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:

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:

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:

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.