How to Overcome Proximity Bias
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Remote work was once a distant dream for many. However, COVID-19 has created a world where remote work is an irrefutable reality for millions around the world.
Those who were against the idea of managing a remote workforce have learned to navigate the uncharted territories of remote working. It comes with a slight learning curve, but the benefits of remote work far outweigh the drawbacks. Studies show that employees who work remotely are more productive than those working in an office.
So, if remote working is so great, why are so many businesses against it?
Well, it all comes down to proximity bias. People assume that remote workers are less productive than team members who are physically present in the office.
With recent events triggering a massive shift from in-office to remote working, successful professionals must understand how to work remotely effectively. As with most transformations of such magnitude, the movement towards remote work comes with a blend of psychological and practical challenge. One of the most important challenges to overcome is the proximity bias surrounding remote work.
What is a Distributed Company?
There are many names for remote work. Some common names include virtual company, remote office, work from home, remote-first, officeless and my favorite, distributed company.
A distributed company is one in which most employees work from wherever they are comfortable and productive. This could be anywhere from a home office, to the couch or even on a balcony overlooking the sea.
If you are fortunate enough to work for a distributed company, you will need to grow accustomed to communication and culture being moved outside the boundaries of a physical location. Doing so effectively means that everyone on the team is included wherever they work.
What is Cognitive Bias?
Remote work is almost always attached to an inherent bias against it. Employers and managers are mainly concerned that they cannot trust their employees to work remotely and to be productive. This is just one example of a cognitive bias against remote work.
To understand the biases surrounding remote work, you need to have a good understanding of cognitive bias.
A cognitive bias is a systematic error in the way we think about certain situations that can influence our decision-making and judgment. With decision making, cognitive bias happens when you make a mistake in reasoning or evaluating something, this is usually because you are holding onto a preconceived idea, opinion, preference or belief regardless of any contrary information that might be brought to your attention!
Cognitive biases impact our judgments and decisions. The main purpose of cognitive bias is survival. In the past, we needed to make decisions fast, especially with immediate dangers (such as tigers, bears, and so on) potentially lurking around every corner. We needed to conserve as much energy as possible and taking too much time to make decisions required too much energy.
We relied on cognitive biases, so we did not have to make new decisions every time a similar situation occurred. We are rarely faced with those types of life or death situations today. We have the luxury of time to make informed decisions.
However, we still have some cognitive biases that get in the way of progression, transformation, and general good decision-making.
Cognitive Biases Around Remote Work
Below are a few of the most common cognitive biases surrounding remote work:
- Confirmation Bias – When we tend to surround ourselves with people who agree with our opinion on remote work. We also seek out information and/or evidence that confirms our viewpoints and we might turn a blind eye to what goes against those viewpoints. If we’re against the idea of remote work, we will actively seek evidence that supports our viewpoints and ignore anything that opposes them.
- Negative Bias – People tend to focus on the negatives of a situation, (such as remote work), more than they are willing to examine the positives. They are so focused on everything they don’t like about remote work that they won’t consider the positives of remote work.
- Status Quo – People do not like change (for the most part). They like having a routine because it is familiar and gives a sense of security. For many companies and organizations, remote work is not a part of the status quo and therefore, they are more likely to reject it.
- Sunk Cost Bias – You are more likely to take something that you have invested time, energy, and money in than something you have not. It doesn’t matter if the alternative option makes more logical sense, the sunk cost bias will try to stop you from giving it a fair trial. For example, if you’ve spent time and money on a nice office and never worked remotely before, the sunk cost bias will try to stop you from investing any time trying remote work.
These are just a few cognitive biases surrounding remote work, there are many more.
Practice Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is an essential skill because it helps us to gather information and make informed decisions (or judgments). It is based purely on objective analysis and evaluation of facts; through awareness and elimination of biases from the equation.
The problem is that cognitive biases are usually unconscious! You might not even realize you have them, which is why they are called blind spots. The good news is that you can train your brain to become more aware of the cognitive biases that take hold in certain situations.
How to Overcome Cognitive Biases
Yes, our cognitive biases may be rooted in our subconscious minds BUT you can learn to overcome them by practicing awareness.
Developing awareness around cognitive biases can help you control them. You can build your awareness by simply educating yourself on the common cognitive biases that are often present when you are making an important decision.
Do not be afraid to challenge your biases – including biases around remote working.
What many people do not realize is that in all likelihood, you already have some experience with remote working. Think about it… how long do you spend at your computer working? You might work from your private office or a cubicle, either way, you are engaging in a form of remote working. Many companies outsource work and those vendors are usually remote!
There are a lot of erroneous beliefs around proximity bias and remote work. So, let’s take a look at some of these so we can debunk them!
1. “This is something new”
The first erroneous belief is similar to what we just discussed above – many people think that remote work is something new. But it is not!
Remote work is not a new experience. Companies have worked with remote teams and remote team members for years! You can probably recall a time in your life or career where you worked remotely yourself or with someone who did.
2. “Distractions increase”
Another common belief around remote working is that if you are working from home, you have more distractions.
However, studies have debunked this myth and show that employees are even more productive working from home. In fact, the studies have revealed that there are even more distractions in a typical office than at home.
3. “I can’t see them working so they must not be working”
This is one of the most common erroneous beliefs around remote working. The problem here is that employers and managers, are so focused on seeing their team members work that they do not focus on what is really important, seeing results from those team members!
If you are worried that your team members will spend a large part of their days scrolling through social media, they are probably already doing that. The issue does not lie with remote work; it lies with your hiring practices. You have two choices, you can trust your employees or you can identify more trustworthy employees.
Are you the leader of a remote work team? Are you struggling to implement a remote work strategy while trying to keep business profitable?
Take your remote team from where they are to where they want to be with help from Arootah’s Remote Work Leadership Consultancy. Our team will examine your company’s remote work environment and provide you with a proposal so you can begin working with our team of consultants and experts.
To find out more, go to arootah.com/remotework