Can hybrid working breed availability heuristic at the workplace?

Bias towards the employees who are more visible may crop in, and therefore, a proper performance-management system will have to be put in place.

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The hybrid model of work is the new normal now after 2020 saw an unprecedented shift to remote working. Many organisations have already switched to that model, while others are still devising plans to put it to action. ‘Some at home and some in office’ work concept is the only ideal way of moving forward as long as the uncertainties continue to prevail. However, it does have a few rough edges and perhaps requires a very cautious approach. Inclusivity can become an issue when an organisation has two separate sets of people working from different locations. Among many biases that could creep in, there has been a chatter about availability concerns. It is predicted that people who are at home may feel alienated or disengaged from the group in the office and may assume they will be preferred more for perks, benefits or projects, just because they are physically present.

Availability heuristic is a tendency to use the information that comes quickly to one’s mind. In case of recency bias too, many tend to rely on the present situation rather than checking out historical facts as it is quick. In a hybrid setup, the possibility of such a bias increases because people are in different places and humans have an inclination towards favouring people who are more visible. However, human resource experts believe that it can be sorted through resilient goal setting and performance-management systems.

“If a person is doing what she/he is supposed to do, then there shouldn’t be an issue. If not, there will always be the issue of recency bias creeping in. If the goal setting and performance-management processes are properly done, then chances of such biases will be remote.”

Praveer Priyadarshi, senior HR consultant

Anil Mohanty, head-HR, Medicabazaar, feels such a bias is not going anywhere in any situation. The trick will be to know how to balance them. “There are two sets of people. One that will think that if people are at home, they are not working, and therefore, they need everyone in office. Then there’s another set that looks at deliverables. From the employees’ perspective, there are many who stay very near to the office, and yet, prefer to work from home. Then, there are some who like to be in office, irrespective of the distance, because they like to have people around them when they work. So this will continue, we will have to balance both,” Mohanty says.

In a hybrid model, Mohanty explains, employees who stay far but want to come to office could come in twice or thrice in a week, while those who live nearby, are asked to report to the office if they own a vehicle. The division also depends on the nature of the job. “There are some people who perform at the back end. Such people can work from home. Everyone has to collaborate and only then it will work,” he insisits.

“There are many employees who stay very near their office, and yet, prefer to work from home. There are others who like to be in office, irrespective of the distance, because they like to have people around them while they work. We will have to balance both.”

Anil Mohanty, head-HR, Medicabazaar, 

Mohanty also asserts that at the end of the day, HR is just a facilitator. “If the leaders or managers judge employees on the basis of their faces, then HR cannot do much either,” he adds.

Giving preferential treatment to people who are physically present, can also impede decision making, because it is not an inclusive process. In terms of compensation also, it may lead to the visible few being favoured by the leader, even if they are not doing much. To quell all these issues, a robust performance-management system is what Praveer Priyadarshi, senior HR consultant suggests.

“In any formal or professional setup, things are clearly explained to every individual, in terms of expectations with respect to their performance delivery and what is expected from each of them. So there is a clarity for each individual, whether at home or office. If a person is doing what she/he is supposed to do, then there shouldn’t be an issue. If not, there will always be the issue of recency bias creeping in. Therefore, if the goal setting and performance-management processes are properly done, then chances of such biases showing up will be remote,” he opines.

In case of human tendencies, benefits are also part of the goal-setting process. Thus, performance management plays a key role in this process. “It needs to be very robust with clear expectations,” asserts Priyadarshi.

Therefore, any kind of biases that may arise in the near future, due to the hybrid model of work, can be addressed through a strong performance-management system.