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5 Key Ways to Avoid Proximity Bias

5 Key Ways to Avoid Proximity Bias

With a hybrid workforce model becoming increasingly common amongst organizations post-pandemic, one major challenge is avoiding workplace proximity bias. Whether you have a partly or fully remote workforce, it can be difficult for certain employees to make an impression. As such, managers and executives must work to avoid any favoritism toward on-site employees. 

Here we have laid out several key ways your organization can eliminate proximity bias, whether unconscious or not. 


What Is Proximity Bias?

Generally speaking, proximity bias refers to the unfair treatment of employees working outside of the office. Workplace proximity bias can lead to a lack of promotional opportunities or neglect, intentional or subconscious. 

When certain employees are granted remote or hybrid status, it can be a challenge for managers in the office to hold them in the same regard. To state this more plainly, if a manager sees an employee in the office each day, that employee is likely to sit at the forefront of the manager's mind. When this happens, it can be easy for a manager to think of that employee first when a new project arises, or an opportunity for a promotion presents itself. It can also present challenges if a manager covers multiple locations or spends more time in one office than another.

Avoiding bias can be especially challenging when rooted in a desire for connection. Employers may subconsciously prefer an employee they are talking with daily over an employee they are not physically seeing each day. Social connection is natural and can encourage positive company culture, but it can also become a breeding ground for bias. So how do you maintain a positive office atmosphere while also seeking to avoid bias?


5 Steps to Avoid Proximity Bias in Your Organization

When balancing multiple locations and hybrid, remote, and in-person employees simultaneously, it can be challenging for managers to create equity among employees. 

Here are five key steps you can take to ensure you are mitigating all forms of proximity bias within your organization:

  1. Make a list of all employees on your team. When assigning projects or considering promotions, take a few minutes to go back to your desk and list every employee on your team. Look at the job requirements, and determine which employee is best suited based on their skills and qualifications. 

  2. Establish pre-emptive measures. Understand the parameters for determining which roles are eligible for remote or hybrid opportunities. Proactively implement measures to deter unconscious discriminatory practices, such as multistep requirements for assigning projects and presenting promotions, including multiple manager approval.

  3. Develop a performance tracking system. This could involve different forms of gamification or tracking methods for analyzing specific data from employees. If you can track progress and achievement, you can drastically reduce the opportunity for bias.

  4. Use a robust communication tool. Integrating systems that house all communications within teams is an excellent way to alleviate proximity bias. At BerniePortal, we use Zoho Connect and Slack to ensure all employees are able to receive important information and communicate efficiently with their teams. 

  5. Talk about it. Perhaps the most crucial step in mitigating proximity bias is creating conversation around it. Have a meeting internally to determine where bias might be brewing and what areas of the company are most affected. If you evaluate specifics, it will be much easier to create measures to end the bias. 

Proximity bias can be a tricky problem for organizations to navigate. Make sure you devote time to educating executive staff on the meaning of proximity bias and ensure training includes measures to address and avoid it. 

Remember, the key to a healthy organization is to create a system that offers each employee access to the same opportunities without diminishing the value of communication. 


Additional Resources

You can also stay informed, educated, and up-to-date with workplace bias and other important topics by using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:

  • BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop-shop for HR industry news

  • HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance

  • HR Guides—essential pillars, covering an extensive list of comprehensive HR topics

  • BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit

  • HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics 

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