Working remotely was a lifesaver for many companies and their employees. Some people loved it, while others couldn’t wait to return to the office. For those employees who enjoy working remotely and have continued to do so, here’s some advice: Beware of the Zoom Ceiling.
It’s an “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon where remote workers get passed over for promotions in favor of their in-office co-workers.
Bias toward in-office employees
For some reason, there’s a bias toward in-office employees and they get the majority of promotions and leadership positions, explained Dr. Elora Voyles, people scientist at TINYpulse, who coined the Zoom Ceiling term.
While the term may be new, the bias against remote workers receiving promotions isn’t. Even though remote workers were proven to be more productive than their in-office counterparts, a 2015 Stanford study also found remote workers weren’t given the opportunities for promotions like their in-office colleagues. Their promotion rates were about half that of their on-site co-workers.
Is this something remote workers must tolerate? Kind of like a trade-off, taking the good with the bad?
No. Because if it is a trade-off, there will be two groups of people disproportionately hurt: minorities and women. Yes, the Zoom Ceiling can affect anyone, but since minorities and women are more likely to choose remote work, it makes them more susceptible.
Male leaders rated returning to the office more favorably than women in a Tinypulse study. Therefore, it’s easy to deduce that if more men choose to return to the office than women and minorities, then more men will be in plain sight to nab promotions.
5 tactics to shatter the Zoom Ceiling
To give women and minorities just as much face time with leadership, Voyles suggests employers practice these tried-and-true tactics that she claims can “shatter the Zoom Ceiling for remote employees and provide success in any organization:”
- Formalize remote work role policies: Companies that offer remote work options need to have policies and expectations that are spelled out in black and white. Make expectations clear for work processes, communication, scheduling and performance. This will help remote workers fulfill and exceed expectations for their jobs.
- Set up one-on-one meetings with management: Remote workers need to meet with their managers one-on-one regularly. Doing so takes the place of impromptu conversations and collaborations that often happen in the office. Routine meetings also give structure to remote employees’ days and increase social outreach. During the meetings, review employees’ performance and achievements. This will put remote workers on an equal playing field.
- Make all meeting participants attend via Zoom. When holding meetings with in-office and remote employees, have everyone participate via Zoom. If not, in-office employees will have an advantage over their remote colleagues because they can interact more freely with each other. Making all employees join the meeting virtually puts everyone on the same level when it comes to contributing to the meeting.
- Increase everyone’s flexibility: Due to the flexibility enjoyed while working remotely, there’s some bias that remote workers don’t work as hard or aren’t as dedicated to their jobs. To end that bias, the best thing employers can do is increase the flexibility for on-site employees whenever possible. This will help them better balance their work and life. If flexibility for all is woven into a company’s culture, there won’t be a bias and remote workers won’t be passed over for an in-office employee.
- Standardize performance measures: HR, along with other organizational leaders, should assess and standardize performance measures. They must look at them and evaluate if their processes can equally assess in-office and remote workers’ performances. And when assessing someone’s performance, ask people they work with on-site and remotely for their opinions about the person’s achievements. Finally, if both in-office and remote employees are up for a promotion, make sure all candidates are interviewed virtually to avoid bias in the process.