Remote work has brought with it an array of changes. The most significant has of course been the increased prominence of flexibility in the workplace. Remote work has fundamentally changed the way we live, work and think. Yet, both positive and negative consequences have arisen with this new way of working.
Remote work gives way to the possibility of loneliness and compromised company culture. But studies show that it also increases productivity levels and improves staff wellbeing. The way organisations analyse and assess how well their staff are doing also changed – some employers had to rethink how they could adequately gauge how hard their employees work, without being able to see them in-person.
Ultimately, the flexibility associated with remote work has given way for people to work in a way to fit their unique wants and needs – which can enhance equality in the workplace. However, when employers look at factors outside of performance to assess employees, this can lead to bias and inequality in the workplace. Here’s why...
Staff have unique needs
Remote work allows access to a diverse talent pool – for employees from distant locations or who need a more flexible schedule to devote time to caregiving. For example, remote work allows caregivers – who are primarily women – to have flexibility and space to do a school run.
More flexibility in the workplace enables staff to work in accordance with their unique needs. Factors that impact marginalised groups, such as needing to pick up children from school or living far away from the office, aren’t noticeable during remote work. This can be beneficial to these employees who can often be judged for prioritising other aspects of life other than work.
Without realising it, employers consider factors that don’t necessarily accurately show how well an employee is doing, into their analysis of productivity. This can lead to unconscious discrimination as things like proximity bias – a workplace tendency where leaders give preferential treatment to in-office workers – can hinder employees from marginalised backgrounds and those who choose to work from home.
This is based on an assumption that employees who show their face at work, and who are more present, are harder workers. Typically, employees could indicate their devotion to their job through working long hours or appearing more present to their employer. With remote work, this is a lot harder to do, and those who have the capability to work overtime or go into the office might be favourited by managers if employers don’t ensure equality. Clearly, remote work can have both positive and negative effects for employees from more diverse backgrounds.
This can lead to unconscious discrimination as things like proximity bias – a workplace tendency where leaders give preferential treatment to in-office workers – can hinder employees from marginalised backgrounds and those who choose to work from home
However, assessing employees based on their performance only, as opposed to considering these other factors, is a way of combating this. This is important considering one-in-four parents say their commitment to their job has been questioned by their employer because of their caretaking responsibilities.
Helen Sachdev, working parent expert and Director at WOMBA (Work, Me and the Baby), says: “Many working mums restrict their parenting identity and the challenges they face through fear of being judged negatively, for example as incompetent or incapable. One mum told us that she keeps her camera off during remote meetings because she fears being perceived as disengaged from work.