Proximity bias is ‘unquestionably’ real, according to one study

Proximity bias is ‘unquestionably’ real, according to one study
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As most teams are now splitting between on-site and remote employees, one new question arises: How important is it, really, to be seen by your coworkers and bosses?

New research by workplace platform Envoy suggests that it can matter — a lot.

In its poll of 1,000 employees and 250 executives in the United States, Envoy revealed that 96% of executives notice on-site employees’ contributions more than remote workers. 

Annette Reavis, Envoy’s chief people officer, said this highlights a pressing matter within the business community. One called “proximity bias.”

Proximity bias refers to the idea that leaders favor employees in the office more often for promotions and pay raises. And Reavis added that the problem is “going to get worse” as more companies return to the office.

So the question now is, what do we do to combat proximity bias?

According to Reavis, leaders have the most power to reduce proximity bias in the workplace. Start by introducing more inclusive practices that consider everyone’s capabilities and needs — whether working at the office or at home. 

She added that managers should be more mindful of their employees’ contributions no matter where they work.

Setting equitable, transparent performance and salary review processes anchored on clear goals and metrics — instead of behavior — could also work to make it fair for everyone.

Moreover, having firm start and end times for meetings could make remote employees not feel “left out” of conversations and important decisions. 

Johnny Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), added that remote employees could also do their part to combat proximity bias. He suggested weekly or monthly virtual coffee dates with their co-workers or introducing themselves to higher-ups over email and sharing what they’ve been working on. 

While it is still early to see the impacts of proximity bias on a remote worker’s career, Reavis said that not addressing it could have great consequences in the future. 

“People are choosing to be remote with the expectation that their career will move at the same pace as their in-person colleagues,” Reavis said.

“If proximity bias persists, it could damage their career advancement without them understanding why … and that worries me the most.”

Read more here.

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