Here are five strategies to prevent proximity bias from unfairly affecting remote workers:
Acknowledge the bias exists
The first step is acknowledging that proximity bias is real. While on-site employees are visible in the office for most of the workday, remote employees are rarely seen outside of meetings. This may—however unfortunate and unintentional—cause leaders to think that on-site employees are more dedicated and working harder. If your organization’s leaders are unaware of the issue, take the time to explain the subconscious impact of proximity bias so that they can devise a plan to combat it.
Identify the ‘who’
Identifying where proximity bias may manifest itself within the workplace means critically analyzing who wins and who loses as a result of proximity bias. Those who may benefit from proximity bias are able to:
Spend physical time at the office and at after-hour events.
Have in-person contact with leadership.
Be present in important meetings.
Work during standard business hours.
Create a space for connection
Get creative in the ways you’re willing to connect with your teams working in a hybrid environment. Start by ensuring team members are physically set up for success in their home office.
It is also crucial to create virtual platforms for employees to feel comfortable sharing personal and professional updates. Try keeping the Slack conversation going in tailored channels like “#team” and “#random."
Make it a point to carve out space each week to engage in a one-on-one, meaningful way with individuals working remotely. Have a list of questions prepared to help maintain relationships and understand each employee’s professional goals and aspirations.
To remind your team of the great work to which they are contributing, try conducting a weekly team video call that focuses on recognizing individuals' wins. And any team-building or social activities should be offered in both virtual and in-person settings so everyone is included.
In the workplace, real connections are critical. By leading with empathy, you learn about your team members and condition yourself to ask the right questions to help them succeed. This ensures that the work the team is doing aligns with their skill sets, needs and goals—and ultimately contributes to business performance and personal satisfaction.
As leaders, we need to try to create space for personal moments as well. This could mean carving out time for a casual chat in your one-on-one meetings, inviting colleagues for virtual “coffee dates” or making the effort to attend in-person meet-ups and events whenever the opportunity arises. The benefits of this approach are crucial to parents who are trying to find the right balance between work, life and parenthood.
Managers will need to work closely with HR teams to facilitate the appropriate guidelines around career progression—making sure the core of promotions are still centered around performance and not location. Stay thoughtful throughout the decision-making process and question why an individual, who is working remote or on-site, might be recognized for a specific award rather than others in the same position.
Like just about everything else we’ve faced in the last few years, proximity bias requires us to rethink our approach to remote and hybrid work. And that’s OK. Fresh thinking often yields the best results. By keeping our focus on building a company culture centered around trust and communication, we can empower our teams to continue working efficiently and effectively no matter their location.
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