Don’t let proximity bias derail your hybrid workplace

The hybrid workplace introduces a number of new challenges for managers. Identifying and understanding unconscious biases in the workplace is one of them. Unconscious biases are beliefs about individuals or a group that would be considered to be unfair, such as beliefs about the effectiveness of remote workers vs. in-office workers.

The impact of proximity bias

The most common one that exists in the hybrid workplace is proximity bias. This is an unconscious tendency to give preferential treatment to those in our immediate vicinity. Research shows that we look more favourably on people we see more often.

A common concern for employees who chose to continue working remotely is that they may be discriminated against or be overlooked for job opportunities because they don’t have that proximity to the rest of the staff as they aren’t physically in the office.

As a manager, it’s important that you ensure your less visible remote workers are treated the same as the people who come into the office every day. Your leadership team should look for new ways to guarantee that those who choose to work from home are fully included as employees and as equally on track for promotions as their in-office colleagues.

How to avoid “out of sight, out of mind”

One way that proximity bias can take hold in a hybrid setting is with the tendency to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. It’s important to recognize that this is an issue and take steps to prevent it. Here’s how:

  • Think about how you currently connect with your teams and look at how you can restructure this to make it fair for all members.
  • When hosting a meeting, consider running it virtually for everyone, even if half of your team is in the office. This way everyone can feel included.
  • Set agendas for your meetings and circulate them in advance. Ask for ideas so that everyone gets a chance to contribute.
  • Set up a system for yourself to ensure that you connect regularly with everyone on your team, regardless of their working location. It could be a scheduled touch base call or a casual coffee chat, either in-person or virtual.
  • Keep track of which projects are going to which employees. Be on the lookout for the tendency to give more work and praise to the individuals you feel more connected with.

Level the playing field

In the hybrid workplace, leaders must be careful not to create a two-tier workforce where the in-office people get preferential treatment and better career opportunities than remote workers. Managers also want to avoid fostering an environment where remote employees feel they must work harder to demonstrate their productivity or be recognized for their accomplishments.

At Virtual Team Builders, our research has shown us that an effective solution to address proximity bias is to recommend that members of your leadership team don’t come into the office five days a week. Leaders should work from home at least one day a week. This approach helps alleviate remote workers’ concerns that they might need to come back into the office to get more face time or recognition with their managers. When you demonstrate as a leader that it’s okay to work from home, your virtual workers are going to feel more confident and trusting about your company’s commitment to an equitable hybrid model.

At Virtual Team Builders we specialize in training leaders and managers how to enable virtual and on-site teams to work together effectively in a hybrid workplace. Our training course Managing Hybrid Organizations Successfully helps managers explore challenges to hybrid teams and brainstorm practical ways to deal with them. You’ll determine the best hybrid model for your team based on your role, tasks, personal preferences, and work styles and discover how to adapt your leadership style based on the needs and the configuration of your hybrid team. To learn more, please contact us at

For insights into how to deal with employee burnout during the transition to hybrid working, read: Alleviate employee burnout in the hybrid workplace.

Want personalized advice for how to take your hybrid team to the next level? Complete our Hybrid Team Performance Survey and get a FREE 45-minute consultation with our training team!