Remote work has been a widely adopted practice for almost three years now, however, its benefits and drawbacks are still debated among business leaders. On one hand, it enables companies to tap into a larger talent pool, promotes employee satisfaction, and does not have a negative impact on productivity, as supported by research. However, on the other hand, it can lead to limited supervision and the emergence of proximity bias. In this article, we will explain what proximity bias is and explore strategies to mitigate its potential negative effects. Read on.
How to combat proximity bias in the workplace? – table of contents:
What is proximity bias?
Without a doubt, the biggest advantage of on-site work over remote work is the possibility to interact with other employees, which can’t be fully replaced by online communication. Building relationships is a lot easier when coworkers see each other every day and work in the same physical space. However, friendly relationships can sometimes turn into favoritism, which is undoubtedly a negative phenomenon in the workplace. When office workers are treated better than remote workers in a company, proximity bias may arise.
It’s important to note that proximity bias, also called distance bias, is not limited to a particular level within an organization, and can affect both lower-level employees and those in managerial or executive positions. This phenomenon can manifest in various aspects of daily operations within a company. Some of the most frequent negative outcomes resulting from proximity bias include:
- neglecting remote workers when it comes to promotions,
- withholding important information from remote employees,
- excluding remote workers from meetings related to their area of work,
- offering additional opportunities, such as courses, benefits, and perks exclusively to physically present office workers,
- giving remote employees lower performance evaluations without adequate justification, such as unmet KPIs or other evidence of significantly lower productivity than office workers,
- failing to involve remote employees in important decisions related to the team or company, depending on their position within the organization.
Consequences of proximity bias
What can proximity bias lead to? Proximity bias can have serious consequences. Obvious disparities between employees can greatly impact the mental health of those who are treated unfairly, leading to decreased morale, job engagement, and daily efficiency. As a consequence, many employees may resign from their jobs. This, in turn, may result in high turnover rates, which means increased costs due to the need for recruitment, a weakened team, and reduced productivity.
How to tackle proximity bias?
Distance bias is certainly a negative phenomenon that should be prevented. How to combat proximity bias? It’s worth starting by building awareness among business leaders about the issue and its potential consequences, while also encouraging all employees to communicate through online channels. It is also necessary to establish rules for cooperation between the office and remote workers. A good solution could be tracking employee performance metrics that apply equally to all employees, letting employers evaluate their work objectively.
Undoubtedly, distance bias is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has considerably changed the way people perform their duties, allowing them to work from home or any other location. It may have a number of negative consequences, especially when it comes to employees’ mental health, business development or a company’s reputation. Therefore, it’s so important to make people aware of this phenomenon and to seek ways to prevent it. It is worth implementing strategies to fight distance bias in your organization and observing whether they bring the expected results.