Five strategies for overcoming proximity bias

Proximity bias is the subconscious tendency to favour things closer to you. It’s one of many different types of destructive biases in the workplace that, when unchecked, leads to favouring, hiring, and promoting the wrong people.

Five strategies for overcoming proximity bias

Is proximity bias subliminally impacting how you make decisions in your business?

Proximity bias is the subconscious tendency to favour things closer to you. It’s one of many different types of destructive biases in the workplace that, when unchecked, leads to favouring, hiring, and promoting the wrong people.

This is actually just one of many different types of workplace biases, and it’s one that has huge potential to negatively impact remote workers.

But like all biases, it can be reduced once it’s understood. Here are five strategies for overcoming proximity bias in your workplace.

Bias training

Biases are an insidious and destructive part of the workforce, and in order to minimise their influence, you need to be educated and aware. This applies to all forms of biases, which negatively impact people who have:

  • Backgrounds that we aren’t familiar with
  • A name that we don’t know how to pronounce
  • Physical differences from us

The freedom to work remotely is a privilege, but it’s important to be aware that many people in marginalised groups will leverage location independence to help them have access to career opportunities.

Disabled employees may work remotely to overcome unequal transportation opportunities. Caretakers may work remotely to work around doctor’s appointments and familial responsibilities. Jewish employees may use remote work on Fridays to prepare for Shabbat.

Bias training is an important part of making opportunities equitable and making decisions based on facts and not feelings.

Set clear expectations

It’s unfair and unproductive to have unspoken expectations. This is as true for interpersonal relationships as it is for managerial-employee dynamics.

Develop remote-work policies that include protocols for:

  • Deadlines
  • Communication
  • Non-essential tasks, such as social gatherings
  • Skill development

Ensure that all expectations are clearly communicated and reasonably achieved, no matter where or when employees are working. Communicate these expectations to your team, and enforce them equally between in-person and virtual teammates.

Equal access to updates and information

When team members are all working at the same place at the same time (called synchronous working), it’s easy to have a pop-up meeting or walk over to someone’s desk for information. Casual in-person communication leaves remote workers out of the conversation. It can also become a source of a lot of wasted time and lost productivity.

When team members are working at different times, this is called asynchronous working, and you need to communicate in different ways to keep everyone informed.

Leverage technology to disseminate information equally across the team. This can take many different forms:

  • Record meetings
  • Share summaries and notes
  • Communal communication channels (ex: Slack)
  • Project management software

It will likely take some trial and error to find the right system for your team, but it will result in equal distribution of communication between asynchronous workers.

Frequent employee check-ins

While a partially remote team means that you may be seeing your employees less often, it doesn’t mean that your communication should become irregular and infrequent.

Make time for personalised attention with out-of-office teammates. Ask them about their challenges, happiness in their role, and career goals. This will help forge mutual feelings of trust, value, and connection.

Acknowledge and celebrate the professional achievements and milestones of all employees, regardless of their physical location.

Beyond one-on-one check-ins, also schedule virtual:

  • Employee appreciation events
  • Ongoing education opportunities
  • Team social gatherings

Invest in positive remote-work workplace culture

Business owners naturally worry about their company culture declining with team members working remotely. This doesn’t have to be the case; many employees report higher job satisfaction when they’re able to work flexibly.

In fact, there are some signs of negative workplace culture that die with a remote team, and that’s for the better. Managers who rely on micromanaging their teams and seeing their employees work late every day are practing unhealthy management tactics that don’t translate well to the virtual workplace.

A company with a positive remote-friendly company culture looks like:

  • Never making negative comments about remote workers
  • Valuing all employees the same, regardless of their work location
  • Promoting based on factual performance metrics and never feelings

Yes, change will be necessary. But use this as a moment to reevaluate your workplace culture and invest in a positive remote-work attitude. Every wouldplace can benefit from routine evaluations of their culture.

Remote work promotes flexibility, work-life balance, and inclusivity. Leadership can set an example of embracing diverse work arrangements with these tips.

Kayla Ihrig
Kayla Ihrig

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