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Handling Resentment Between Remote and In-office Staff

June 08, 2022 Employee Experience
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

A BBC report published in April highlighted the simmering tension between in-office and remote workers in hybrid organizations. According to the report, this type of working arrangement can brew resentment in a digital workplace.

The reason is simple: Due to the varying nature of roles within an organization, some employees are being called back to the office, whether full or part time, while others are given the opportunity to work remotely and manage their schedule as they deem fit. This perceived unfairness is causing friction between the two groups.

Employers and managers have an important role to play here to make sure they get ahead of what can quickly turn into a toxic culture.

The Great Workplace Divide

While some companies may have had a hybrid workforce pre-pandemic, the popularity of this operational model has grown exponentially in recent months. And as companies continue to explore best practices in this space, leaders must pay attention to arising issues that can reduce the long-term viability of the hybrid structure.

Janey Yancey, CEO and founder of CultureTech company Emtrain, said her company conducted a widespread sentiment analysis from 40,000 employees across 125 companies to investigate the effect of the hybrid work model on workers. "What we’ve found," she said, "is that In-Group/Out-Group dynamics are one of the biggest issues that influence the culture of a company.”

In other words, dividing the workforce and maintaining different on-site and remote workers can cause disparity. Workers can easily attribute this to inequality, and the resentment may not be only toward their co-workers. It may extend to management if adequate measures are not taken to combat the issue. 

Related Article: The Hidden Drawbacks of Hybrid Work

3 Main Sources of Resentment in the Hybrid Workplace

There can be many reasons for negative sentiment in the workplace, and it is a leader's responsibility to stay abreast of issues that may be brewing among team members. Doing so, however, can be challenging when dealing with a distributed workforce.

Here are three common sources of resentment in the hybrid workplace — and how leaders can get ahead of them: 

Proximity Bias

Proximity bias has been much talked about since the hybrid model emerged as the popular option in a post-pandemic world. It has been identified as a potential drawback of hybrid organizations — and it's the leading cause of resentment among the hybrid workforce.

“In-office workers may be perceived as being more 'visible' by others also in the office or being favored for promotion, projects, leadership, etc., thereby causing remote and hybrid workers to feel excluded,” said Irene van der Werf, people partnering lead at global HR company Omnipresent.

Remote employees are also often overlooked for special perks or benefits. While some in-office perks such as free snacks and coffee don't always translate to the remote workplace, others such as bonus awards and promotions must be handled with fairness. One way employers can tackle resentments caused by proximity bias is to have clear visibility and responsibility, said van der Werf.

“There should also be policies in place to ensure in-office, hybrid and remote employees are being evaluated along with the same KPIs and expectations as lined out in a career growth framework,” she said. Companies need to evaluate employees based on their outputs rather than their presence in the office when making decisions and offering promotions. 

Related Article: Meetings Are Not the Way to Tackle Proximity Bias in Hybrid Work

Work-Life Balance

Commuting is often cited as one of the main negative aspects of in-office work. It was rarely an issue of inequity when everyone was on-site, and it certainly wasn't an issue when everyone was remote. In a hybrid workplace, however, the number of hours dedicated to work in a day depends on where that person conducts their work.

Remote workers not only experience less commute-induced stress, they also get to enjoy a better work-life balance. Having the ability to sleep in a little later, coordinate household chores while working, perhaps even have lunch with their family, are all things an onsite employee cannot enjoy. What's more, it's much more comfortable working on a deadline late into the evening from the comfort of one's own home than it is staying late at the office.

All of these differences in the way work must be handled — and what is being neglected as a result — can cause onsite workers to feel unfairly treated. But employers don't have to wait for resentment to appear before addressing this reality.

“You want to make it clear, ideally on a conference call with everyone present, that both office workers and those working at home will be evaluated the same way,” said Michal Laszuk, a content writer at Warsaw, Poland-based PhotoAid

Socializing and Camaraderie

Remote workers often miss out on the social bonds that naturally form among onsite employees who work together each day. The water cooler conversation may have become a cliché, but it is real. Team members who only interact with other employees via a handful of work-related emails each week can miss out on the camaraderie.

Additionally, remote workers may face life challenges that may affect their work output and not have anyone to talk to about it or lift their spirit. Being in the office may take their mind off these problems, but they are at home where they have to face those challenges without escape. 

These differences can become another reason for resentment. But Yancey offered a solution: "For the remote workers, managers should consider scheduling time with employees to check in on things unrelated to their job, to replicate the water cooler talk that they are missing by working from home.”

With the technology available today, leaders can also arrange social activities online such as group lunches or trivia games where everyone gets to enjoy one another in a non-formal way.

Related Article: Remote Work Isn’t the Culture Killer Everyone Predicted

The Relationship Dynamic of the Hybrid Workforce

Remote and in-office staff resentment can arise for several reasons, but employers can curb these tensions before they become a bigger issue.

One popular way to address these issues is to offer a feedback box, where employees can leave comments and suggestions on improving the work culture and bridging the divide between onsite, remote and hybrid team members.

Also, employers should ensure managers treat all employees fairly, regardless of status. Transparency and openness are key to this. Communicating clearly how the company is addressing the pros and cons of each group of workers can make a difference in how employees perceive one another.

"You’ve got to be fair and apply the same rules towards both groups of your employees,” said Laszuk.

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