equalisation of opportunities.
Dr Grace Lordan, Founding Director of The Inclusion Initiative
Do you act differently in a meeting if it is from home, rather than in the office? Are you likely to brainstorm with colleagues if they aren’t in the same physical space as you? Do you get on better with your boss if you, or they, work remotely? These may seem trivial, but these behaviours have high-stake outcomes, including the likelihood of promotions, level of pay and access to assignments.
How we are working in 2020 has changed. Flexible working models have been essential in juggling competing demands. Even prior to the pandemic, for many, working remotely has been a roadblock to some of those high-stake outcomes talked about above, from being looked over for a promotion, to staying static on a pay grade. As we have settled in the rhythm of mostly flexible working, businesses are now looking towards the next step change.
The proportion of those working from home on a regular basis is expected to rise in the UK to 22% compared to 9% seen prior to lockdown measures. This long-term shift raises important questions on how to best organise the workforce, where some employees will be working on-site and others remotely. It is hoped that many of the positive aspects leveraged during the pandemic response will continue; and gains in inclusion made prior to the pandemic become more ingrained in working culture in general. At the same time, hybrid work carries unique challenges for inclusivity, and we are only now beginning to think about behavioural responses and biases which may arise in these settings.
So, what are some of the biases that employers can look out for as they start to think about re-organising work? This report gives a digestible A-Z of some relevant biases that can occur in the workplace, and instances where these may be heightened due to remote and hybrid working. Some of these biases include:
Availability Heuristic: Judgments are influenced by information that is salient and readily accessible. In a hybrid working environment, management may give preferential treatment to those who are in the office on a regular basis as their work is more visible, and thereby more salient. This can cause preferential allocation of stretch assignments, pay and promotions to in-office workers.
Heightened Spotlight Effect: Occurs when we believe people are paying more attention to our actions than they actually are, in other words our tendency to always feel like we are “in the spotlight”. In a hybrid work setting those who feel relatively less job security may experience the heightened spotlight effect and feel a need to participate more often in discussions, even when they have no new novel insights to offer. This may manifest as excessive emailing or lengthy meetings as the affected individual attempts to prove their worth.
Status-Quo Bias: A tendency to continue with the current state of affairs even when it is sub-optimal. Managers may continue inferior working practices even though they are no longer as effective in hybrid working environments. For example, maintaining presenteeism as a proxy of productivity. Status quo bias may also cause employees to remain in jobs that have evolved and are no longer suited to them.
Behind the story:
A project by BE-Inclusive; a LSE group focused on using behavioural science to promote inclusion in the workplace: Catherine Bouckley, Michaela Fricova, Sammy Glatzel, Natalie Hall, Ipsitaa Khullar, Alexandra Kirienko, Sharon Raj, Tina Soh, and Sego Zeller. Additional authors from The Inclusion Initiative at LSE: Teresa Almeida, Paris Will and Dr Grace Lordan
Access the full report ‘Hybrid Working: A Dictionary of Biases’ by BE-Inclusive for The Inclusion Initiative, November 2020 available here.
Visit the The Inclusion Initiative (TII) website at https://www.lse.ac.uk/PBS/Research/tii