What Are You Doing to Combat Proximity Bias in Your Startup?

Studies show there has been a 97% increase in companies offering remote or flexible roles, yet almost half of employees express some level of fear that they will be negatively affected if they continue to work remotely.

Proximity bias is by no means a new phenomenon, but the widespread introduction of hybrid and remote working has led to the number of people experiencing this bias to dramatically increase.

In a team where half of your employees choose to work from home, and the other half come into the office, how will you ensure that you aren’t favouring the people you see each day?

Employers are right to expect high output levels when they offer flexi/hybrid working arrangements. The disconnect occurs when they are expecting to see the same levels of input as they did when employees were in the office full time.

To counteract this, hybrid employees appear to be working longer hours in an effort to make up for their physical absence. There is a very real danger that this will not only lead to lower productivity levels, but also employee burnout.

What measures are you taking to eliminate proximity bias within your startup?

Increase Communication

You would be wrong to assume that proximity bias is an inevitable side-effect of a hybrid team. With effective communication you can bridge that gap.

Keep open channels of communication. Some employers have found that by encouraging the use of instant messaging systems, they are able to go some of the way to replicate the off-the-cuff conversations that establish important relationships amongst their team.

If you advertise your roles as hybrid or remote, then this needs to be reflected in your attitudes towards collaborative work, regardless of who is and who is not sat in the room with you.

How many times have you carried out a meeting and paused in the last 5 minutes to ask the employees on zoom if they have been following or have anything to add?

Equally, if you consistently call adhoc meetings where only the people in the office are able to input, you will drive the ‘us and them’ attitude that proximity bias thrives on.

There may be one-off occurrences where an employee will need to be dialed in to a team meeting. But if the same employees regularly join team meetings remotely, then ensuring everyone has the chance to be heard is a key step in removing proximity bias.

You can combat this by sending everyone an agenda before the meeting. This will give your whole team the chance to input their ideas, regardless of location.

If you hold a meeting every month and you believe there is value in everyone being present, it is well within your rights as an employer to set this as an expectation in the hiring stage, but don’t label it as a fully remote role.

The majority of your team may work remotely with only a few employees sharing a workspace. In this case, encouraging everyone to dial in from their desk will create an equal playing field. But if most of your team works from the office, this may be counterproductive.

If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it is the value of physical interaction. Research shows that a significant amount of our communication is actually non-verbal.

Instead of losing the benefits of in-person collaboration, focus on optimising and integrating your hybrid/remote team to help build your business.

By encouraging communication, you are giving people the opportunity to say what’s working and what’s not.

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Display Intent

You need to lead by example and demonstrate your intent to combat bias.
One way of doing this is by surveying your staff and getting feedback on the current thoughts and feelings towards proximity bias.

Ask questions such as:

  • Do you feel affected by proximity bias?
  • Do you feel workers are treated differently depending on where they work?
  • Do you feel like on-site workers receive preferential treatment?
  • Do you feel everyone has a chance to voice their opinions in team meetings?

Taking this feedback will allow you to check your blind spots and address these issues before they continue any further.


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Take Action

After receiving this feedback, it is only useful if you use it to implement change. Inform everyone of what you have learned and allow employees to talk openly about their experiences.

Long-term changes start from the top down. Invest in technology that works to keep your team connected, for example Kosy office aims to create a virtual space with the intimacy of the office. Publicly praise employees when they have done a good job- and not just the employees you physically see working!

Reward on output and encourage your team to do the same. Once you have put these measures in place, continue to ask for feedback regularly to ensure that you don’t allow it to stop being a priority.

By championing communication, intent, and action in your startup, you are building your solid foundations for success.

If you want any further advice on growing your business, then get in touch with our consultants at: 0117 428 0600.

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