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#WFH: Who Tells You What to Do?

There is a deep unconscious bias towards controlling the worker in the workplace. The perception that workers are there to work less and management must keep them in line has a lot of history. Most of us have some implicit ideas about management. These implicit ideas can be difficult to deactivate because they can be pervasive and robust. Management is supposed to tell workers what to do, but telling doesn’t sit well with the virtual environment. It goes against the ability of an individual to act with autonomy. When we reduce the individual’s sense of autonomy
by limiting choices and decisions to predetermined constraints, we limit the individual’s ability to respond. Any authoritarian style of communication can also increase negative feeling and resentments. When we feel that we are not in control, in a culture that is based on the idea that it is management’s job to control outcomes, we are bound to feel negative. Then we begin to generate reasons to explain why this is accurate. The classic example is Yahoo’s CEO Marrisa Mayer’s 2013 “No Work from Home Memo.” When something feels dangerous we create conscious
and rational thoughts that justify our actions. Usually these decisions are emotional in nature. Our unconscious biases impact the way we perceive others and how we perceive ourselves. We make decisions that confirm what we already believe. This “conformational behavior” occurs unconsciously and in both positive and negative ways.

Collective unconscious organizational patterns enormously influence company culture and how an organization behaves. These patterns are deeply ingrained and it is very difficult for us to understand their impact. The collective unconscious is concealed from our conscious thinking. Nevertheless, it greatly impacts our decision making. We justify our decisions based on these buried beliefs. We think we are making these consciously but really the unconscious is running the show. These deeply seated beliefs are why it is so difficult to change organizational culture and why attempts to do so usually fail. Despite training and development efforts, the collective unconscious makes decisions, behaviors and choices using the same old patterns, values and
norms because these are so deeply rooted. Nowhere is this truer than in the virtual workplace.

Flexible hours, working conditions and arrangements make logical sense. It allows people to meet personal and family needs, whether they are the needs of parents, children or personal. So companies have created policies in support of working virtually. Spoken or unspoken, written or not, the company will have a policy. However, when people take advantage of this opportunity and begin working virtually, they are considered less valuable, less dedicated and less promotable. The message is mixed and very confusing; the policy says it is okay but the culture says you are not a dedicated member of the team and therefore less valuable. This creates an undercurrent of stress and tension. Statistics confirm that the freedom to work virtually increases performance, increases employee satisfaction and reduces turnover. However, unconsciously people may believe differently and fear and mistrust prevail (Ross, 2008). Organizational cultures of fear and
mistrust need to be replaced with cultures that support people working virtually. Clear, open and supportive communication and expectations can help to eliminate hidden issues of trust. After all, results are results.

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