July 7, 2021
Lucy Robertson

We need to talk about proximity bias

Do you see your remote workers in the same light as your in-office staff?

Your instinctive answer is likely to be ‘yes, of course we do.’ But before we go any further, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions.

Do you ever feel that staff that you see in the office are harder working, even though you can’t quite put your finger on why?

Are office-based workers your ‘go to’ if you need something done quickly, or you want someone reliable for a job?

Have you promoted someone in the office rather than someone working remotely, without a concrete reason for it?

Do you really know your remote workers – their aspirations, their challenges, their motivations – as well as those you share an office with day in, day out?

If any of the above has given you pause for thought, you could be allowing proximity bias to cloud your judgement. Proximity bias is, essentially, an unconscious bias towards those closest to you, and against those who are further away. While proximity bias has been a problem since remote work became a possibility – impacting everything from talent retention to equality and diversity – it is about to become a significant commercial issue for businesses, as hybrid working becomes the unavoidable new normal.

Here are three of the biggest problems that proximity bias can cause, and how you can solve them:

Declining productivity

Hybrid and remote working can impact productivity, but not necessarily in the way you might think. Although the pandemic has seen a leap forward in the way that remote work is, generally, perceived, old fashioned attitudes are creeping back in: namely, if you can’t see the work, it’s not getting done. This aspect of proximity bias is hurting productivity far more than remote working is.

When managers and leaders worry about remote workers output, they often resort to micromanagement. The result is additional layers of reporting that are time-consuming and distracting, for both the employee and the manager. Instead of boosting output, it reduces it, as hybrid and remote employees need to spend more time proving their worth than fulfilling it. Managers, meanwhile, are tied up chasing and supervising when they should be leading and supporting, which in turn effects office-based employees too.

Fix it: The OpenBlend platform replaces daily micromanagement with considered, actionable and measurable goals. Managers can track KPIs and measure performance effectively, working with remote (and office-based) employees to overcome challenges and reach objectives. When integrated with Microsoft Teams, it’s even easier for employees and managers alike to receive alerts and send prompts that can boost productivity.

Reduced wellbeing and engagement

For years, remote workers have been unfairly seen as less productive, disengaged and unreliable, despite evidence to the contrary (you can read more about this in our guide to combating proximity bias). Working remotely in lockdown changed this, as businesses and individuals could finally see what working ‘from home’ was really like – and how support, feedback and recognition could be handled successfully outside of the office environment to keep remote workers engaged and feeling positive about their roles.

However, as some workers make their way back to the office, and others don’t, will businesses be able to keep up this focus on wellbeing and engagement for remote employees? Or will proximity bias skew preferential treatment towards those that are in the building, with rewards and wellbeing measures focussed unfairly on office-based staff?

Fix it: With regular, structured one-to-ones, supported by the OpenBlend platform and MS Teams integration, managers can have open, honest conversations with every employee to address any wellbeing concerns – regardless of whether they are remote or in the office. The result is a more engaged workforce, with higher wellbeing scores, working towards shared business goals.

Cultural conflict

Proximity bias doesn’t just affect manager/employee relationships. It can also impact the way that teams work with each other. When everyone is in an office together, it’s easy to develop a sense of camaraderie: work is visible, meetings are in-person, goals are shared easily through conversation. However, it’s not necessarily more productive, or more cohesive: proximity bias just makes it feel that way.

With a mix of remote and office-based employees, creating a culture of respect and collaboration can become more difficult, and resentments can arise on both sides of the home/office fence. This, in turn, can reduce productivity, and create problems that side-track managers and disrupt teamworking.

Fix it: OpenBlend allows hybrid teams to share a sense of purpose, encouraging greater recognition and collaboration between colleagues. Through the MS Teams integration, employees can send informal High Fives to recognise good work, and easily reach out to others for input or information via OpenBlend’s Connections feature.

With OpenBlend’s Microsoft Teams integration, scheduling and carrying out one-to-ones becomes the same process for everyone. Combining OpenBlend’s people-centric performance management platform with the seamless connectivity of MS Teams, managers can ensure that all employees are managed equally, bridging the gap between office-based, remote and hybrid teams.

To find out about proximity bias and how to stop it from damaging productivity in your workplace, download our guide. To see OpenBlend and MS Teams in action you can book a demo, give us a call on 01628 613040 or email hello@openblend.com

Download the guide
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