How To Remove Proximity Bias Guide

With the continued move towards returning to the office and the continued pressures and requirements for businesses to move towards hybrid work, we are starting to hear how in-office vs hybrid and remote have very potential different biases. 

We have seen businesses only consider office space and not consider redesigning their office as a hybrid environment, we have seen organisations struggle to rethink perks in the hybrid world and favour a mass return to the office vs developing a true hybrid workforce that will work for everyone. 

Proximity bias (aka a bias to being in person) has had a huge impact on the way some organisations have handled remote work and it has centred around more communication, enforcing more video meetings and meetings were the only way for some teams to get work done.

In the office is how many managers are primed, it is something that every workforce has been conditioned and brought up in and is the way in ‘the line of sight management’ has “worked” for many across decades of working. 

Hybrid Pitfall For Promiximity Bias 

Remote companies often warn of a two-class system, the first class in office – proximity bias and the second class remote or frequent hybrid workers. 

With the way we have worked previously, in person is often seen as better as it’s the way we have always done it.

There is also a negative leaning towards remote work, as many people can associate it with extra work, work that has to be completed solely on video meetings, confirmation and follow up instant message chat tools and working in software that was not designed to get the best out of remote work or actually enable effective hybrid work. 

HiPPO’s have struggled with remote work and hybrid work as they are not used to it and cannot break their career conditioning.

An approach many struggled to consider, let alone try was asynchronous work, where you are guided by the written word and more detailed thinking. Less time in meetings and more time getting into explaining the idea and how this product or campaign might work and request written feedback, so it can be tracked, discussed and edits can be made away from one centralised meeting. 

Whatever your take or your leaderships take is on the future of work, asynchronous work and hybrid work is something you have to really consider and understand you will need to build a system to ensure it works and guides everyone towards successful collaboration. 

10 Ways To Remove Proximity Bias 

1/ Save Time

Reduce down the need for constant check-ins – create 25-minute slots with dedicated documents to complete beforehand and review together, whether that in on video, over audio (phone calls, voice notes or voice chat on tools like Slack, Teams and Discord) or in-person  

2/ Video First

Create video check-ins for all staff members – recording updates on video and sharing with their teams and managers  

3/ Remove Guess Work

Remove the guesswork, the forced remote work from home experience did not work for many as there was a lot of guesswork and a lot of copying what everyone was doing. Create guidelines for hybrid work that includes what is good and what is bad behaviour particularly when being available and keeping your colleagues up to date with your work.
Consider how you leverage an internal wiki to remove private insights and knowledge to open and transparent sharing and documentation. 

4/ Better Communication Cadence

Create weekly check ins and weekly check outs with three things you are going to work on and how you progressed, this does not need to be in person, it can be on video, it can be on screen recording, it can be written and saved in a thread of conversation 

5/ Meetings Do Not Mean Work

Remove the need to be in-person to feel like you are making progress – if being in meetings is the only way you feel like you are completing work or keeping on top this does not have to be in person, it could be remote. 

6/ Hybrid Check In’s

Reduce “administrative nightmare” with hybrid check-ins and offer an easy to use system to book where people are 

7/ Set Up

Set up breakout rooms and video rooms to enable better conversations on video

8/ Guidelines (Over Rules)

Have guidelines on using headphones with microphones in all 1-2-1 meetings and always have written agenda’s, written meeting notes and follow up actions. In-person these are often forgotten while remote or hybrid is more deliberate in notes, actions and decisions. 

9/ Walk & Talk Meetings

Arrange walk and talk meetings, these do not have to be in person, they can be remote. The action of walking and talking at the same time is essential.
The science behind this is fascinating. 

10/ Better Tool Sets

Review the tools you are using for brainstorms, for remote sessions and for annual planning, review which tools you use and how you use them. You will see the majority of tools are out of date or not fit for purpose, this will then help you understand if you are required in person.
It is important to note some of the best remote sessions and getaways actually include recorded sections, remote sessions and dial in are especially if you work for large international companies. 

Proximity bias will take a number of weeks to remove, it will be a deliberate act smart leaders undertake and collaborate with the right people to set hybrid work to succeed. 

Consultants and external companies will be a great option to remove proximity and in person bias rather than attempting to tackle in-house with teams that will likely have a bias for or against proximity bias. 

Important Related Reads: 

How the IKEA effect is a guide for better relationships

Is bumble right, will an extra week vacation help burnout? 

Will a strict return to the office help my team bring back team synergy?

Lessons from Apple’s 3 day a week return to the office memo

What is company culture?