How to Prevent Proximity Bias in a Remote Workforce - Vista
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How to Prevent Proximity Bias in a Remote Workforce

Remote working offers many benefits to businesses and employees alike, but it also introduces several new workforce challenges, one of those being proximity bias. Proximity bias refers to those not working in the office with their colleagues being over-looked or forgotten about. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is the phrase often used, and the development of relationships can be very different.

Research shows that employees with closer proximity to their leaders are often considered to be better workers, more likely to receive promotions and pay increases due to the proximity bias which occurs from closer interactions.

How can you prevent this from happening?  Here’s our checklist to keep everyone in mind:

  • Make sure that pay reviews and promotion decisions are conducted transparently, and involve checks and balances from managers/HR who can bring different dimensions to the decision making process.
  • Ensure that the good work being done by employees both inside the office and remotely is celebrated and that credit is given in all the places due.  It might help for management meetings to rotate the focus on different areas of the team.
  • Ensure that managers are trained to think in a ‘remote/hybrid first’ way when assigning a task or project to a member of the team, rather than using the convenience of whoever happens to be nearest or around at a particular time.

Managing people remotely or in a hybrid way can be more difficult, and requires different skills to those which managers will previously have been trained in. For support with this, we recommend looking at these training videos for your managers from 10to3 Digital.

  • When running meetings which involve some people in the office and others remotely, consider making the meetings fully remote. This ensures that everyone is having the same experience, and a more level playing field is created.
  • Encourage managers to have a time of reflection each week when they think about who they have and haven’t interacted with. This will help to prioritise people the following week. 

Doing this regularly can make managers more aware of any potential proximity bias creeping in if they can identify a link between the interactions they are having and who is getting their attention and/or the best opportunities.

  • Make sure that managers have regular 121s with their teams, and that the structure of the discussion includes talking about how the employee is feeling about work, their development and opportunities.
  • Look at how approaches used for meetings and ways of working can be truly inclusive and meet the needs of employees with diverse requirements, both in the office and remotely.  Ask for the input of the whole team.  This will ensure that everyone can participate effectively.
  • Find ways to encourage employees to share their interests.  This is the kind of thing which used to happen when settling down into, or walking out from meetings, by the kettle or in the canteen. 

When people know each other’s interests, they can begin to identify more readily with them as a person.  Sometimes all these takes is for a manager to let the ‘chit chat’ flow for ten minutes or so after everyone has joined a remote meeting.

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