Career Change

How Remote Workers Can Overcome Proximity Bias

One of the most significant legacies left behind by the pandemic is the rise of remote work. It’s so widespread that as of 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees work virtually, while 28.2% follow a hybrid model, according to WFH Research. Upwork, the freelancing platform, predicts that by 2025, an estimated 32.6 million Americans will be working virtually. While remote work has many upsides, like work-life balance and flexibility, it also has drawbacks. One of these is proximity bias.

Proximity bias refers to how people in power positions favor employees who are physically closer to them. As with any cognitive bias, proximity bias can be unintentional. Still, some managers might view remote workers as being less committed than their colleagues who commute to the office. In fact, a SHRM survey revealed that more than two-thirds of managers of remote workers admit to considering these employees more easily replaceable than in-office workers. In addition, 42% of managers confess they sometimes forget about remote workers when assigning tasks.

Are your superior contributions often overlooked because you work virtually? Let’s review a few actions you can take to address proximity bias head-on.

Manage up

Mastering the art of managing up is critical to career success. When done effectively, managing up involves understanding what your supervisor needs and how you can help. Start by being curious and anticipating your boss’ needs. If you aren’t clear on what their expectations are, ask them. It’s also a good idea to practice empathy. Acknowledge their feelings and validate them. To develop rapport with your manager, they need to trust you. So, communicate early and often. Schedule a weekly meeting to share project updates and brainstorm your professional goals. Listen to their suggestions and create a development plan together. By asking for their guidance, you’ll turn your boss into one of your greatest advocates.

Create and maintain relationships

To overcome proximity bias, try to stay connected to your team while working remotely. Be intentional in how you communicate. For example, schedule virtual coffee breaks. Let people know you'll be online at a particular time and invite them to join you. You can even use small group features like breakout rooms to encourage conversation. Don't hesitate to schedule a video call if you have a request and find that text or email is too impersonal. In one study, video and audio requests were 86% more effective than email requests. Finally, don’t forget to connect with individuals across departments or locations. One way to do this is to find a mentor. If you can’t identify someone internally, seek one out by attending online events, connecting with people you know and using social media.

Improve your visibility

When people know who you are and what you do, they're more likely to consider you for raises and promotions. An easy way to maximize your exposure is to speak up in meetings. Also, enlist the help of your manager. In your next one-on-one, let your boss know you want to add value to the team by finding opportunities to increase your visibility. Ask for high-profile projects that can significantly impact the company's bottom line. Participating in these assignments is a great way to gain exposure to decision-makers in other parts of the organization. You could also volunteer to speak at an upcoming conference, company-wide meeting or training event. By delivering presentations in a public forum, you’ll improve your public speaking skills and establish yourself as a subject matter expert within the organization.

Left unchecked, proximity bias can lead to remote workers missing out on valuable career opportunities. If you feel you’ve been unfairly passed over for a promotion, address it with your manager. Ultimately, the best antidote is managing up, establishing solid professional relationships and increasing your visibility. That way, you’ll be top of mind when it's time to choose the next person to move up in the organization.

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