Addressing Proximity Bias is Key to Remote and Hybrid Work

TASA ID: 22108

Have you ever wondered why some employees get promoted faster than others, especially in a remote or hybrid work setting? The answer might be closer than you think, quite literally.

The Hidden Challenge of Proximity Bias

In a fascinating conversation with Bjorn Reynolds, the founder and CEO of Safeguard Global, we delved deep into the concept of proximity bias. Although not a new concept, proximity bias has garnered more attention as organizations grapple with the challenges of managing distributed teams. This type of bias manifests when leaders, perhaps unconsciously, show favoritism towards employees who are physically closer to them. This can lead to a detrimental impact on remote workers, who may feel marginalized or overlooked due to their lack of physical presence in the office.

The implications of proximity bias are far-reaching. Surveys conducted by organizations such as SHRM paint a concerning picture: an overwhelming two-thirds of supervisors acknowledge a differential treatment between remote and in-office employees. This disparity fosters a climate of alienation and inequity, particularly for those who work remotely. They may perceive a glass ceiling in their career advancement or feel excluded from critical communication and decision-making processes, simply because they are not 'in the room where it happens'.

Safeguard Global's proactive stance in addressing proximity bias sets a commendable example for other organizations. They have shifted from a traditional, location-centric work culture to one that prioritizes remote-first principles. This transformation is pivotal not only in changing the mindset of leaders and employees but also in restructuring the core decision-making processes within the organization. By adopting a data-driven approach and establishing clear, objective criteria for employee evaluation, Safeguard Global ensures that recognition and advancement are based on merit and performance, irrespective of an employee's physical location. This approach transcends the superficial layer of face-to-face interactions, delving deeper into the actual contributions and achievements of each individual.

The results of this shift are tangible. Safeguard Global has observed a marked reduction in employee turnover, an indicator of enhanced job satisfaction and a more equitable work environment. By systematically addressing proximity bias, they have created a culture that values and rewards performance and productivity over physical presence, setting a benchmark for others to follow in the era of hybrid work.

Educating Managers and Implementing Short-term Goals

Awareness and education are pivotal. Most managers are not even aware of their proximity bias. By making them conscious of this bias and its impact, we take the first step towards rectifying it. Moreover, setting short-term goals and regularly reviewing them provides a tangible way to measure performance objectively, steering clear of subjective judgments.

Trust is the bedrock of any successful remote or hybrid work policy. But trust doesn't appear out of thin air; it's built through consistent and fair practices. Managers need to be educated to manage by outcomes, not hours. This shift in perspective is essential for building trust in a remote work environment.

The future is clear: businesses must adapt to the changing landscape of remote work or risk losing top talent. As Bjorn Reynolds aptly puts it, "the genie is not going back into the bottle." The pandemic has shown us the benefits of remote and hybrid work models, and it's imperative for businesses to embrace this change. The focus should be on creating a more data-driven, objective, and fair work environment, where decisions are based on performance, not proximity.

My Role in Consulting for Flexible Work Models

In my consulting practice, I have worked extensively with clients to help them navigate the challenges of flexible work models, including overcoming proximity bias. In addition, Reynolds’ approach involves a lot of what I’ve seen be successful in other companies. My approach emphasizes awareness and education among leadership, implementing objective performance metrics, and training managers for effective remote leadership. By fostering a culture of trust and empathy, and guiding organizations to continuously evolve, I help ensure that remote and hybrid work environments are equitable and productive.


The conversation with Bjorn Reynolds, combined with my own experiences in consulting, highlights a crucial aspect of today's work environment. Proximity bias is a silent career killer in remote and hybrid settings. By addressing it head-on, companies can ensure a fair, efficient, and productive workforce. It's not just about adapting to the new normal; it's about thriving in it. As leaders, it's our responsibility to pave the way for a more equitable and effective workplace, regardless of where our employees log in from.


TASA Article Disclaimer

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA and the author. Contact marketing@tasanet.com for any questions.


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