What is proximity bias and how to prevent it?
Hybrid workplace

What is proximity bias and how to prevent it?

One of the draw backs of remote or hybrid working is proximity bias - the unconscious tendancy to favour those who are located physically close to you. Here's how it manifests and how to prevent it in a hybrid workplace.

March 14, 2023

Diversity and inclusion are undoubtedly essential components of successful organisations. Research shows that diverse teams are more productive, creative, and adaptable to change. However, despite the growing emphasis on diversity and inclusion, the not-so-obvious issue of proximity bias might be one that has been getting overlooked since the increased prevalence of remote working and hybrid working models.

Proximity bias refers to a type of unconscious bias that occurs when people favour those who are geographically or physically close to them over those who are not. In a hybrid work environment, this type of bias can hinder diversity and inclusion efforts, as it can lead to less regard for people who are not physically present in the "traditional" sense.

In this blog post, we'll explore why it's important to address proximity bias in the workplace, and provide steps that organisations can take to prevent it from impacting their culture and decision-making.

Out of sight out of mind? How to build an inclusive hybrid workplace culture

Building a workplace that is inclusive no matter where employees are physically located on any given day takes effort. Instead of relying on it being an organic process, having certain practices in place help make it a part of the workplace culture.

And while hybrid workplaces offer many benefits, including flexibility and increased productivity, they are not immune to proximity bias. In fact, the lack of physical proximity for some employees can actually exacerbate proximity bias, where remote workers are inadvetently excluded from important conversations and decision-making processes.

Fortunately, robust processes together with workplace technology can help bridge the gap and overcome proximity bias in hybrid workplaces. Here are some ways hybrid workplaces are getting around proximity bias:

1. Facilitate open communication and collaboration between remote and in-office employees

Regular morning catch ups can help office based and remote colleagues feel connected. Its an opportunity to informally chat about things that have been going on at work and clarify any pending items. Otherwise its an occassion to simply catch up like you would at the coffee machine in the office.

For all other times, keeping an open flow of communication such as in Teams chat groups throughout the day can facilitate open communication and keep all employees involved in discussions and decision making.

2. Setting clear guidelines for collaboration in a hybrid environment

Teams now have a plethora of cloud based tools at their fingertips to facilitate collaboration. However, often as needs arise and new team members come on board, new tools from different suppliers get added without adequate consideration for how they integrate within the current ecospace. Offering an integrated digital environment aids productivity and collaboration. Hence why its important to forecast what additional tools you might need and ensure that if a new app gets brought on it offers a feature your current provider can’t match and that it has an open API to integrate without hassle.

But setting guidelines extends beyond all the cloud based collaboration tools, as helpful as they are.

When it comes to hybrid working, different functions of different business have different needs and these should be reflected in their guidelines. Some teams might thrive best in a flexible work environment, while others require fixed days. Some are partially flexible as long as they get together on certain set days and others are limited for space and need to alternate in some way.

Once these guidelines are set, it is then how they are implemented which make them robust. A flexible tech like Nura Space can be used to not only book desks, meeting rooms and lockers but can work in with your teams' unique hybrid working requirements; recurring days, completely flexible, some set days, 24 hours notice, and the list goes on.

Whatever the teams' needs, work weeks should be structured to maximise connectedness which in turn reduces the likelihood of proximity bias.

3. Coordinate in/office and remote working days to be together as much as possible

Make your in-office days count and worth the commute. Coordinating with colleagues to ensure that you maximise face-to-face interactions throughout the week can help prevent proximity bias.

Even if that face-to-face interaction only happens once a week, it helps keep colleagues on the radar and part of important conversations. Imagine you come in one or two days a week and your colleagues come in on your off days - in this case you risk missing each other for a whole week and that’s where proximity bias can creep in.

A way around this can be to each have fixed in office days to ensure adequate face-to-face interaction. This also minimises overcrowding on some days or an empty office on others. However, an even better solution is a tech enabled hybrid work environment that allows for seamless coordination and maximum flexibility in case of last minute changes.

Another idea is to set weekly goals of being in the office together and keep track of the number of days spent together which could flag a need to better manage face-to-face interaction. If this sounds too manual and difficult to keep on top of, choose a technology like Nura Space that has already thought of this and made it an automated process.

Tips for leaders in preventing proximity bias

The first step is being aware of proximity bias to bring it from a subconscious phenomenon to the conscious mind. Once teams and managers are aware that it exists, they will be more inclined to take measures to prevent it.

Here are some tips to help managers stay on top of proximity bias:

  • Leading by example and actively including and valuing remote workers in decision-making processes
  • Establishing clear communication channels and protocols for remote workers to participate in meetings and discussions
  • Providing opportunities for remote workers to develop their skills and advance their careers within the organization
  • Regularly reviewing and analysing data on team dynamics and making adjustments as necessary to ensure equity and inclusion for all employees, regardless of location.

Collecting and analysing data

One known way to collect data on team dynamics is through periodic surveys including questions such as "Do you feel included in important decision-making processes, even if you work remotely?" and measuring a trend over time.

Realising an increased need for this type of measurement in the modern workplace, several employee engagement platforms have emerged in recent years. These take it a step further to make the process continuous and give a live snapshot of employee attitudes and perceptions thoughout the year rather than periodically so that managers can get on top of issues before the grow into problems.

Another way to collect and analyse data is by using a workplace management tool like Nura Space which looks at statistics and trends on employee behaviour and how the space is being utilised over time.

Because employees are required to book a desk or meeting room - unlike hot desking - this type of information is stored and a dashboard can be configured based on the types of metrics an organisation wishes to measure. This not only helps from a facilities management perspective, but can also serve to provide quantitative insights into team collaboration and other aspects that lead to proximity bias.

By also allowing teams to set weekly goals to be in the office together and setting alerts when this needs attention, employees have a better chance of arranging their workweeks in a more team-oriented way.

And by regularly reviewing and analysing data on team dynamics, leaders can ensure that all employees in a hybrid workplacen feel included, valued, and have the same opportunities for success, regardless of their location.

Nura Space has the answer

As a workplace management tool, Nura Space helps teams better arrange their weeks to be together as much as possible and automatically keeps colleagues across last minute changes thanks to the following features:

  • View of upcoming bookings and desk availability
  • Push notifications of last minute changes
  • Callibrated to your team's hybrid working requirements and policies; i.e. certain number of days, specific days or flexible
  • Live view of who’s in the office and where they are seated at any given time
  • Team focussed interface with the ability to set goals and track time spent in person

If these features sound like something your organisation could benefit from, go ahead and book a free demo so you can see it in action for yourself.


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