As businesses are adapting to a post-pandemic environment and with some moving on to a hybrid working approach, there could be a drawback in an arrangement where employees are not physically present in the office.

According to recruitment expert firm Hays, proximity bias may creep into the organization. This is a situation where those who are present in the office may receive preferential treatment over time. It’s not a new notion – proximity bias may happen if someone has a closer working relationship with the higher-ups – but in the new work norm, it can also happen to those who work at the office more than those who work-from-home.

Commenting on the challenges proximity bias can bring to a business, Hays CEO, Alistair Cox, says, “There are many dangers that proximity bias brings to the workplace and simply assuming it is not happening in your own business is unrealistic. One obvious danger is the subconscious exclusion of people from having the opportunity to work on big projects generated from the center or working on a major new client account.”

The downside to employees outside this circle is that they will feel excluded, which in turn makes them unhappy. If it doesn’t affect productivity, it might harm a diverse workplace. For example, physically impaired workers who work remotely due to mobility issues as well as caregivers such as mothers who are allowed to work from home may face the consequence of proximity bias.

There are ways to avoid this bias, as Alistair lists out:

Promote hybrid working
Business leaders should lead by example. They can follow the hybrid working arrangement (shuffle between working in the office and remotely) and accept views from everyone; even those not in the office.

Hold inclusive meetings
Holding meetings attended by those physically in the office and those online could be an advantage for the former, and their inputs could – regardless of its quality – be favored simply because of the proximity. A way to combat this is to make all important meetings done virtually. Alistair elaborates, ” That means everyone is on a level playing field. If that’s not possible, be aware of how inclusive you are being of the whole group. Importantly, make sure business critical decisions are not being made in one meeting. If an idea comes to light between you and others who are in the office that day, arrange a follow-up with all of those working remotely.”

Invest in updated technology
The right technology means that employees working remotely have better interaction with their in-office colleagues. Companies such as Microsoft and Cisco have added features to their meeting platforms to incorporate hybrid working. It uses machine learning and AI to improve meetings for those attending remotely, making them feel more attached to the session.

Engage your employees
An open channel of communication is crucial in order that employees can present their views about proximity bias or feeling of being excluded to business leaders.

Sandra Henke, Global Head of People and Culture at Hays, said, “Ensure all employees, no matter where they are based, are taking part in company and team activities, so they don’t feel left out. Remind your team that you are all in it together, every employee – whether they are in the office or at home – has a role to play in sustaining the company’s culture in the next era of work.”


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