The idea that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is so 2019. According to US News & World Report, 44% of workers prefer working from home. In 2021 and beyond, some of us may work from home indefinitely – whether by choice or design. Others of us are bounding back to the office. From this, an emerging new complexity has emerged called “proximity bias.” Proximity bias is defined as “a cognitive bias where we value what’s close to us in time and space.”

Proximity bias is problematic in two ways. First, it can be used against us if we’re not careful, and second, we can deploy it without being conscious of it. Here’s how to deal with both of those challenges.

Protect Your Career

If you’re going to be working from home either part-time or full-time, be aware of the tendency of your boss and others to favor those working physically near to them. Create strategies to be visible and top-of-mind. These can include:

  • Scheduling a regular Zoom face-to-face each week or two weeks with your most important stakeholders.

  • Speaking up at least one time in each meeting in which you participate.

  • Requesting plum projects and positioning yourself for promotability.

  • Forwarding emails to your boss or stakeholder group when someone praises your work.

  • Taking credit for innovations or ideas that you came up with.

  • Ensuring your contributions are noted in group projects.

By making conscious efforts to protect your career, you’re more likely be successful.

Protect Your Team…

The idea that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is so 2019.  According to US News & World Report, 44% of workers prefer working from home.  In 2021 and beyond, some of us may work from home indefinitely – whether by choice or design.  Others of us are bounding back to the office.  From this, an emerging new complexity has emerged called “proximity bias.” Proximity bias is defined as “a cognitive bias where we value what’s close to us in time and space.” 

Proximity bias is problematic in two ways.  First, it can be used against us if we’re not careful, and second, we can deploy it without being conscious of it.  Here’s how to deal with both of those challenges.

Protect Your Career

If you’re going to be working from home either part-time or full-time, be aware of the tendency of your boss and others to favor those working physically near to them.  Create strategies to be visible and top-of-mind.  These can include:

  • Scheduling a regular Zoom face-to-face each week or two weeks with your most important stakeholders.

  • Speaking up at least one time in each meeting in which you participate.

  • Requesting plum projects and positioning yourself for promotability.

  • Forwarding emails to your boss or stakeholder group when someone praises your work.

  • Taking credit for innovations or ideas that you came up with.

  • Ensuring your contributions are noted in group projects.

By making conscious efforts to protect your career, you’re more likely be successful.

Protect Your Team

Just as proximity bias can unconsciously be used against us, it can also be employed by us without our awareness.  If we have great talent on our team but stop seeing it because it isn’t sitting next to us each day, we lose out on developing talent and creating stronger teams.  Strategies can be employed to reduce your own proximity bias.  These include:

  • Scheduling weekly or every other week meetings with each member of your team.

  • Reviewing the assignments you give to ensure you’re not favoring your in-person team members.

  • Remembering to call on each individual in the meeting, whether remote or in-person, to ensure full participation.

  • Asking team members to turn on their camera each time they are interacting with you or the group.

Making Training More Effective

Training is slowly moving back to the conference room, but there will likely still be folks joining from remote locations.  Most training sessions are passive for attendees, which doubles the risk that remote watchers will tune out.  To make blended training sessions more effective, try:

  • Ensuring that there are activities requiring participation in the session.  Include a game, discussion session, case study, or team event that demands cooperation.

  • Remembering to call on the remote attendees at some point during the session.

  • Checking the chat.  Frequently, people who are remote post comments, suggestions, or questions in the chat instead of interrupting the conversation or raising their hand.  Check the chat, then ask the person who wrote the comment directly about their ideas.

  • Requiring people to put on their camera.

Body language and micro-facial movements give humans extremely important information.  Requiring that the camera is on during meetings or training sessions allows participants to read each other and to get feedback on the discussion.  It’s far easier to tune out when the camera is off and no one is watching.  To get solid participation, leave the cameras on.

As long as there is remote working, proximity bias will be an issue.  There is truth to the cliché that out of sight means out of mind. But it doesn’t have to be that way.  By protecting yourself, your team, and your training sessions from proximity bias, you’ll make your workplace a better and more fair place to be.

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Picture of Kristy Grant-Hart

Kristy Grant-Hart

Kristy Grant-Hart is the founder and CEO of Spark Compliance.
She's a renowned expert at transforming compliance departments into in-demand business assets.