How to Handle Proximity Bias on Remote Teams

It’s tough to embrace the unknown. We all feel comforted by our routines, our circle of family and friends, the places we go regularly. Humans are creatures of habit. 

Our desire for the familiar isn’t simply laziness or fear, it’s an innate quirk of human nature, known as proximity bias. And it could be holding your team back from reaching their full potential, especially if they’re working remotely.

What is proximity bias?

Proximity bias is our instinctive preference for the familiar. We unconsciously place higher value on the things and people we’re closest to, thinking that they’re better simply because we know them.

In a work context, this typically means that the employees who are in the office are more valued than those who work remotely, or on a hybrid schedule. Even the most diligent managers can fall victim to proximity bias - 96% of leaders notice employee contributions more in the office, according to a recent study. 

If it’s not addressed, proximity bias can lead to managers offering more perks, more support, and more promotions to team members who are working in-person, at the expense of those who are contributing from home.

This is obviously unfair. Employees need to be rewarded on merit, not proximity. And it won’t take long for your team to notice that office workers are getting a disproportionate amount of positive attention. 

Left unchecked, this can cause resentment and dissatisfaction. And that inevitably leads to less productivity, a more toxic work environment, and perhaps ‘quiet quitting’ where the disgruntled employees simply stop making the effort because they’re busy looking elsewhere.

At a time when talent is hard to find and keep, managers can’t afford to indulge their proximity bias. They need to be particularly attentive to how they manage and treat both in-office and remote workers, ensuring a level playing field and going the extra mile to create a more inclusive and equitable company culture.

How to manage remote employees & banish your bias

While it’s impossible to eradicate proximity bias completely - it’s a biological impulse after all - you can take steps to identify it, and work against it.

1. Be honest about it

The first step is acknowledging the problem. Discuss the issue with your team and invite their feedback. Simply admitting that the problem is on your radar will build instant goodwill. Urge your team to keep you accountable, challenging you when they think there are good grounds to do so. Nurturing an atmosphere of honest communication will pay off across the board, not just in terms of spotting bias.

2. Look for opportunities to involve remote workers

Your remote employees may be out of sight, but don’t keep them out of mind. Make sure you’re sharing all company and team news via a single, central platform that everyone has access to so your remote workers don’t miss anything. 

And include them in meetings with virtual conferencing tools. If they’re comfortable, encourage them to use their cameras - it’s much easier for colleagues to bond when they can put faces to names rather than just staring at a screen.

3. Schedule regular performance reviews

Both your in-office staff and your remote employees need regular performance reviews so you can be sure you’re rewarding them for their achievements, rather than their location. Put these in the calendar at regular intervals with the understanding that they’re a chance for employees to assess their work, outline their KPIs, and raise any concerns they may have. These one-on-one check-ins will enhance employee engagement and ensure you’re taking a results-oriented approach.

4. Improve your tools

With the wide range of digital tools now freely available to employers, there’s no excuse for poor connectivity among hybrid teams. Video conferencing, productivity apps, messaging - these all help your employees chat, work, and build relationships.

Messaging platforms like Slack can be particularly helpful in encouraging close-knit teams, acting as a virtual town square where employees can collaborate on projects while getting to know one another. It doesn’t have to be all about work either, be sure to set up a few extra curricular channels that are just for fun to further cement positive communication.

Employee Productivity Monitoring software, Prodoscore, can also be a helpful addition to your workstation. The solution provides visibility into how your employees are using your company’s cloud-based tools, giving individuals and teams a productivity score that can pinpoint things like  burnout, quiet quitting, or unexpected dips in performance. 

With this level of real-time visibility, managers can ensure no-one gets left behind - whether they’re at home or in the office. Contact our team today to schedule a demonstration or find out more.

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