Diversity makes the workplace stronger. Not many people would doubt that engaging with people who can challenge your views and ideas is essential to deliver quality results no matter if it is online or in person. Companies are investing heavily in creating diverse teams of people, who are specialized in their own unique areas, to complete a common mission.With the technology available today surely it is easier to collaborate and share knowledge - but is it really enabling us to work efficiently together, or could it end up creating social bubbles and organizational echo chambers? Here we have gathered a quick guide to getting out of the echo chamber when working remotely.
What do we mean by organizational echo chambers?
Echo chambers or social bubbles are created by employees who share similar opinions reaffirming their own beliefs and potentially not collaborating with other people, who do not support their views. It is our experience that companies working in a primarily remote environment have a higher risk of experiencing divisions in the workforce due to organizational echo chambers - if management and employees are not well prepared to work remotely.
Trust between colleagues plays a key role. BBC made a brilliant article focusing on why remote has eroded trust among colleagues. Here Heidi Gardner, faculty chair at Harvard, stated that remote work has negatively impacted the trust between employees:
“When we’re working separately, you can only see your own circumstances and excuse your behaviours but impugn others’ character when something goes wrong for them… if you’re late for a meeting while working from home, it’s because your broadband wasn’t working, but if anyone else misses a meeting, you attribute it to their character”
Remote working can create social bubbles and echo chambers
In most organizations, it is normal for people to have favorite coworkers and some people you do not get along with. It is a natural reaction to limit interaction with certain people – but having less diversity of thoughts and ideas can end up hurting your organization, and result in an environment of distrust among employees. Limiting distractions and interaction can be beneficial for increasing focus on specific tasks, but it can get out of hand.
With remote work you are completely in control of which coworkers you choose to interact with and in the process of optimizing your own work, you might unconsciously cut away people who could have challenged your ideas and work to help you perform better.
You might unconsciously create social bubbles and echo chambers by:
- Creating your own Slack channel with the same few colleagues that share your views
- Have an ongoing mail thread with a selective group of people CC
- Always inviting your favorite coworkers into your virtual meetings
Creating a social bubble means you always interact and collaborate with the same selected people, and you only need to communicate with people outside your social bubble in obligatory meetings occasionally. This might feel harmonious, but it could decrease the quality of your work.
Keep in mind that what might feel comfortable and easy is not necessarily the most beneficial solution. In short, it is important to remember to interact with coworkers who can challenge your work and ideas to provide the best results for the organization. Especially while working at a distance.
Example of polarization in the workplace – before and after covid
Step into our virtual time machine and revisit your workplace in 2018. Before anyone had ever heard of Covid and hybrid was primarily considered to be a car combining a gasoline engine with an electric motor.
You are at a meeting. The meeting is hosted by Amanda, whom you have never had a good relationship with. You listen halfheartedly to what she has to say and make an acknowledging nod occasionally to prove that you are listening.
Later that day you overhear Amanda talking to another coworker addressing that she has had a lot going on in her private life, which is why she might have not been the most cheerful colleague lately.
With this knowledge, you can overlook her odd behavior and use her skillset effectively to complete the project you are working on.
At the office we are often forced to deal with people we might not have a lot in common. But if we want to create an inclusive work environment, we must be able to professionally communicate and collaborate with people we might not agree with. At the end of the day, getting out of your comfort zone, and constantly questioning and challenging your ideas and beliefs is what makes you improve your viewpoint. This, in a workplace environment, is what contributes to productive and inclusive decision-making, and an evolving and innovative company.
You have a virtual meeting hosted by Carl, whom you are not getting along with. His presentation is really boring, so you take your time during the meeting to write a few emails, while he is talking.
After the meeting, you are considering skipping similar future events and instead focusing on the tasks ahead. You might call or write to one of your colleagues to hear if they feel the same about the meeting.
Remote working is a brilliant tool to limit interaction and distractions; however, it could easily limit important feedback and constructive criticism. Basically, in a remote environment, you can live in your own Teams channel with all your favorite colleagues, have a select group of people you CC in all your emails, and only survive the occasional meetings with people.
Missing out on that creative spark
It is confirmed through research that diverse teams can boost innovation and gain financial results. By having a team with a diverse background in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, race, industry background, studies, work experience, etc. you are creating the perfect environment for creative and original ideas to flourish.
If remote work can create social bubbles and echo chambers in your organization, you are potentially missing the creative spark that a diverse group of people collaborating can provide. It is important that each organizational member and the management team are aware of this and take the necessary actions to prevent it from happening.
How to get out of the echo chamber
Here are a few things every organization should consider to not end up in an organizational echo chamber.
1. Reduce confirmation bias
Most people love to be confirmed in their beliefs. That is often why we seek like-minded people from a very young age. But take some time to consider: Are you actively seeking feedback from sources that have different views and ideas than your own? This is essential to deliver high-quality results and stay engaged with your coworkers. Thus, ensuring a healthy social and inclusive environment.
2. Do you have a devil's advocate in your team?
Do you have a member in your team whose job it is to find flaws and deliver valuable feedback? If you do not know who to turn to for completely honest feedback, you might want to have a talk about that in your team. Having an objective or different point of view can only benefit your team.
3. Free yourself from assumptions
There is an old Chinese saying: we must remember to “empty our cup”. The cup represents all the opinions, knowledge, and assumptions we have on a subject. We frequently collect social cues about our surroundings which we use to form a picture of how everything works.
Remind yourself and the people around you to question the assumptions we all make, especially when working in a remote setting. Remotely, we get a small glimpse into the rich and detailed life and choices of our colleagues, so free yourself from the chains of assumptions, and try to see things with fresh eyes.
4. Keep it professional
You do not have to befriend every person in your organization. You do not need to small talk to everyone about how their weekend was or share recipes. It is perfectly fine to have colleagues that you strictly talk with in a professional setting, where you accept their differences and the perspective they can add. This can prevent exhausting yourself trying to engage with everyone.
The benefits of a diverse team
An organization should be working together as a unit, combining the strength of a diverse group of people. Having a diverse team based on gender, race, age can help organizations in multiple ways. Here are some of the benefits of having a diverse team.
1. Access to top talents
Every company wants the best people in their field. By fostering a diverse and inclusive team it can help enlarge the pool of talent - each person having different strengths than the others. Thus, you can have access to the best talent in each field.
2. Creating a sense of belonging
By developing an inclusive and diverse group research from Harvard Business Review suggests that a high sense of belonging can increase job performance by 56% or more, and significantly decrease the number of sick days.
3. Better decision making
You might think that like-minded people in an organization would be the best at making decisions. But there is actually research suggesting that diverse companies outperform their peers in terms of decision-making.
It is important to be aware of the potential echo chambers and social bubbles that might unconsciously occur from working in a remote environment. When you realize there could be a problem, you are already 50% closer to finding a solution. Through open dialogue with your team, you could get closer. Feel free to inspire from the focus points we have established or make up your own.
We encourage you to strive to work efficiently remotely, as well as in-person - check out our blog on the most important features for your smart office.