Six Potential Indicators of Proximity Bias in the Workplace | Brian Heger

Leadership & Culture

I made a post last week on how proximity bias (PB) can unfairly influence talent decisions. PB happens when one views workers who spend more time in a company-designated office location— or are in proximity to decision-makers— more favorably than their remote counterparts. For example:

  • in performance reviews or talent review assessments, PB can lead managers to overestimate “office-based” employees’ performance and potential (a false positive) and underestimate that of “remote workers” (a false negative).

While organizational leaders cannot eliminate PB, they can mitigate it through various tactics. One fundamental tactic is helping managers to become more self-aware of their tendencies to engage in implicit or explicit PB when making talent decisions. Although not a validated measure of PB, a few indicators managers can use to self-audit their PB tendencies might include:

  1. Viewing those who work in the office as more productive than their remote counterparts.
  2. Believing that those not visible in the physical office are not interested in career progression.
  3. Perceiving those who prefer to work in a hybrid or fully remote arrangement as being disengaged or not being team players or fully committed.
  4. Offering onsite employees the most interesting projects, assignments, or development opportunities.
  5. Excluding remote stakeholders from important discussions or leaving them out of decision-making.
  6. Evaluating the work of onsite employees more highly than remote employees, regardless of objective performance metrics and criteria.

Could these indicators be reinforced to managers— “just in time”— when they are about to make talent decisions, possibly reducing the likelihood of PB influencing those decisions? Since many biases — including proximity bias—are unconscious, a self-audit at the right time can help managers take the first step in mitigating PB. Thanks to Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Arlene S. Hirsch for reference materials that informed these sample indicators.