Out of sight, out of mind, right? These are the steps you can take to offset proximity bias

The world of work has been turned on its head since the pandemic, with everyone navigating through several lockdowns while normal life was put on hold. It meant remote working, or WFH (Working From Home), became the norm. Previously, it was either impossible, frowned upon, or seen as shirking your responsibilities if you asked to work from home, but with advances in technology and flexible working hours, WFH is no longer seen as taboo. For many, even now with the pandemic abating and normal life finally returning, setting up a laptop in your front room and logging on to the office system at 9am in your pyjamas is seen as perfectly reasonable.

With two thirds of employees stating that they're more productive when working from home without distractions in the office, as well as saving, on average, £44.78 a week by forgoing that take-out coffee and the commute, what's not to like?

For sure, there are many advantages to working remotely but another shift is coming; employees are filtering back to offices all over the country as COVID-19 finally takes a back seat and a new kid on the block, proximity bias, is taking hold. But what is proximity bias exactly?

What is proximity bias?

Put simply, proximity bias favours those workers who've decided to come back to the office and are in the building, close to managers and senior executives. Visible and present, office workers have a huge advantage over home workers just by being there in person, rather than at the end of the phone or on a screen that continually glitches. Communication and bouncing ideas off fellow colleagues are much easier face-to-face, so when it comes to promotion, benefitting from rewards, or handing over an important project to an employee, if the manager can see you're keen and right there in front of them, they're more likely to choose you.

Proximity bias is a natural human reaction. We're social creatures. We crave interaction. If two members of staff are at the same level, but one is in the office and the other has taken advantage of working from home on a regular basis, the natural instinct is to lean more towards the staff member that you see physically and maybe go for a social drink after work with. That's not to say it's fair. It isn't, and can lead to discrimination. But it's a truth that your job prospects can be negatively impacted, so how to avoid proximity bias?

How to avoid proximity bias

The return to the office is increasingly becoming a reality. But what if you aren't ready to return yet? You might be classed as vulnerable or have discovered that you get so much more done when beavering away at home. Research shows that 60% of the adult population worked from home during the first lockdown, with 26% planning to continue this trend either permanently or occasionally once normal life resumes.

But if you aren't treated fairly, or the same as colleagues on a similar level, this can lead to discrimination. So can you make sure you aren't overlooked when it comes to being promoted?

  • Get involved - make it known how available you are during the day, even if you're not actually in the office. A quick catch up at the beginning or end of the day can make a world of difference, as it either sets you up for the day ahead or reflects on what you've achieved and what the next day could bring.
  • Schedule in a virtual coffee break - it only needs to be five minutes and it might be worth concentrating on connecting with those colleagues or superiors with whom you don't spend as much time.

  • Actively participate in meetings - ensure you're included in all relevant meetings, then make your voice heard. This is where technology can either make or break you, so take the time to make friends with the IT department so that you're tech-ready when the time comes.

  • Set up or suggest a buddy scheme - this pairs a remote worker with one in the office for mutual support and mentoring, providing much-needed collaboration and connections.

Hybrid working

This way of working is popular, as it allows flexibility for employees. With new research from TopCV citing that a mere 7% of workers rated a return to the office as their top priority in 2021, it looks like hybrid working is here to stay. Make it work in your favour. It's good to know that many leaders are now recognising proximity bias as an issue and are taking the right steps to promote equality for all workers, regardless of whether they're in the office or working remotely.

Keen to grab that promotion opportunity? Optimise your chances by taking advantage of our free CV review and make sure your documents are in tip-top condition with the help of TopCV's experts.

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