Proximity Bias: How can it affect your business?

The proximity bias definition has changed drastically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

5 minutes

November 14, 2022 Adecco

A small group of business people sit and laugh in a conference room. They are speaking to three coworkers on a large monitor, who are video-calling in to the meeting.

Organizations across the US have continued to adopt hybrid and remote work models. Surveys show that 35% of US workers now have the opportunity to work remotely full-time. While this has been beneficial to many and has allowed companies to attract top talent from far and wide, it also comes with a unique set of challenges. One of these challenges is proximity bias.

Discrimination, low employee engagement, and poor talent retention are just some of the symptoms of a proximity bias problem. Learn more about what proximity bias is and how it may be impacting your organizations.

What is proximity bias?

The proximity bias definition has changed over the last couple of years, but it’s essentially a set of behaviors from managers and leaders that favor employees who are physically closer and more familiar to them. In other words, a bias against remote workers.

Proximity bias is rooted in the belief that remote workers are less productive and less valuable than on-site workers. A survey revealed that 67% of supervisors of remote workers think they are more replaceable than their on-site counterparts and 62% think that remote work is detrimental to employee career goals.

Why does proximity bias matter?

While it’s likely an unconscious cognitive bias in most cases, proximity bias can still have far-reaching effects on employee satisfaction and even performance. Employees who feel their hard work is not appreciated can become less engaged. This is a huge problem in today’s highly competitive job market, as low engagement can lead to a brain drain of talented employees. Research indicates that engaged workers are 21% more profitable, and 37% say that recognition by their managers would motivate them to produce better results.

Proximity bias can also completely undermine key aspects of company culture like diversity programs and equality goals. White workers spend up to 17% more time in the office while underrepresented groups look for flexibility through remote work arrangements. Women also overwhelmingly opt for remote work, with just 1 in 10 wanting to work mostly on-site. This is leading to women leaving jobs where they don’t feel they’re getting the opportunities they deserve, presenting a risk to employers who may be struggling with talent retention. If these underrepresented groups continue to be impacted by proximity bias at your company, then the benefits of your diversity and inclusion programs are also likely being dampened significantly.

How can employers address proximity bias?

You might be unsure where to start with the battle against proximity bias at your company. Here are some effective solutions that you can implement right away:

Talk about proximity bias

Communicating with leaders, managers, and employees about the risks of proximity bias is an important step in the right direction. Managers should be aware that they may have unconscious biases against their remote employees. Training, communication campaigns, and employee feedback are great ways to spread awareness and counter any favoritism toward on-site colleagues.

Make hybrid work the norm

Some organizations have opted for mandatory work-from-home days. This can help normalize remote working, reduce the stigma around remote employees, and relieve some pressure from workers who do not come into the office regularly.

Prioritize video meetings

To avoid remote employees being excluded from important discussions that take place in on-site meetings, opt for video meetings whenever remote workers are involved. When everyone has to join the meeting through a video call, remote employees won’t feel like outsiders and may be less likely to be left out of key decision-making or essential dialogues.

Get outside help

Working with workforce experts like Adecco can make it much easier to reduce the effect of proximity bias, quiet quitting, and other trends that have become more common over the last two years. Our team works closely with businesses like yours to boost retention, engagement, and productivity through a number of workforce solutions. These can include employee surveys, training programs, and talent acquisition. To learn more about how Adecco can help your business grow, contact us today.