Proximity Bias and How to Avoid It

Hybrid work model is turning into a permanent practice for a significant number of companies and the results are convincing. With its cost-effective structure and contended feedback from both the employees and the employers, the future looks promising for the hybrid work model.

However, there are issues to be tackled as well with the rise of this relatively new work structure. Work-life balance, office time scheduling, and uncertainty of corporate culture are some of them; yet there’s another problem to be wary of: Proximity bias.

How proximity bias can affect the future of employees and the overall synergy in the workplace is an issue to be addressed. Raising awareness and generating effective solutions about it is something not to be neglected for companies with hybrid work models moving forward.

What Is Proximity Bias?

In the broadest sense, proximity bias is valuing something or someone that is nearest to us more than its remote counterpart. It’s basically an unconscious favoritism towards whatever is closest to us over those in remote locations.

Proximity bias is not something new, it’s been in place for a long time and it’s been affecting the dynamics of the workplace even before the pandemic. There’s always been favoritism of managers towards workers that are more engaged with them in person, but now there are physically remote workers, and it’s even more related today.

In terms of basic human psychology, proximity bias can be something to be excused but in the workplaces, considering its possible negative effects on remote workers, there should be some adjustments to be made to level the playing field.

How Can It Affect the Workplace?Proximity Bias and How to Avoid It

Even before the hybrid work model, proximity bias was affecting the next step in employees’ careers. Usually, the ones around the senior people used to be involved in important projects, receive promotional offers and even paid higher than the employees that didn’t have the same kind of relationship with their managers.

The same practice is highly expected in hybrid workplaces as well because that’s what people are used to. In comparison to their on-site colleagues, remote workers have the risk of being overlooked and there’s a possibility of their work being undervalued.

The purpose behind incorporating remote workers for a hybrid workplace is to provide the flexibility that employees need without taking the time spent in the office as an evaluation criterion. So that the people can be evaluated based on the quality of their work; instead of their personal involvement in the office.

But the continuity of proximity bias in a hybrid workplace can completely kill the benefits of switching to a hybrid work model and discourage people from working remotely.

To practice the hybrid work model to its best capacity, proximity bias should be handled effectively and it brings an important responsibility on managers’ behalf.

How to Avoid Proximity Bias in Hybrid Workplaces?Proximity Bias and How to Avoid It

Raising awareness about it is the first step. Although proximity bias is something that managers have never heard of, it’s likely that they’re doing it unwittingly. So the first step in avoiding proximity bias should be keeping managers aware of the risk.

To raise awareness, human resources departments can take the lead role. Organizing informative sessions with managers or holding interactive meetings with employees included might be good options. They can remind people that how close employees are to their seniors should not be the prominent evaluating factor and everyone should be given equal chances.

It should be noted that the solution isn’t completely reverting to a full-time office. Although it may look like removing the proximity bias for remote workers, it’s not the solution that the contemporary business world asks for.

To provide equal chances for both on-site and remote workers, the frequency of one-to-one meetings or team evaluation sessions can be increased. By giving remote workers more chances to engage with the workplace and having them speak up about their participation and expectations, businesses can build a wall against the proximity bias

Also, carrying an objective attitude towards employees’ performance is a big part of avoiding proximity bias. It’s only natural for managers to get impressed by the time employees spend in the office but switching to a hybrid work model requires them to value what’s been performed rather than how.

By taking the correct measures in the workplace with the collaboration of human resources and managers, there’s no reason for people to fall into the proximity bias trap. As long as the employees are treated equally and everyone is given a chance to speak up, businesses can establish an equal ground for their employees regardless of their location.

So, in a nutshell, proximity bias is something to behold in hybrid workplaces and can have detrimental consequences when not taken care of. To avoid it from happening, businesses can apply these practices:

·  Informing managers about the proximity bias to raise awareness

·  Holding frequent meetings with remote employees to make sure that their voices are heard

·  Evaluating people’s performance based on the quality of their output

·  Considering everyone as a candidate for important tasks

By following these steps, proximity bias can turn into something only for history books.



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