February 15, 2022
The transition to a hybrid working environment comes with a new set of challenges and practices around diversity and inclusion of team members near and far.
One of the greatest obstacles to inclusion and belonging that we’ve seen in hybrid teams is proximity bias.
Proximity bias is often manifested in the following behaviors: favoring office-based talent over remote-based talent, bias in appraisals, unequal recognition and rewards, and unfair skill and career development opportunities.
The good news is that despite these challenges around inclusion in hybrid working, we have developed the best practices to ensure your hybrid team not only includes everyone, but empowers everyone.
There is no denying that you may be under the influence of proximity bias– it is an implicit bias. Comments such as “I’m not like that…” are often not productive in building an inclusive work environment. The first step to address implicit biases is to simply draw awareness to them.
This means that “out of sight, out of mind” cannot be the default mode of hybrid teams. If you ask a team member to complete an impromptu task for you, pause and ask yourself, “Am I asking this person to complete this task because he/she is the best person for the job, or because he/she is nearby/most physically visible to me right now?”
Disclaimer: The individual is not to be blamed for his/her proximity bias. It is an implicit, subconscious bias. That being said, the individual IS responsible for how they respond to the bias. Employees can and should hold each other accountable for how they acknowledge and adjust for proximity bias that arises.
To gain a deeper understanding of how inclusive you are when interacting with your team, keep a log of how much time you spend interacting with each team member. Chances are your work does not require you to interact with every person for the exact same amount of time. However, your objective should be equitable interaction time rather than equal interaction time with team members. This often means extra time with more remote team members to account for the ad hoc information they lose from not being in-person at the office.
Some of our clients have also found varying manager days of attendance at the office to be useful in decreasing proximity bias. This creates the opportunity for more employees to interact with managers that they may not otherwise work with on a regular basis. Whether working remote or in-person, be sure to actively praise and reward remote employees.
Once you have begun keeping a general log of how much time you spend with each team member, analyze the level of visibility you have of each person– where are your gaps? Be sure to also reflect on how proximity bias may have already creeped in and had an impact. How might that influence a performance review? If an employee is mostly remote, have they had less access to development opportunities?
It may also be worthwhile to initiate an open conversation with your team about making hybrid meetings entirely remote. What will work with your team? It will likely not look the same for all teams, and that is okay.
For extra tips, check out Harvard Business Review’s 5 Practices to Make Your Hybrid Workplace Inclusive.
Educate your team about the potential for proximity bias. This not only helps draw awareness and adjust behavior, but it also shows your team that it’s on your radar and you care. This will be particularly beneficial to create equitable advancement opportunities. Analyze the most recent promotions made– is there a pattern?
Actively connect all team members to a wider leadership audience. Follow fair professional development processes. Have a “why” for every opportunity you provide and to whom. Overall, be intentional in your management decision-making
The work environment as we know it is constantly evolving and we must evolve with it. Check your traditional review metrics/processes. Are they appropriate for the purposes of this new hybrid world?
Most importantly, take a step back every once in a while to check in with yourself and your team. How are things going? How is everyone feeling? Ask your team how you can collectively be more inclusive. The wisdom is often within your team, it is just up to you to create the space for them to share it.
Find more information on Global Business Culture’s hybrid teams training.
Emma is a Cross-Cultural Consultant with Cultural Business Consulting. She is American by citizenship, and has significant experience studying and working in Belgium, Australia, and Japan. Emma is currently based in Honolulu, Hawaii where she enjoys exploring new beaches, doing yoga, and meeting new friends from around the world.