Have you heard of proximity bias? Like familiarity and recency biases, it’s a psychological effect that leads us to favour people and ideas that are familiar. We naturally gravitate to things that are familiar, close by, and top of mind. It’s not a deliberate action, but unconscious bias could be limiting your career growth opportunities in a hybrid work force.
Proximity Bias by the numbers
Research has quantified this bias — 96% of US executives admit to noticing the work of employees coming into the office more than remote work. Further, if you don’t think it’s a thing than you are not alone. The same research from Envoy.com states, “While 42% of employees believe executives notice their contributions as much as remotely in the office, almost all (96%) of executives admit they notice contributions made in the office far more.” Even when the work performed is identical in quality, quantity, and productivity.
Working from home also often produces better productivity. In a study from Stanford, call centre employees who volunteered to WFH were randomly assigned either to work from home or in the office for nine months. Home working led to a 13% performance increase, of which 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days), and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter and more convenient working environment). Despite this, the remote workers were less likely to be recognized for their increased performance or proactively considered for better roles.
“We all can reflect on occasions where the people we sit near are the people we know the best and feel the most kinship to,” says Ali Shalfrooshan, a UK-based occupational psychologist.
The good news
Leaders are recognizing proximity bias is hampering their ability to recognize, reward, and retain valuable talent. More companies are adopting programs to minimize the bias of hybrid and remote workers. Such as, activities to create stronger bonds between virtual and in-office employees, more one-on-one coaching and “facetime” with leaders and influencers, and better communication tools to bridge the gap with asynchronistic workers, virtual workers, and freelancers. Companies are adopting new technologies to close the gap with hybrid workers. Remember, it’s only been a year and a half since COVID moved traditionally office-bound workers remote. We are all adapting to a new normal, including our leaders.
Do your part to be seen
- Be engaged. We know that not being valued and not having a sense of belonging over the long term can negatively impact job performance. So, it’s important for you to connect with your organization on a deeper level. Understand and relate to your organization’s purpose and mission. Think about your role and contribution to that larger purpose to motivate you. Proactively make friends with work colleagues who you don’t usually work with. Understand and appreciate their role within the organization.
Bring your whole self to work. Even if you work virtually, share your interests outside of work, turn your camera on, let your dog be seen on camera. You want to build common bonds with your co-worker and be memorable (in a good way).
- Attend more meetings. This may sound counter-productive, but again, increase your visibility with the other influencers in the organization. When working from home or hybrid, you often lose those opportunities to make informal connections. Be strategic, asking your leader or manager if you can attend more meetings without understanding why may raise some eyebrows, but letting them know you are eager to build more relationships and learn more about the company positions you as a dedicated employee who knows how to be proactive.
- Ask for feedback. Whether you have a regular meeting or not, ask for feedback. The act of your manager or leader articulating the contribution you are making helps add value to that contribution in your leader’s mind. This is leveraging that recency bias to your advantage. If you are top of mind, they are more likely to think of you the next time a project or opportunity comes across their desk.
- Be your own promoter. Ensure you are taking advantage of opportunities to share your progress with leaders and manager. Be humble and not boastful but send regular and appropriate updates on the projects you are working on and the progress to date.
- Whether it is volunteering for a cross-functional project, upskilling on your own time, or engaging in a formal professional development program, continue to learn and apply that learning to your current role. The future of work is all about transferrable skills and when leaders in an organization know you have a plethora of skills and learning at the ready, they will be more likely to engage with you on new opportunities and see your growth potential.
- Watch the internal job boards. Whether you work remotely or not, you are in control of your career. Apply for roles that align with your strengths and skills. Let your manager know you are looking for advancement. Use the application process and interview to pitch yourself and build more relationships. If you don’t get the role, at least you are on their radar for next time.
So many employees assume their manager knows they want to move up, but they won’t know if you don’t tell them and apply.
Working from home or a hybrid model doesn’t disqualify you from internal career advancement. However, it is in your hands to be seen and heard through a computer monitor. Managers and leaders are actively looking for employees who are engaged, smart, and hungry for bigger roles. Be seen.
Looking for a new role that gives you the flexibility of working from home or a hybrid model? Agilus Work Solutions is Canada’s largest privately-owned recruiting firm, and we are hiring for hundreds of open jobs across Canada. Check out our open positions here.