How The “Zoom Ceiling” Is Creating Inequitable Workplaces
It’s been two years since you’ve been working remotely, and you love it. You spend more time with family, save money on gas and tolls, and enjoy your favorite hobbies because you have had less commute time. You may be even be making more money by engaging in a side hustle. And you don’t miss working in your toxic work culture. Most leaders and managers have found the hybrid work model beneficial because of the reduced carbon footprint and higher staff productivity.
But, there’s a catch! It’s called the zoom ceiling. Like the “glass ceiling,” a phrase commonly used to describe the social barrier that prevents traditionally marginalized groups from upward mobility, the zoom ceiling presents the same challenge for those who have been working remotely for some time. Despite the many benefits of remote work, employees are finding it hard to stay connected to their colleagues, managers, and workplaces overall. Even with the hybrid model being the best of both worlds; on-site and online work, remote workers tend to suffer from a lack of growth in the hybrid environments. So, how can organizations and remote workers overcome the zoom ceiling?
Is the zoom ceiling even a thing?
According to research done by MIT Sloan, facetime matters. “Employees who work remotely may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises, and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office — even if they work just as hard and just as long” according to the research. This is usually attributed to passive facetime, i.e., the remote workers suffer just because they are not visible or because of “proximity bias.” Proximity bias occurs when employees close to their managers are more committed, more efficient, and better workers than remote employees. Consequently, they get higher raises, more promotions, and other merits.
Additionally, the hybrid or complete remote environment also risks developing a system where those working in the office influence day-to-day decisions, mainly if hybrid work is just superficially embraced. It implies that those who commute frequently have leadership ears, has higher visibility at work, and reap more rewards. Hence, the growth of those working with a hybrid structure may suffer.
So what can we do to break through the zoom ceiling?
Leaders and managers must work together with the whole team to prevent proximity bias at the workplace to ensure no one suffers from the associated risks, especially those about recognition, rewards, and career growth.
- Training for managers
Many leaders and managers have been more focused on superficial productivity indicators like time-in-seats and ignore qualitative measures that truly reflect the work. Reversing proximity bias necessitates thinking deliberately about what productivity looks like (and what it does not look like).
2. Leading by example
Smoothing the playing pitch for the hybrid workers means accepting this new work model across all levels of the business. Managers should work hybrid schedules to eliminate the stigmas from working from home and convey a message that remote work is valued.
3. Re-assessment of remote worker benefits
Some managers consider reducing the pay and benefits of remote workers. However, consider the effect on those who work from home and, more significantly, how their work is valued.
Eliminating the proximity bias risk means reducing divisions between the workers, including differences in benefits and salary.
4. Culture Check
If you’ve followed me for over the past couple of years, then you know that I am a massive advocate for checking your culture for blindspots. If you had disruptors to your culture before going remote, your culture is likely still experiencing these disruptors. Only now, your employees have invited toxic cultures and habits into their homes and are likely to be even more disengaged and less committed to your success than ever before.
- Transparent Communication
60% of remote workers are unaware of important information communicated in person. Ensure that you are in the loop on all communications by proactively asking if there were any meetings or communications that you may not have been included in because you work remotely.
2. Seamless Connectivity
If those working hybrid are not smoothly connected with the office, there would unavoidably be disparities, knowledge loss, and silos. Find creative to stay connected with your managers, workplace, and colleagues. Invite them to video lunches, attend special events virtually, maybe ask if you can host a special event for your employer, such as a black history month celebration.
3. Deep Engagement
Good working relations are essential for employees to develop engagement and be more productive and happier. If you feel isolated, unseen, and unheard in the hybrid work model, your employer likely doesn’t know. Bring your feeling of exclusion to your management’s attention. Give them examples of when you didn’t have a sense of belonging. And, more importantly, suggest ways that you will have more of a sense of belonging and inclusion at work. A deep engagement strategy that connects the dots and gaps is essential to your success as a hybrid worker.
Many of us in the workplace have experienced the glass ceiling as an obstacle to our success. We don’t need another barrier in the form of a zoom ceiling as we navigate our way into leadership positions in a hybrid workplace. I hope this article helps both organizational leaders and employees create a consistent experience for all the employees, irrespective of whether they work remotely or at the office. Identifying and addressing the challenges of working in a remote environment, especially those related to growth and assessment, is important for businesses to make the hybrid environment successful and avoid creating inequities.
Natasha Bowman is the President of Performance ReNEW and author of the upcoming book The Power of One: Leading with Civility, Candor, and Courage. Work with Natasha and her team to experience a cultural transformation today. Contact her to schedule your introductory call.