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Word of the week: Proximity bias

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Published: Aug 30, 2023 02:24:19 PM IST
Updated: Aug 30, 2023 02:30:34 PM IST

Word of the week: Proximity bias
Proximity bias – The tendency to favour people or ideas simply because they're physically closer or familiar than their remote peers
"Leaders should proactively combat proximity bias."
-Origins unknown

In a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management with more than 800 managers in 2021, 67 percent of them admitted to believing remote workers are more replaceable than on-site workers. 42 percent also said that they sometimes forget about assigning tasks to remote workers, explaining why the latter probably get fewer promotions compared to employees who show up in office physically.

The phenomenon is known as proximity bias or the tendency to favour people or ideas simply because they’re physically closer or familiar than their remote peers. Like a few other biases, it is not always intentional, however, experts say that it is important that managers and leaders consciously work towards mitigating it.

One of the biggest disadvantages of proximity bias is that it is demoralising for remote workers, which could affect their productivity and, outcome for an organisation. And in the long term, it could hamper their progress. It could harm employee retention as remote workers could end up feeling unimportant.

Although other surveys have shown that remote workers are 15 percent more productive than employees who work from the office, by feeling left out of the organisation and its goals, remote workers may also see their productivity going down.

The first step to mitigate any form of bias is to acknowledge it. The next step would be to define clear objectives to assess results. Building trust is also an important part of the process as it is essential to let remote employees know that they are supported. So, checking in frequently with remote workers is also recommended.

While the responsibility rests on managers and leaders not to fall prey to proximity bias, it is also up to the remote workers to maintain trust by being available for meetings, calls, and tasks.

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