Conquering ‘proximity bias’ in performance management

OpenBlend explores how to address proximity basis with tips on driving employee performance and managing effectively across a hybrid team.

After being thrust headlong into remote working by the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses are now looking to make a more permanent shift to the hybrid working model. In fact, 63% of employers surveyed in a recent study said they intended to boost hybrid working, while Buffer's State of remote work study in 2020 found that 98% of employees would work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their career.

Hybrid working allows employees to enjoy improved flexibility while their employers benefit from wider recruitment pools. However, the hybrid work model creates new challenges for performance management, not least of which is the potential for ‘proximity bias'.

What is proximity bias in performance management?

Proximity bias is the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality some managers adopt, which leads them to believe that (a) workers in the office are working harder than those at home and (b) that work being carried out in the office is inherently more valuable.

If proximity bias is leading managers to pay more attention to the requirements of an employee in the office instead of someone working remotely, it’s also skewing their vision when it comes to performance assessment. So what can businesses do to not only manage a hybrid team effectively but also drive performance amongst a hybrid team?


Communicate with remote workers regularly

It’s crucial that managers engage in regular one-on-ones with remote employees, whether virtually or face-to-face when possible, to understand their concerns and create solutions that drive productivity and ensure their employees feel listened to and understood.

Some employees, for example, could be concerned that their professional development might be affected because they are working remotely, and their motivation and performance could be suffering as a result. You want to assuage employees’ concerns and work with them directly to understand their individual circumstances – but this can’t be done without a solid communication framework.

Give feedback from a variety of perspectives

Some businesses have adopted a 360-degree approach to feedback, under which feedback is gathered not just from employees’ managers but from their colleagues, subordinates, and their own self-evaluation.

Taking a 360-degree approach to feedback maximises an employee’s view of how they are perceived, thus creating a better benchmark for evaluating their performance, identifying gaps, and finding solutions. For hybrid/fully remote workers, it helps establish the specific role they are playing within a wider team much more clearly, which leads onto this next point. 

Be inclusive

You want to create a business that is effectively a level playing field, and this means taking actions to make sure you are including others, no matter where they are. It can be as simple as organising a quick morning meeting where everyone attends on Teams to talk through their daily schedule and air any concerns. Use the versatility of virtual tools to your advantage – if you believe someone can be of assistance but aren’t in the office, make a point of dialling them in.

Create a hybrid workforce that works for everybody

When remote workers are kept in the loop, receiving feedback and seeing their needs are being met and understood, they feel empowered to do their best work. Meanwhile, managers can see the benefits of a more connected, collaborative workforce, which belies a far superior company culture and more motivated employees that deliver even better results. Once they’ve seen that, their proximity biases will begin to fade into the ether.

To learn how to accelerate the performance of your hybrid workforce download our guide today.

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