At the peak of the pandemic, a number of employees had to work from home. During that time, leaders were tasked with managing their teams remotely. As things eased off, some of us have returned to the office while others are still working from home. This work flexibility has made hybrid work the way to go for a number of organisations, providing leaders with a new challenge of dealing with a hybrid team.

Leaders who manage hybrid teams are now faced with a common bias called proximity bias.

What is Proximity Bias?

The BBC describes proximity bias as “an unconscious – and unwise – tendency to give preferential treatment to those in our immediate vicinity.”

Research has shown that we look more favourably on the people we see more often. This may be misleading as the biases that come from factors related to proximity are not only affecting those that are out of sight (employees who are working from home). Employees who are in the office may also experience or perceive to be treated differently (unfairly) from their counterparts who are working from home.

For leaders to effectively manage this bias that comes with leading a hybrid team, they must be aware of the forms they take and how people perceive them.

Here are a few…

Remote workers may…

  1. Not feel as appreciated

Think of it this way – Johnson is working in the office and has just finished a task and told his boss about it. His boss is impressed and extends a handshake whilst saying thank you. Kingsley is working remotely and has just sent his boss a mail informing him of a task he just completed. His boss replies to the email with a “Thank you, this is well received.” The handshake gotten by Johnson because of his physical interaction with his boss means a lot. Unfortunately, Kingsley could only get a thank you email. Those working from a remote location may feel their work is relatively not appreciated enough.

  1. Get less support

There are situations where we get stuck in trying to resolve a thing or two during work. You can quickly walk up to a colleague in the office to ask for support. On the other hand, asking for support remotely may not be as straightforward. Those working remotely rely on digital communication channels (which are not always available) to get spontaneous support. The internet may be down. The phone lines may be jammed, leaving remote workers frustrated.

  1. Opportunities those in the office receive

While this may sound unfair, it happens. Often, leaders do not deliberately hand opportunities to those in the office, neglecting those working from remote locations. Sometimes it is the only choice. Unfortunately, it is not about what was done, but how it was perceived, as those working remotely may perceive this as being unfortunate.

In-office workers may

  1. Think they work more than remote workers

Without proper communication, employees in the office may begin to feel they are doing most of the work.

  1. Face most of the physical pressure than remote workers

Since employees in the office get more physical interaction with their managers and are involved in work more physically than others working from remote locations, they may face most of physical pressure than others

  1. Get less work-life balance than remote workers

The issues around work-life balance still loom and when it comes to hybrid work, those who take the early morning bus every day from Monday to Friday and get stuck in traffic while trying to get home from work may feel they are experiencing a worse work-life balance when compared to those working remotely.

Despiet these biases, the benefit of a hybrid workplace is evident. For organisations, it could be around cost savings, attracting and retaining talents etc. For employees, it could support better work-life balance and provide flexibilities that trigger productivity. This said, it is important to establish that implementing a hybrid workplace requires planning. If not properly planned, this transition can do more harm than good.

To successfully implement a hybrid workplace, we recommend you Identify Goals/Objectives, Plan your Hybrid Workplace, and Deliver your Hybrid workplace

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