Viewpoint: Remote employees may get left behind in the hybrid office 

While the pandemic spurred the widespread adoption of remote work, companies that continue with hybrid workplace models after the pandemic may deal with a two-tier workplace in which on-site employees receive the bulk of promotions and raises, according to Peter Cappelli. 

In an Aug. 13 viewpoint article for the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Cappelli, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania, argued that companies that support both on-site and remote employees after the pandemic ultimately will shell out unequal advancement opportunities between the two groups. 

Seven insights from Mr. Cappelli: 

1. Mr. Cappelli argued that while most companies and workers saw the benefits of remote work during the pandemic, that experience is totally different from the circumstances moving forward. 

2. For example, during lockdown, employees had a sense that they all had to come together to keep their businesses and jobs afloat, so bosses were willing to let employees decide where to work and when. However, the biggest difference between pandemic protocols and hybrid arrangements now being considered is that workers had no choice at the start of the pandemic. 

"Everyone who could work from home did work from home," Mr. Cappelli wrote. "By contrast, in virtually all the proposed hybrid approaches, employees choose whether they are in or out of the office." 

3. If two people are doing the same job at roughly the same performance level, but one decides to work from home while the other chooses to go back to the office, the latter will likely advance further throughout the company merely because of face time with their bosses, Mr. Cappelli wrote. 

4. When a supervisor is looking to sort candidates for promotion, Mr. Cappelli said they look for signals of who is more motivated and committed to the organization. The employee who puts in effort to come into the office fits the bill over a remote worker. 

"It may be a biased and unfair signal of motivation and interest, yet it is one that most leaders will find hard to reject," he wrote. "Unless an organization is terrific at managing performance carefully and objectively—and few are—face time still matters." 

5. Employees in the office will also get more access to leaders, because they will likely be in the office most of the time, even in hybrid situations. On-site employees will get a first shot at new opportunities that come up since they likely will see them first. 

6. Remote workers also will have to deal with technical issues that in-office employees may not, Mr. Cappelli wrote. Remote workers beaming into meetings may be a minority now, and with "good video, it won’t necessarily be the same as it was when 'calling in' on a speakerphone meant that participants in the room forgot about you, but you will still be the odd person out." 

7. By joining meetings virtually, the remote employee also faces obstacles like being ignored if they appear too small on the video screen or put under intense scrutiny if the video screen is too large. Even a small lag in audio or video transmission "becomes jarring" when everyone else is communicating face to face. 

"Technical glitches are no longer so understandable if you are the only one having them, and it isn’t so cute when your dog starts barking on the video now that everyone else’s dogs are quietly at home," Mr. Cappelli wrote.


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