5 Organizational Habits to Beat the Biases of Telework


With coronavirus forcing people into self-quarantine, organizations have turned to working from home, leaving them highly susceptible to distance bias—the tendency to favor that which is closer in time and space over what’s farther away.

We may forget to include people in key work situations, neglect to call on people we don’t see on camera, and offer harsher feedback in a sensitive conversation than we would face to face.

To help teams mitigate their distance biases, we’ve put together five habits to implement during the coronavirus isolation and beyond.

Set expectations, gather feedback

First and foremost, make sure that everyone knows that you are making distance bias mitigation a priority. You can do so with a company-wide announcement that can also serve as a jumping-off point for the feedback-gathering process you’ll want to implement later. An anonymous survey works well.

Build bias awareness

If you have a brain, you have bias. At the same time, we often detect and criticize biased thinking in others yet believe we’d never fall victim to the same traps. To mitigate this, people need to be comfortable discussing bias and how to act on it without creating threat.

At NLI, we’ve provided The SEEDS Model®, which groups roughly 150 identified cognitive biases into five categories (with Distance representing the D). The benefit of a common language is that people can call out bias in others in real-time, allowing them to shift their thinking.

Hold regular video meetings

To make sure collaboration still occurs and employees have the environment they need to further refine or develop the next great idea, use regularly scheduled video meetings. It will help make the day to day more positive and build a sense of connection. Also, consider starting the meetings by acknowledging the attendees by name whenever possible.

Facilitate inter-group interactions

If you aren’t actively including, you are accidentally excluding, and working with individuals of different groups is one of the most tried-and-true ways of breaking down distance bias. This will require time and planning, but it will help people feel included.

Set up self-managed teams where individuals across specialties come together on a new project and can get to know their colleagues and their roles. In addition, try monthly company-wide video meetings, to bring the everyone together and share their experiences working remotely.

Experiment and ask for feedback

As with any initiative, setting measurable goals is crucial. Set targets for bias understanding and awareness, such as using follow-up surveys. Setting and tracking measurable goals will tell you when to stay the course, and when to change direction. This way you will be able to continue to do the things that work and deliver results.

Author: Jonathan Grinstein, Ph.D.

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