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The hybrid workplace isn’t even a question any more. Hybrid is here to stay, supported by digital transformations like document digitization, and by well-documented productivity increases. But among those who study corporate cultures, big concerns remain, in particular the “proximity bias.”

Whether you call it face time, hallway moments, or watercooler time, informal in-person interactions were the traditional way managers kept tabs on employees’ engagement. Visible workers were considered productive workers. But in hybrid operations, in-person visibility is diminished and managers often struggle to evaluate and lead their teams without access to the usual in-person cues.

Many companies made strides in DEI policy implementation prior to hybrid operations. However, the proximity bias may be undermining DEI progress. In the absence of customary performance cues, managers unconsciously fall back on old outdated attitudes regarding the value and productivity of particular classes of employee.

Writing in, leadership expert Amanda Xido discusses ways some businesses are combating the proximity bias. Some have standardized in-office days and times. Some are rotating who is in the office when, or letting collaborative teams establish in-office schedules. Still others rely on routine in-person check-ins between managers and employees. Any of these strategies helps to short-circuit the proximity bias.

Data can help reveal additional DEI shortcomings in the hybrid workplace. Xido points to analyses of communications and decision-making – for example, are men sending most of the Slack communications, even though women are the majority of employees? A McKinsey study showed a measurable preference for inclusivity in the hybrid workplace, in work-life support, team building, and mutual respect.

Moreover, the McKinsey study showed a clear competitive advantage for an inclusive culture in attracting and retaining top talent: a 47% increase in the likelihood of an employee staying with a hybrid organization if it is inclusive. Listening to employees – conducting surveys, requesting feedback – provides useful data to help build DEI initiatives.

The change to hybrid is a giant step in the evolution of the way we work. The logistics of transitioning from the traditional to the hybrid office is a lot to manage. However, if the leadership team keeps DEI central in its organizational re-formation, the results will always be good for the organization’s productivity, its profitability, and the customers it serves.


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