Take action over proximity bias

If you're not familiar with proximity bias yet, chances are you soon will be, as people return to offices in large numbers while others remain at home.
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As people slowly return to shared physical workplaces, teams are likely to be split between office and remote workers – with staff coming and going on different days, and some who may choose not to come in at all. 

Sure, the pandemic may have disrupted the old-school thinking that people work better in an office. But experts are now worried that proximity bias may be creeping into workplaces – leading to employees feeling left out, unmotivated and disengaged. Here’s how to stop it in its tracks.

Identify the bias

Recognizing the bias exists is the first step in overcoming it. Take time to consider how you feel about the way your team works, the options available (WFH, hybrid, in-person) and which you’re most comfortable with. Define what terms like ‘work’ or ‘productivity’ mean to you and acknowledge how much of it may be unintentional. 

Work on clear and open communication

Let your team know exactly what your expectations are for working from home or in the office. Keep them in the loop about organizational updates and, importantly, share as much info about ongoing tasks and upcoming projects as possible. 

Give value to results

Instead of rewarding – literally or figuratively – the number of hours spent in the office, chalk out targets and goals for each week and review performances against them. This way, you can easily identify gaps and provide support where needed. 

Make meetings work

Plan meetings ahead of time and invite everyone involved. Send out the agenda a few days earlier, giving people time to prepare. During calls, invite those working remotely to turn their cameras on if they wish. Be attentive and bring them into the conversation by allocating time for everyone to speak.

Schedule regular one-to-ones

This is the time to check in with both office and home workers, discuss any gaps in targets and give employees the chance to have a candid conversation. Share (and receive) honest feedback and try to understand what they need to be able to do their job well. Don’t keep it strictly professional – use this time to also get to know each other like you would if you both sat together in the office. 

Step back and reflect 

At the end of each week, spend some time to see who you’ve spoken to outside of meetings and one-to-ones. Do you notice a pattern? Has anyone been unintentionally excluded? Who’s getting the most tasks – are these also the people you speak to more often? Use your reflections to help you move forward.  

More: How to catch your biases in action

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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