Combating bias against remote workers

A new survey finds on-site employees often resent their remote colleagues.
By: | March 13, 2020 • 2 min read

Do your on-site employees resent workers in your organization who work from home?

The majority do, according to an online, global survey conducted in January by Korn Ferry, a global organizational consulting firm. Based on the responses of 753 full- and part-time employees across multiple positions and industries, 78% say their “non-virtual-working colleagues resent them for working virtually.”

“I was shocked by that,” says Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager for global RPO at Korn Ferry. “There’s still the perception that, because you work remotely, you can do whatever you want. Those who don’t work remotely have that bias.”

Managers can minimize those negative attitudes via open-door conversations, he says. Share with on-site employees the sacrifices remote workers make to complete tasks or meet deadlines. For example, maybe John had to start work at 5 o’clock in the morning for several weeks to complete an overseas project.

He also suggests encouraging managers to share the accomplishments of remote workers. Make it public. Share the time and effort they invested to deliver the outcome.

“If part of your staff work remote and part work on-site, I would also encourage you to [grant] on-site workers the same flexibility as remote workers whenever possible,” says Zabkowicz. “If you hold on-site workers to a different standard, that’s when resentment occurs.”

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The remainder of the survey addressed different aspects of the virtual employee experience: 79% reported that working virtually has not hindered career advancement, and 88% said they have been productive when they work virtually.

Likewise, remote workers said they actually do work: 89% reported they haven’t played hooky or pretended to be working while actually out having fun. The vast majority of respondents (82%) said their remote work happens in their home, while 8% have used a shared space, 7% have worked while in a car, airport or train, and just 2% have worked in a coffee shop. (Sorry, Starbucks.)

The biggest obstacles to remote work appear to be loneliness (37%) and technology or connectivity issues (32%).

Zabkowicz says 24/7 help desks can be a blessing, especially for remote workers who travel globally.

“I’m also seeing a lot of group activity,” he says, adding that remote employees working on the same project can diffuse loneliness. “Allow them to travel to the office at certain intervals to stay connected to the company and culture.”

Still, he says, HR must continue evolving the virtual workplace and explore what motivates remote employees.

“Look at what drives your best people,” Zabkowicz says. “We still have a long way to go to understand the dynamics of [remote] teams and show the value of individual contributors on that team.”

Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.