Updated: Sep 14, 2022
It is fair to say that workplace practices are going through massive changes and organisations are still trying to find out the best ways to create an unbiased work environment where all employees have access to the same opportunities.
Today, the challenge is how to overcome the inequality between on-site and remote employees — or what's known as proximity bias; especially when women and minority workers are more likely than other groups to want to stay home and have greater flexibility over their working hours.
What Is Proximity Bias?
Proximity bias is the phenomenon in which those who are physically closer to their team and business leaders enjoy greater influence and advancement opportunities relative to those who are hybrid or fully remote.
We cannot hide the fact that proximity bias disproportionally flies in the face of inclusivity and is easy to spot if organisations want to take it seriously.
Don’t be fooled, it’s human nature to crave social contact. Proximity bias means most business leaders and teams pay more attention and disproportionally give greater value to whatever or whoever is literally closest to them.
Is It a Problem?
Let’s keep it real; proximity bias should no longer be brushed off as accidental favouritism. We all know that proximity bias existed in the workplace long before the pandemic and often (dangerously) leads to management: -
Overlooking qualified, skilled and experienced individuals for key projects, marketing ideas and valuable information due to their physical location
Less face-to-face time with management, which can lead to less recognition and rewards
Unfairly awarding contracts to businesses that are in the immediate vicinity.
Remote workers developing a sense of workplace loneliness; feelings of not belonging, lack of motivation or job fulfilment.
Disproportionally affecting its diverse workforce which can potentially lead to a rise in claims for discrimination.
Remember convenience wins!
No More Hiding
Make no mistake, office environments will never go back to the days of everyone working the same hours in the same locations.
Tackling any form of bias is important for organisations if they want to increase productivity, efficiency and avoid future problems.
Leaders should not feel vulnerable. Supporting diverse talent means organisations acknowledge the presence of proximity bias and must discover the departments where it exists.
Management must no longer hide behind the statistics that fit their narrative where home workers displayed higher levels of performance without acknowledging the evidence that many have missed out on performance based promotions and rewards.
It’s not rocket science, leaders must address concerns of both the needs of in-house and remote workers in order to build greater trust when working with people from different backgrounds and interests.
It is important that organisations are open to new ideas for in-house and remote workers
Let’s not deny it; proximity bias is a serious threat to any company’s success. Most importantly, it can play a negative role in management decision making. That is why there must be greater awareness of proximity bias within organisations and favouritism leadership should be challenged at all times.
Whilst it may be difficult, if not impossible, for an organisation to develop a perfect inclusivity-based, remote-first culture and strategy; management must be supporting both on-site and remote employees who will benefit from experiencing a level playing field and more importantly, feel engaged.
Bringing People Together
Successful, inclusive leadership decision making means leaders need to understand how proximity bias can have a significant effect impact on their decisions making and ultimately, their organisations success.
Don’t get me wrong; it won’t be an easy task to achieve; nonetheless inclusive work environment methodology must be agile and flexible and linked into diversity efforts.
Leaders must not be afraid to test different working patterns as they identify and combat implicit biases and prejudices through their management style.
For example, presenteeism should not be the basis of performance reviews, rewards and promotion decisions.
Develop structured and quantifiable systems that measures an employee’s full impact across all areas of the business.
Finally, by making employees and business leaders aware of proximity bias, it can reduce any negative impact on the organisation and help to change their mindset in a more holistic manner.
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