Is your company the wicked stepmother?


Many of us work in situations where we have some of our employees located where we work and others are scattered in home office, remote locations and various coffee shops around the globe. Yes, you're all one team. In fact, you have probably used the phrase "one big happy family" in a moment of weakness. But are you really the benevolent parent you want to be, or are you viewed as the wicked stepmother by your remote employees?

I was reminded of this by a very good blog post from Dave Rolston's Working Nowhere Blog in which he talks about the "step child syndrome". Basically that's the feeling that no matter what the people in home office do, the people who work remotely will always feel that those who work under the bosses' noses will receive preferential treatment. Basically, that they are treated more as tolerated stepchildren than members of the "real" family.

What's interesting, is that a lot of studies (including our own at indicate there's a serious difference in perception. While the remote workers tend to feel left out of things, the managers, administrators and various corporate folks don't perceive there's a problem.

"Of course, we love all our children equally". Just like in your own family, they may say it. They may even mean it. You always suspect differently, though. You know who the favorites are, and it's seldom you.

Rolston has identified five ways to address this. It's worth taking the time to read it yourself, but basically he suggests:

  1. Establish explicit awareness and commitment in the Leadership team
  2. Establish culture-sensitive rules
  3. Aim for timezone equality
  4. Major events and announcements should be inclusive of all team members
  5. You need at least some meetings to be truly inclusive. This one requires some explanation.

Many teams operate in a hybrid fashion when it comes to meetings. This means that the team that is local are gathered around a conference table or at least in the same room, while the others are connected by a squawky phone bridge and no visual cues at all.

So the home team laughs at jokes the others can't get, look at the same white board and share pastries, or pizza (that are never as tasty as the others imagine, but it's the principle of the thing).

At least once in a while, it's important that everyone be connected virtually. First, it will increase participation in the virtual component of the meeting, secondly it will just make the "stepchildren" feel less divorced from the rest of the team. Basically when everyone deals with the same constraints, nobody feels hard done by.

I'm not a big fan of hybrid meetings, as readers of this column know. I also know they're unavoidable at times. Still, if you understand their limitations and some of the unintended consequences, you can help your team eliminate unnecessary tension and imagined problems.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.