What is proximity bias and how can you remove it from your workplace?

As hybrid working becomes the norm, ensuring employees don’t suffer if they choose to work from home will become crucial.

Irish business leaders have suggested that many of us won’t return to the office until the second quarter of 2022. This means that many of us will have spent the past 2 years working from home in some capacity, with many of us wanting to stay in some form of hybrid working. 

But how we do make sure that we’re not missing out on opportunities in the office if we choose to work remotely?

Proximity bias is the idea that employees with close physical proximity to their team and company leaders will be perceived as better workers and ultimately find more success in the workplace than remote workers. 

That bias can look like on-site employees having access to better perks or getting more time with senior management, while remote employees may get left out of meetings and potentially even paid less. It can even be as simple as remote employees missing out on information sharing.

Whether proximity bias is subconscious or not, it can cause very real issues in your workplaces such as tension, lack of cohesion, loneliness and resentment. 

It can make staff retention more difficult which is not something you need in a time when staff retention is already hard.

How do you reduce proximity bias?

The easiest way to reduce proximity bias would be to go fully remote. However, this isn’t a feasible solution for most workplaces! Instead, workplaces need to find a good balance that will ensure remote employees won’t miss out on anything but choosing to work remotely.

Start with changing your mindset around work performance. Focus your observations on outputs and outcomes rather than what you perceive people are doing. Regular check-ins with employees who are working on a project will give you a good idea of what’s being done and by whom. 

You should also ensure that information is shared with everybody in the team. Setting up a channel on Microsoft Teams or Slack or even just a regular update email should help with this. 

Regular feedback is also crucial. Your staff will know where the kinks in the system are and can help you design a system that is ideal for your workplace set-up. It also helps them feel included and can increase workplace cohesion too.

Finally, don’t forget to educate everyone about proximity bias. Many people may not even be aware that it’s a real thing. Awareness and education are key strategies to reducing its effect and can kickstart a great conversation about hybrid working!