How to Support Remote Work by Removing Unconscious Bias

The Technical Leader’s Guide

Remote work is evolving from a luxury to an expectation, especially among technical employees.

For example, the number of employees working remotely has increased just over 10% in the past four years. When focusing on the engineering community specifically, there were 300,000 full-time employees in computer science careers working from home as of 2015, and the number of engineers who work from home full-time has grown an average of 11.5% per year.

This growth makes it essential for startups and software companies to rethink and develop their flexible working policies — and more so, question whether the culture they espouse is truly in support of their remote employees.

In fact, your current leadership style may unconsciously prioritize your in-office employees.

Here are seven opportunities to question your unconscious biases to develop an environment that successfully supports remote work.

We will be discussing these ideas and more at the upcoming How to Support Remote Work & Decide What’s Right for Your Team webinar with leaders from InVision, MIT and Wayfair.

Let’s start with an easy one. First, for every team meeting or discussion, assume there will always be someone remote. Don’t wait for someone to ask. Include a Zoom or a Hangouts link in every invitation, setting the precedent that your team supports remote participation. Now there will be no question that participation from anywhere is appropriate.

You should also make face-to-face a priority with your remote workers. It’s easy to feel camera shy or assume your teammates won’t prefer it. However, that face-time is extremely valuable in helping strengthen the relationship between you and the employee. Video gives you significantly more information and context to the discussion than phone or email. You’ll be able to pick up on nonverbal cues and facial expressions to truly get a read on the person and how he or she is doing. If you’re having a difficult conversation, it’s even more imperative to talk face-to-face to make sure the tone is understood correctly and all participants are talking on the same page.

Prioritizing face-to-face doesn’t end at the one-to-one meeting. Ideally all meetings use video. And while at this day and age using video conferencing for team meetings is extremely common if not the standard, not all companies have a conference room set up that truly supports the remote employee experience.

For example, one of the most common conference room set ups is a camera mounted on the wall above that TV. If you’re logging into that call as a remote employee, you’re seeing from the perspective of literarily a fly on the wall. This can be extremely alienating, and worse is an experience that makes it extremely difficult to chime in and contribute. This poor experience could lead to an unintentional dynamic where your in-office employees more frequently contribute to the discussion than your employees working from home.

To fix this, start thinking about camera placement from all participant perspectives and whether the view it provides actually gives the remote person the experience necessary to collaborate. For example, this was the very problem that motivated us to build the Meeting Owl, an all-in-one video conferencing device, that gives the remote participant an experience that almost feels like being in the room.

Now let’s dig into career growth — one of the most impactful ways a leader can support his or her team. Make sure you give equal career support to your remote employees as your in-office teammates. If you sit among your in-office team, you have a visual cue to remind yourself to give those teammates feedback, whether it be on an important project or from a conversation you recently had. In the least, make sure to set up regular video one-on-ones with your remote employees to dig into those same crucial feedback discussions. If you have feedback or an idea outside of that meeting cadence, don’t wait. Jump on a call in the moment the same way you’d talk to someone in person.

Here’s another way that unconscious bias may unintentionally reveal itself. Perhaps you’ve recently kicked off a new big initiative, and you need to select a person from your team to lead it. How will you choose? In that moment, it can be easy to overlook you remote employees. You might unconsciously have an inflated or higher confidence in your in-office employees simply because you regularly “see” them work hard. In this instance, focus on your employees’ results when selecting a teammate for that opportunity, and consider each teammate equally.

These last two suggestions are to help you develop a holistic culture that supports remote work. We all know the best way to drive empathy is through shared experience.

With that in mind, why not give your full team equal opportunity to experience the benefits and challenges of remote work by encouraging everyone to work from home for a full week.

Run all standups remotely, do impromptu video calls, and see what it’s like to work together as a group while sitting alone. Two things will come from this experience. First, it will serve as a forcing function for innovation. What was really difficult during this experience, and what can you change about your day-to-day to adapt? Similarly, the memory of the experience will most likely impact how in-office employees include and support their remote teammates moving forward.

Finally, set an example by working remotely yourself, and demonstrate the type of behavior you hope other employees will follow when working remotely. Participate remotely during meetings and ask questions. Slack your teammates to see how they’re doing, they same way you might stop by someone’s desk while walking through the hallway. If others can see you, the leader, being successful with remote work, others will be comfortable doing the same.

To continue the discussion on how to support remote work, save your seat for the virtual discussion with InVision, MIT and Wayfair as they share best practices around remote work and debate their preferred remote work strategies.