By: Jan Iverson
Should proximity bias be a real concern?
Workplace proximity bias refers to the tendency of employees who are in positions of power to treat colleagues that are physically closer to them more favorably. With in-person, remote and hybrid work arrangements, flexible work can run the risk of inequitable visibility where “out of sight, out of mind” for remote employees could cost recognition and career development.
A key driver of proximity bias is the assumption that employees are more productive in the office rather than at home, which can lead to decisions based on bias rather than performance. Attrition, isolation and mental health issues are also still prevalent across organizations and impact hybrid and remote employees. Efforts must be made to create a truly inclusive work model.
Examples of proximity bias
- Onsite employees being offered more interesting work.
- Excluding remote employees from important meetings.
- Evaluating the work of onsite employees more favorably.
- Only communicating with employees who live in the same timezone.
- Limiting learning opportunities for remote workers.
In a survey conducted by McKinsey Research, 75% of respondents said that they prefer a hybrid working model compared to 25% who prefer to be fully onsite. Traditionally underrepresented groups demonstrated an even stronger preference for hybrid work.
Groups who prefer hybrid work and said they were likely to leave if it wasn’t available:
- Younger employees (18–34 years old) were 59% more likely to leave than older ones (55–64 years old).
- Black employees were 14% more likely than their White peers.
- LGBQ+ employees were 24% more likely to leave than heterosexual ones.
- Women were approximately 10% more likely than men, and employees who identify as nonbinary were 18% more likely than men and women.
- Employees with disabilities were 14% more likely to leave than employees without them.
This data cannot be ignored. Teams leaders must have a remote-first mindset to support employees and ensure they feel visible regardless of their location.
Ways team leaders can help build inclusive teams:
- Regularly collect employee feedback on work models and adapt accordingly.
- Include the different preferences and needs of increasingly diverse teams in your new hybrid approaches.
- Embrace flexibility and a work-life balance, for example, having flexible working hours and flexible holiday days.
- Support team bonding. Don’t always host team events after work. Plan an event during normal work hours where all national/global team members can opt-in to participate.
- Create interest-based Slack channels where employees can share their interests outside of work communication.
- Be mindful of how you assign opportunities across your team and distribute recognition. This helps to foster a team environment where all team members feel valued.
Collaboration = trust
Proximity bias IS a real concern. Educate team leaders on how proximity bias can show up.
Attribution, isolation and mental health issues are all potential roadblocks in creating inclusive teams in hybrid models. Attentive collaboration and consistent engagement within teams is key to building relationships and overall trust.
Jan Iverson is the Creative Director at FS Studio and an award-winning product leader with over 20-years of extensive experience in digital media and marketing, with a specialization in the design and development of AR, VR and 3D activations: mobile apps, games, LBE, sales tools, digital twins; with XR cross-platform content development, and a track record of success in leading award-winning digital creative teams.