The Great Lurch Forward into hybrid working reality has brought with it a whole host of new words and phrases to learn. One of the most interesting is ‘proximity bias’.
This is the notion that managers will reward those workers closest to them. In other words, the ones that show up in the office most often.
At your desk by 9 o’clock
The fear of proximity bias in working relations is obviously based on the most obvious of office culture truisms: that managers like to see bums on seats and are inherently suspicious of remote working.
But while this is no doubt true of many managers, there is perhaps a deeper and more tenacious psychological element involved here. That of being human.
Nice to see you
Most managers care about the well-being of their staff. They genuinely want to facilitate good lives for them and arrange their work days to suit the pressures of their lives.
But it’s only human to feel closest to someone who you have actual physical contact with over someone you only see on a screen. This bias is surely a natural human response?
What are you worth?
The difficulty for companies is that studies suggest a remote worker is often more productive than an office-based one. Which means that the real value of the physical staff member is in boosting office morale and ‘company culture’, as it is known.
The problem here is that company culture is a much harder KPI (key performance indicator) to attribute to an individual worker than is their productivity level.
There has been much talk of the two-tier workforce, of less pay for remote workers. But the more subtle realities of proximity bias will likely continue, loath though companies will be to acknowledge it.
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