Beware of Proximity Bias

A growing trend before the pandemic, remote working has established firm roots with a recent study by Microsoft revealing 70% of the workforce wants flexible remote options to continue, however the rise of hybrid working presents a challenge of its own: proximity bias.

The author of this page: Conall O'Kane
Conall O'Kane, Practice Manager - Modern Workplace May 28, 2022

As with all things in life, our personal preferences when it comes to our place of work vary greatly. Some employees have opted to return to the office full time, others split time between remote and on-site work or in some cases opt for a fully remote model. While this flexibility has become the norm, concerns remain with some 41% of employees and their leaders quoting proximity bias as their top concern when it comes to hybrid and remote work.

But what exactly is proximity bias and what does it mean for your business?

What is Proximity Bias?

As humans our brains are hardwired to seek out the familiar, favouring the people and ideas physically close at hand and therefore most familiar. A direct result of this inherent programming is proximity bias, the 'unconscious tendency to give preferential treatment to those in the immediate vicinity'. And while the prioritisation of what feels safest may serve us well in certain settings, proximity bias can have an insidious and toxic impact on the workplace when left unchecked.

Different schedules, locations and technologies make hybrid workplaces even more susceptible to proximity bias, making it important for organisations to watch out for warning signs. From remote employees missing out on office perks to wage gaps and the consistent promotion of on-site over remote employees. If left unchecked proximity bias can have a negative impact on company culture and ultimately operational outcomes, reducing employee engagement, decreasing collaboration, and pushing up employee turnover.

By leveraging smart solutions and working closely with HR teams to facilitate training and guidelines around career progression and remote team management, companies can prevent proximity bias and create an inclusive hybrid working environment. Some strategies to achieve this by leveraging modern workplace solutions include:

Ensuring Equal Space at the Table – Hybrid Meeting Management

With a lack of visibility and voice as an indicator of proximity bias, it is essential to keep inclusivity at the heart of corporate guidelines, with meetings and an important area for consideration. When conducting meetings in a hybrid setting, focus on achieving balance by ensuring both in-person and remote participants have an equal seat at the table.

To help support this, Microsoft has over the past few months invested heavily in the development of hybrid first meeting features for their popular Microsoft Teams solution, including:

  • Collaboration with leading hardware providers such as Jabra, Neat, Poly and Yealink to create intelligent in-room cameras and speakers that use AI to track who is speaking and give those in a group conference room their own video pane.

  • The addition of a content layout that when used in conjunction with correct camera placement, brings the video feeds of remote participants to eye level to simulate a more lifelike experience.

  • Facilitating real-time collaboration with the co-creation of agenda, notes and talks using fluid components. Plus, reactions and in-meeting chat bring ensure everyone is on the same page and can communicate nonverbally in real-time.

  • News view helps make presentations more engaging by showing the remote presenters' heads and shoulders alongside or in front of the content being presented.

  • Enhancements to the digital whiteboard boost integration with Microsoft teams to create a full-fidelity collaboration experience regardless of location.

Focus on Communication & Collaboration

From lunchtime get-togethers to off-the-cuff water cooler conversations, being in the same physical building together enables employees to collaborate and share ideas in an organic manner while simultaneously supporting the re-enforcement of company culture. With these organic interactions happening less frequently companies wishing to safeguard culture and strengthen communication and culture must proactively create virtual spaces for employee interaction.

Designed to keep everyone engaged and informed, Microsoft Viva Connections helps organisations facilitate asynchronous communications, acting as a central hub for employee interactions. A gateway to employee experiences, MS Viva Connections provides quick access to the data, tasks, news, people, and resources you need day to day while building on capabilities of leading communication and collaboration platforms MS SharePoint, Teams and Yammer.

For more on how Microsoft Solutions can help enhance company culture, check out our on-demand webinar "Combatting the Great Resignation".

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