By Jaimy Ford, business writer and long-time virtual leader and employee.

Do you favor employees located in the same building as you? A study by Brigham Young University released last October suggests so.

I am not going to go into all the details (you can purchase the full report here if you want them), but the researchers concluded that leaders tend to be biased toward people with whom they are physically located. Furthermore, the researchers offer some pretty bold advice: To be effective, leaders need to be physically located with the majority of the group OR everyone, including the leader, should telecommute.

Those researchers are incredibly smart, and they have the data to back their claim that, in general, leaders show bias to people they see everyday. It certainly wouldn’t be the first study to support that theory.

One notable Stanford study found that while remote workers had a 13% performance increase over onsite employees, they were about 50% less likely to receive a performance-based promotion than onsite counterparts. While that is more extreme evidence of bias, daily shows of favoritism take a toll, too. For example, leaders are regularly accused of:

  • Accepting and implementing more ideas from onsite employees than virtual employees.
  • Micromanaging virtual employees’ work, but not onsite staff.
  • Expecting telecommuters to be always available, but not holding those same standards for “9 to 5ers.”
  • Treating onsite staff to lunch and celebratory events, without offering the same treat to remote workers.

And the list could go on. We’re talking about specific actions or behaviors of leaders. So with all due respect to the BYU study, I don’t think the answer is to rework teams so that they are all onsite or all virtual. I think the answer is for leaders to lose the bias and offer all their employees the same opportunities … to contribute, learn, celebrate and advance. That goes for whether you have one virtual employee or 20+.

We all naturally have biases that are hard to shake, but if you want to be truly effective, it’s critical that you do so. It takes time, effort, and maybe a little help from your friends. If you want to learn how to become a stronger leader of your hybrid team, sign up for the Remote Leadership Certificate Series.

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  1. I read through this article. Great intel to the leaders being able to make sure to keep doors open to all employees whether they are remote or in office. It does take more communication to know where your remote workers are and where they see themselves going with their future with the company. I also feel it is important to set an expectation for each team member that they keep their manager apprised as to what they wish to accomplish in the way of their career. Building a solid relationship is a great way to start this in action!

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