Proximity bias refers to when people in positions of authority show favouritism or give preferential treatment to employees who are closest to them physically.
The increase in remote and hybrid-working models across the UK has caused proximity bias to spike, as those in positions of management connect more favourably with those they see in person rather than online.
Why is it a problem in today’s workplace?
A key driver of proximity bias is the antiquated assumption that people are more productive in an office environment than at home. This has led to the tendency to overvalue colleagues that are physically present over those that are connected remotely.
Further problems can arise, such as evaluating the work of onsite employees more highly than remote colleagues regardless of objective performance metrics, as well as further biases when projects are offered to onsite employees first.
These favouritisms can make remote workers feel disengaged and dispirited about their performance and career development opportunities, leading to further retraction from the business and company culture.
How to overcome proximity bias
Retaining remote and flexible working models is a key part of workplace equality, inclusion and diversity, so how do we avoid proximity bias?
- Consciously stay connected: Host regular 1-2-1s with each team member so no one gets left out of the loop.
- Switch your focus to output and outcomes: Ensure performance reviews are centred on what’s been achieved, not how much work you perceive to have been done.
- Be aware: Educate yourself and other managers about proximity bias – and all types of bias – so it’s top of mind and you can recognise when it may be at play.
- Request feedback: Proximity bias won’t go away overnight so ask for regular feedback from your remote/hybrid workers.
Tell Jane’s Dismantling Bias training equips employees and managers with the insight and tools to recognise, interrupt and challenge bias in your workplace. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.