women and men at work behind laptop high five

Out of sight, out of mind: mind the proximity gap

With remote working no longer seen as a temporary solution to pandemic lockdowns, companies will need to rethink their long term employers engagement strategies.

One specific, longer-term concern with remote working is that those in the office benefit while those working from home are forgotten about. Bosses might view those around them in the office as harder working and more trustworthy than their remote counterparts, rewarding them accordingly. Or leaders may be more inclined to hand an in-person employee an assignment or ask them for input, rather than jump on Slack or Zoom to contact someone working remotely.

This so-called proximity bias is, like any bias, a natural instinct. It’s an evolutionary part of our cognitive decision-making process and functions as a shortcut by prioritizing what feels safest. Yet a prioritisation of safety doesn’t always lead to accurate judgements. Research among workers at a Chinese travel agency, for example, showed remote workers had higher levels of performance while simultaneously losing out to in-house staff on performance-based promotions.

Some brands have already tried to bridge the proximity gap. By emphasizing that it’s OK to work from home, and by asking management to work remotely sometimes as well. By doing so they give people more trust in working from home. Another way is by making sure that all employees work specific days a week together at the office. How can your company tackle the proximity bias when a part of the team is working remotely?