There’s no doubt working from home has its perks. There’s greater flexibility during the day (for that quick gym session/dog walk/nap), your commute is short (very short), and you can wear pyjamas 24/7 (although we don’t recommend it).
What’s more, countless studies have shown that knowledge workers with flexibility consistently report less stress and anxiety, and greater satisfaction in their jobs than fully in-office workers. Great news, right? Well, not exactly.
The downsides to remote work are on the rise, and one that’s causing particular problems is proximity bias. This is defined as an unconscious tendency to favour the people we’re physically closer to. In flexible working environments, proximity bias heightens the risk that in-office workers will receive preferential treatment simply by spending more in-person time with their managers.
Simply put, proximity bias is a natural human behaviour – we intuitively value the contributions that we see, rather than those we don’t. However, this cognitive glitch is not only having a direct and detrimental impact on individuals – from promotions to pay rises – it has serious implications for workforce equity, company productivity, and employee attrition.
While the pandemic is to blame for a lot of things – proximity bias actually isn’t one. In fact, it’s nothing new, with early research establishing links between physical proximity, familiarity, and positive sentiment.
A 1974 study showed that recruits in the police academy formed better bonds with classmates whose last names were closer to theirs in the alphabet since seating charts were arranged alphabetically by last name. And World Cup ski jumping judges tend to give higher scores to jumpers who share their cultural background in what is called “cultural proximity bias”.
Now though, it’s becoming more and more prevalent in the office, with research showing teams are falling more quickly into silos and cliques. Remote workers are forming closer bonds with those in the same mode of working while, not surprisingly, those working in-office are forming closer bonds with the colleagues they see daily. However, the real concern among employees is whether their managers will give preferential treatment to those who work in a physical office.
If you work from home and this is a growing concern, there are some things you can do. More frequent, informal catch-ups will be beneficial, so instead of relying on quarterly or annual performance reviews, ask your manager for weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one check-ins that include short-term performance goals.
That way, not only will you get more “face-time” with your manager, you’ll be able to highlight your achievements and progress, week by week. It’s also a good idea to encourage more open, two-way conversations with your manager to help them better understand the challenges you may face.
Another idea could be, when dialling in for a Zoom meeting, you might suggest the next time that everyone logs in with their laptop, rather than use the conference room camera, which can make it difficult to see others’ expressions. This creates a more level playing field, so to speak, and those joining remotely can fully participate.
Finally, raise the issue with your HR department. Proximity bias is not your problem to fix and good organisations understand it is a serious threat to a company’s success. These companies will take the time to understand and discuss the issue and put safeguards and strategies in place to create a more desirable workplace.
Speaking of desirable workplaces, if you’re looking to join one, there are plenty of them hiring across Europe right now. We’ve listed three diverse jobs below, and you can find many more opportunities like these on the Tech.eu Job Board.
UX Writing Manager, Booking.com, Amsterdam or Manchester
At Booking.com, data drives its decisions, technology is at its core and innovation is everywhere. It is currently looking for a UX Writing Manager to balance the needs of the writers with the business needs, while understanding the right balance between quality and velocity. If you have five to eight years’ of directly applicable individual contributor experience, plus knowledge working with Tech and Commercial stakeholders and managing their objectives, and you have a strong work ethic, you’re self-directed and resourceful, you should apply for this job now.
Head of Partnerships France, Payplug, Paris
Payplug is the French payment solution for merchants, e-merchants of all sizes and fintechs. It currently supports 20,000 SMEs and has a passionate team of 400 people. It’s looking for a Head of Partnerships to build, execute and manage partner and channel sales strategies, to obtain strategic partnerships and achieve revenue goals. This is a strategic role and will require demonstrated partnership sales experience in B2B in payments, SaaS software, and channel sales, plus a proven track record of partnerships solution-selling, account-planning, proposal creation and closing skills. If this sounds like you, then you can apply for this role here.
Software Engineer, BP3 Global, Inc., Amsterdam
BP3 Netherlands B.V. is looking for a Software Engineer. It is looking for those interested in using their technical skills to solve complex business and system problems. If you want to understand the impact of your work on your clients’ business, you want to know that your work is going into production to solve concrete problems for real clients, and you want to know the beneficiaries of your work, then this is the right role for you. You’ll be required to demonstrate success in software development project delivery, have proficiency in writing professional, clear, readable, understandable, and well-tested code, and be conversant on software design patterns. If you’re interested, read more about this role here.