Are remote workers not as included in corporate workplaces?

New research points to larger firms' preference for office-based attendance

New research suggests that employees feel they have to return to the office in order to get promoted; this is despite growing conversations about the benefits of remote and hybrid working styles.

The research comes from European business school, ESCP, and was conducted within the “Reinventing Work” chair, a work-transformation research project supported by BNP Paribas.

The ESCP study reviewed the responses of 4,000 employees of a “leading multinational in the thick of the Covid crisis.” The researchers found that remote workers were more likely to feel less included where “almost a third of respondents, the great majority of whom were working remotely, felt that physical attendance was implicitly preferred and rewarded by their organisation.”

The ESCP study – lack of inclusion for remote workers

Respondents also said that as a result, a remote-based employee “should not expect the same career prospects as an employee clocking in at the office every day.”

The research also found that remote employees felt they had to signal their availability more when working which negatively affected their wellbeing and productivity.

“In other words, when they are unable to show their commitment through sheer physical presence in the office, it seems that employees resort to another type of signal – availability,” said the report.

Interestingly, the ESCP report found “no significant difference in terms of the number of hours worked” between these groups of workers, where office-based employees “reported working an average of 45.22 hours per week, compared with 45.17 hours for those working remotely full-time.”

“What our results demonstrate is that the open scepticism of some organisations toward their remote workers is not only unfounded; it is also harmful to their wellbeing and performance and, ultimately, to the organisations themselves. It may well be true that some people make the most of being at home to work less, but nothing suggests that such laziness is any worse than that of employees who, sitting at their desks in full view of everybody, spend their working hours taking care of personal business,” concluded the report’s authors.

‘In and out groups’ – the dangers of the office/remote divide

Considering that underrepresented workers could be more likely to choose remote work such as those with caregiving obligations and/or office accessibility issues such as disability, or those that feel remote working gives them better psychological safety such as LGBT+ and ethnic minority staff, makes alienating remote workers a dangerous practice especially if a firm wants to be considered an equitable space.

There have already been discussions that hybrid working could produce ‘in and out groups’ in the workplace, where office-based workers could benefit from ‘in-person privilege’ meaning they’re more likely to be noticed by managers and be picked for promotions than remote employees.

Emmanuelle Léon, Associate Professor of Human Resource Management and Scientific Director of the Reinventing Work chair said: “We have experienced telework in an unusual manner, due to the pandemic. Now that we are moving towards hybrid models, telework will only be beneficial if the following conditions are being met: a real willingness from top management to embrace remote work, appropriate training and coaching of both employees and managers, and organisational structures which make sense (size of the teams, length of the assignment, level of task interdependence).”

Tips to make remote workers feel included

With a study finding that 70% of remote workers can feel left out in the workplace, here are some simple tips to ensure they feel part of your organisation.

  • If possible share company news and updates with remote teams before making wider announcements
  • Watch out for signs of isolation fatigue (like if their camera is constantly off) and check in with them
  • Offer them access to training opportunities and encourage them to consider independent skillset building
  • Use communications to talk about non-work topics when appropriate to increase belonging
  • Encourage smaller-scale informal catch-ups which can build better relationships within remote teams
  • Ensure regular one-to-one catch-ups with remote staff
  • Ensure you respond and remain engaged with their chat on messaging platforms, where frequent and considered responses can boost motivation
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