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Cognitive biases that are tripping up Hybrid Business Leaders: Toolkit


How many times have you watched a show just because everyone else was talking about it? Or gave into purchasing an expensive dress merely because it was on discount? If we’re being completely honest with ourselves, almost each one of us, at some point in our lives, has given in to our own irrational thoughts.

With an evolved frontal lobe, Homosapiens may be the smartest of all species but even they have cognitive limitations when it comes to complex decision making. We often simplify this process by relying on our mental shortcuts defined as heurisitcs by Herbert Simon. Evolutionary Psychologists argue that cognitive biases - relying on our perceived subjective reality than objective reality -  are in fact design features that enable us to process complex and often overwhelming information when under pressure.

Business leaders need to be extra mindful of biases in a hybrid workforce

In the article COVID-19, gender equality and the future of women in the workplace’ we talked about how hybrid work-setting can derail your DEI efforts at the workplace and unintentionally put remote workers at an unfortunate disadvantage. No business school or years of experience have prepared our leaders to lead in these extraordinary times and it is thus natural for them too to rely on their cognitive heuristics to take fast decisions and be more efficient. 

While this article discusses in detail the different kinds of cognitive biases that business leaders may encounter during their professional journey, one quick rule of thumb is to ditch the gut and marry the data. Honest one-on-one conversations with your team members will help you reflect on your own mental blind spots and in turn make you a more proficient leader. 

💡 These are some questions that you can ask your team to navigate this conversation:

  1. How can I help make you feel more heard and valued within the team?/ Do you feel heard when we discuss/ brainstorm things within the team?
  1. How can I enable you to grow as a professional?
  2. How can I enable your career development within the system?
  3. What kind of projects/skills would you like to work on/implement in the next few months in your role?

But what are these biases? How are they hampering your growth as a leader? Is there a way to overcome them? Read on and find out for yourself: 

1. Proximity bias

The physical distance between the manager and the in-person versus remote employees can exacerbate the problem of favoritism and biases at the workplace. People who are in close physical proximity to us are perceived as more familiar, reliable, and hence enjoy preferential treatment. Zachary Yorke, UX researcher at Google talks about how a delay of even five-tenths of a second in a conversation is off-putting and since it is easier to absorb non-verbal body cues in a meeting with the physical presence of employees in comparison to those who are present virtually, in-person employees simply have an advantage.

How to overcome it:

Everyone joins the meeting virtually, in-office or not. With everyone dialing in independently, at least in important meetings, there will be no verbal/non-verbal communication advantage for people who are present in the same physical setting. Everyone will have equal visibility and hence stand the same ground in the communication. 

2. Availability bias

This bias stems from the tendency to rely on information that we can recall instantly. Spontaneous encounters with in-office employees during water cooler conversations can put them at an additional advantage of advancing their careers by having more networking opportunities with the leaders. It is as simple as saying “I was just present at the right moment at the right time”.

This can even lead to knowledge siloes within the team where in-office employees are at an advantage of having more access to critical knowledge due to informal in-person catchups. This reiterates the age-old philosophy “Out of sight, out of mind”. 

How to overcome it:

In hybrid work settings, facilitate a remote-first work culture. Democratize knowledge sharing by creating a central knowledge repository on platforms like notion and communication channels by leveraging new-age collaborative tools like Slack, and Microsoft teams. Ensure that work-related communication is standardized and is happening in common channels centrally, so no employee has an advantage over the other.

3. Halo Effect

Credits: https://workchronicles.com/halo-effect/

In a hybrid work setting, this bias refers to overestimating the skills and abilities of people who are closer to us (in-person employees) in comparison to those who are distant (remote employees). We often distort our own reality in a manner we want to see it, i.e., make random correlations about people’s behavior that may/may not be remotely associated with each other.

The halo effect can also cause leadership to excuse the poor performance of those in their proximity, while not properly valuing the skills and expertise of those with whom they have less contact. Long-term favoritism like this can break down trust and negatively impact productivity, with employees who don’t see their output adequately acknowledged having little motivation to do more than the bare minimum. These assumptions can then have a spillover effect on career advancement and growth opportunities of employees. Remote employees due to no fault of their own stand at a disadvantage of being “left behind”.

How to overcome it:

Re-imagine your Employee Performance Metrics. Performance evaluation becomes extremely difficult to track and measure in a hybrid workplace. It is therefore critical for you as a leader to re-evaluate your team’s job specifications. Introduce more systematic and objective work productivity metrics both at team/department and at an org. level. Some of these metrics could be:

4. In-Group Effect

In-group Bias (also known as in-group favoritism) is the tendency for people to give preferential treatment to others who belong to the same group that they do. 

In an online-only environment, it can be more difficult for new colleagues to settle into your team. Physical distance reduces exposure to people, limits opportunities for spontaneous and informal exchanges, and diminishes communication across the organization. Virtual setups simply lack opportunities for the short but important water-cooler chats or casual cafeteria meetings. As a consequence, it can be more difficult for a team to form, bond, and cohere. 

This should be taken seriously, as group cohesion is positively related to team performance, and people generally exert more effort for colleagues they care about. 

How to overcome it:

Make Diversity Multi-directional, hire with diversity at heart. Including people of different age groups, gender, social background not only facilitates better decision-making by avoiding group-thinking, and adding creativity, it also brings multi-faceted opinions on the working arrangements.

People partners within the organization can introduce equity within their talent acquisition process by blind sourcing candidates, i.e., removing the demographic details like gender, residential location, disability, and shortlist profiles based on meritocracy. With a diverse set of people on the team preferring different working arrangements, managers can set a common baseline for team management that is independent of working arrangements.


Vet your self-reflection of the biases within your team by tapping in to the true sentiment of each employee - whether remote or in-person. While that may be a mountainous task to do it all by yourself, or with your people team, you can always hire a Chief Assistant Officer like Amber. 

Meet Amber!


Saloni Goyal
Saloni Goyal
People Scientist at inFeedo

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