06.03.2021

Remote work biases

stressed out woman with laptop

Lock-down, remote work, home office - we have gained plenty of experience during the pandemic, of course also with Zoom, MS Teams, ... Are there any special biases that influence our decisions?

Of course!

It is mainly the "Spotlight Effect" and the "Distance Bias" that can have a significant effect.


[In der Blog-Übersicht wird hier ein Weiterlesen-Link angezeigt]

Spotlight Effect - we feel more in the center of attention than is the case 

The bias describes the tendency to overestimate the extent to which others perceive us. This means that others attach significantly less importance to our appearance or the general public image (e.g. a "bad hair day" or a stain on a shirt) than we ourselves believe.

Videoconferencing can increase this effect - studies have shown that participants spend more than 50% of their time looking at themselves and checking their appearance.

The lack of non-verbal communication or technical difficulties in video meetings make them tiring in themselves. The spotlight effect, the additional focus on one's own effect, reinforces this - we therefore find a two-hour Zoom meeting much more tiring than a face-to-face conversation.


What is the problem?

Not only do we lose focus on the actual content, the additional stress factor can lead to less information from the video meeting being remembered or being less effective in participating.


What can we do – de-biasing in action:

  • If you catch yourself looking at your own picture again in a video meeting, it is best to remember that others do not see your appearance as negative (in comparison, being too close to the camera, eating or chewing gum is judged much more disturbing) – relax a bit!
  • Maybe there is no need for a video meeting in the first place - the phone can probably cover many topics and thus mitigate negative effects. Video is especially advantageous for virtual engagement - here, it helps to consider benefits and possible disadvantages from each medium before the meeting is organized.
  • Visuals help to understand messages - but the focus does not have to be on people. Screen sharing combined with only occasional use of video can be effective here.

Not only can remote work be more tiring, there is also an effect on prioritization and evaluation.

 

Distance Bias - out of sight, out of mind

This bias refers to the tendency to favor what is close to us (applies not only spatially but also temporally - the near deadline is seen as more important than the later one, for example).

The bias has several effects:

  •  On our prioritization - working in the home office can bring about a perceived greater distance to the tasks. These tasks may be less prioritized or performed with less focus compared to immediately available alternatives at home.
  • On the evaluation or assessment of resources or people - proximity influences the preference between several options. This may not necessarily be the best criterion for a decision. Visibility and proximity mean greater focus - for example, if one person is sitting in the office with the team leader and two others are working at home or at another location, an unconscious preference for the close person is likely.

 

This bias can distort the importance or valences - here, too, de-biasing measures are useful:

  • Information that is closer in time is more easily remembered (see also availability bias). This can have an effect, for example, in employee performance reviews, where the focus is shifted away from the entire assessment period to recent events and anecdotes > it is advisable to create effective documentation of key points over a longer period of time
  • Interactions (e.g. in a team) should be deliberately balanced. In the case of a mix between team members in the office and working remotely, the latter should also seek proactive communication to ensure this balance.
  • Tasks can be jointly prioritized according to clearly defined criteria. Distance means distortions - joint discussion and task sharing helps to better achieve the respective goals.

 

Please send me further challenges, biases and solutions for remote work or other relevant topics!

In the various de-biasing workshops perception and its effects on our behavior is a central part – I am happy to dive deeper into the topic of remote work there as well!