Whether your “new normal” is working from home or in the office as needed, being able to work remotely keeps your company competitive. More and more organizations are moving to a hybrid model. However, even though more than half of high-revenue companies use a hybrid work model—and workers say that they prefer a flexible hybrid model, that doesn’t mean hybrid work doesn’t come without its challenges.
One of the most severe challenges to plague hybrid teams is proximity bias. Both leaders and teammates must mitigate proximity bias to cultivate more amicable and productive spaces while working remotely.
What is proximity bias?
Put simply, proximity bias is when leadership and management prioritize employees who work in close physical proximity to them. If your boss speaks to the worker in the cubicle closest to theirs more regularly and that worker receives more opportunities, that is proximity bias—all because the boss simply sees and talks to that person more, out of convenience. However, proximity bias is much more challenging to address when you have a hybrid workforce. How can you meet up with your boss at the water cooler and get on their radar when there’s no water cooler to be found?
Addressing proximity bias in the hybrid workplace starts with recognizing it. When you’re working behind a screen all day, issues like these can be challenging to spot.
Signs that your boss may be exhibiting proximity bias
You may feel disappointment for not being “seen” by your boss or being constantly misunderstood. So, what can you look for when it comes to proximity bias to see if you’re affected? You can keep an eye out for a few behaviors if you suspect that your boss may be exhibiting proximity bias.
- Are physically present employees receiving more attention, praise, or opportunities?
This is likely the most telling factor. However, it’s not enough to just note that management passed you over for a promotion, and it just so happened that the person who received it works in-office. You want to look for a consistent string of data that shows that in-office employees indeed are receiving more benefits just by being in the office.
- Are remote employees the last to know about updates? Do you feel out of the loop?
If you feel out of the loop as a remote employee, you aren’t alone. While some managers attempted to alleviate this issue by checking in daily via email, it’s often not enough to simulate the office environment. If no one in your organization is actively making an effort to make remote employees feel included, that’s a red flag.
- Are remote employees overlooked for certain events and tasks?
Are you a remote employee suddenly marveling at all the free space on your work calendar? It might not be a good thing. If you feel left out of meetings, happy hours, and other office tasks or events, it might be a sign that management looked over you because you’re not present in-office – or even that they completely forgot about you.
What to do if your boss has proximity bias
If you recognize any or all of the above signs of proximity bias within your workplace, it’s time to do something about it – both for the sake of your organization as well as your career.
First and foremost, start strategically calling attention to your contributions to the team. Make it known just how much you contribute, even from afar. Maybe this means checking in with your boss regularly, even if you must make the first move. Establishing a relationship with your boss, especially if you were assigned a new one over the course of the pandemic, is key to moving up in any organization. You can suggest that since you are remote, you would appreciate a 1-on-1 weekly meeting to catch up.
Do your part to make sure you’re not excluding yourself from the office environment either. Volunteer for meetings, committees, and events. Show up to optional events, even if you must attend remotely. Actively ask about how you can be included and what leaders are doing to ensure all remote team members have access to the same resources available to in-office team members.
If all of this still leaves you feeling out in the cold, it might be time to discuss your concerns with your organization’s HR department.
Are you the problem?
But what if you, as a team leader or manager, are the problem? If you’re possibly exhibiting proximity bias, it’s time to do your part to put an end to proximity bias in the workplace. If you sense jealousy or resentment among teammates, reflect on how frequently and thoroughly you communicate with everyone individually.
First, imagine your most productive and reliable employee. Now, why did you think of that person? If your reasoning isn’t based on quantitative outcomes and results, you may not be giving the right person credit. Start looking at the data when determining your team members’ successes and failures, over anything else.
Additionally, make a point to stay connected with your entire team. Invite everyone to meetings and involve everyone in team decision-making. It might take a little extra effort to plan a meeting that remote attendees can join when you might be more accustomed to calling impromptu meetings with whoever is available, but putting in that extra effort is important.
The bottom line
While we all have gained experience working remotely during the pandemic, both leaders and teammates must mitigate proximity bias to be more productive and have fruitful working relationships. Learn how to become a better communicator, motivate your employees, and start managing more efficiently and effectively—no matter where you happen to be managing from.
Have you noticed proximity bias in your hybrid workplace? If so, did you do something about it? Let us know in the comments below!
Calling people out on their bias typically works but real systematic change comes from the culture at the top.
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