A study from BetterUp found that one in four employees do not feel a sense of belonging at work. This is both a concerning statistic and a large opportunity for businesses. Belonging is just under the hood of a wide array of desirable business outcomes. Employees give us their best, we know, when their personal passions and senses of purpose align with their organization’s broader purpose. If team members don’t feel a sense of belonging, trust is far harder to build, teamwork is far harder to manage and issues of inclusion and equity are far harder to change.
We all know that business leaders spend a lot of time figuring out how to articulate their organization’s culture and identity. As time goes on, we expect to see more attention paid to the other side of the coin — to getting employees to reflect on and articulate who they really are, and helping them grow their roles around these truths. We tend to think of belonging as something individuals have to arrive at on their own accord, but the truth is that businesses can and should be a lot more proactive in helping them get there.
All leaders want to make sure their employees are mentally present for conversations, but according to new studies, many video-chatting norms may be forcing us to be unnaturally present.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed the business world’s transition into remote work, many of us have experienced the unique exhaustion that can come with video-chatting all day. A new study from the Stanford University Virtual Human Interaction Lab confirms that “Zoom fatigue,” as it’s termed, is a significant challenge for employees, and that multiple aspects of the video-conferencing experience are unnatural to our wiring as social beings.
At the start of the pandemic, many businesses instituted a “Camera On” policy. This felt intuitive enough — without seeing coworkers’ faces, it’s harder to gauge their reactions to what we say, or to know if they’re actively participating. But while it’s reasonable to want to make sure employees are mentally present, it increasingly seems that many video-chatting norms are forcing us to be unnaturally present: feeling constantly watched, unable to move freely and far more cognizant of ourselves and of nonverbal cues than we should be. Some of these issues can be ameliorated by changes to the applications themselves — the study, for instance, recommends that all platforms drop the default of showing people their own faces during video chats — but businesses would be wise to start building policies that acknowledge and help deal with these difficulties. Do your employees need to be meeting as much as they are? Should all calls require that cameras stay on? How can you empower employees to recognize and express when too many video calls are burning them out? Businesses will all have their own answers to questions like these, but the earlier you start asking them about your company, the higher your odds will be of keeping your talent.
It’s one thing to offer employees flexibility; it’s another to make sure that flexibility is respected and protected. Bias against remote employees is real, and we need to start confronting it in our cultures and in ourselves.
As a concept, equity hinges on the idea of leveling the playing field. In this sense, the rapid rise of hybrid working arrangements could pose new challenges to achieving equity in the workplace. Surveys have shown that about two-thirds of managers believe employees who work in the office perform better than remote employees. This attitude also seems pervasive among many executives, as evidenced by WeWork’s CEO Sandeep Mithrani’s recent claim that “[t]hose who are least engaged are very comfortable working from home.” This bias – which is not proven by science — bears the potential to create real disadvantages for remote employees, many of whose preference to work at home is not a reflection of engagement but of extenuating life circumstances. Without intentional plans to make sure remote employees feel included, empowered and fairly evaluated, hybrid models that were built to meet people where they are could end up exacerbating businesses’ preexistent equity issues. In our view, beliefs shape culture. If employees believe they can only succeed by being in the office every day, they’ll either sacrifice important elements of their personal lives to make that happen or find an employer who will grant them the flexibility they need. That will leave companies facing the twin challenges of burnout and turnover. Companies should proactively search for any evidence — both on the surface and beneath — of bias against remote employees. This bias is real, and like all biases, the best way to deal with it is to confront it head on.