How Distance Bias Harms Remote Workers

Whether your current work arrangement is completely remote or hybrid, you could fall victim to an increasingly common cognitive bias. Known as proximity or distance bias, it’s what happens when managers unintentionally favor employees who are closest to them over those who are farther away.

distance bias

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This notion of “out of sight, out of mind” can have far-reaching consequences for both remote employees and companies, too. And people who work from home full-time definitely need to pay extra attention to this issue. If they don’t, it could hurt their careers in the form of things like fewer promotions, reduced bonuses, and lower salaries.

Today we’re sharing a few tips to identify and reduce distance bias. By recognizing that it exists, we stand a better chance of minimizing its effects.

distance bias

What Can Managers Do to Reduce Distance Bias?

Managers often rely on employees who work on-site as their “go-to” choice for new assignments. Here are some simple yet meaningful ways to counteract this unintentional favoritism.

  • When it’s time to assign a project or promote someone on your team, make a conscious effort to consider all your direct reports. Pick the most qualified person for the job—not the one in closest proximity.
  • Strive to form deeper relationships with both your co-located and remote direct reports. You can forge that personal connection through regular virtual coffee chats or lunches. Both will boost morale and employee engagement.
  • Be sensitive to time zone differences. If your team is scattered across the country—or the globe—share the burden of early morning or late-night meetings with a rotating schedule.
  • Use long-term data to avoid making flawed decisions in performance evaluations. According to applied research firm The Decision Lab, we’re better at remembering recent events and information. But this short-term snapshot may not produce an accurate picture of someone’s productivity. Instead, managers should jot down relevant information over an extended time period. Doing so will provide the data they need to make more accurate employee assessments.

How Can Remote Employees Avoid Falling Off the Radar?

While the bulk of responsibility for the ill effects of distance bias falls squarely on management, employees also need to do their part. Here’s how you can keep your value to the company top of mind while working from home.

  • Make a point of updating your manager on your latest accomplishments every week or two. Many companies value results-based models to gauge employee accountability. To that end, share a regular recap with your boss that focuses on progress made and quantifies performance whenever possible.
  • Stepping up in ways that make your boss’s life easier can make you an even more valuable asset to the organization. Consider helping with extra assignments or see if there’s a task you can take over that lightens your manager’s load. By doing so, you show you’re both productive and have initiative.
  • Bend over backward to make yourself available and accessible. Assure your boss that, during business hours, you will be just as responsive as on-site employees. Make every effort to show up for Zoom meetings, conference calls, or other group endeavors. Finally, remember to keep your shared calendar updated. That way, coworkers know whether you’re free, in a meeting, or at lunch.

As we navigate the murky future of work, we’ve got to stay mindful about keeping up those close connections, no matter our location. Making deliberate efforts like those above can reduce distance bias and create a more engaged remote and hybrid workforce.

Related:

7 Ways to Have More Inclusive Virtual Meetings
The Best Way to Conduct Remote Interviews

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This tip sheet on how to avoid distance bias appeared initially on the Blacklight, our weekly newsletter for professionals. At the Blacklight, we aim to illuminate with every dispatch that lands in your inbox. If you’re thirsty for guidance to help you slay it at work or as a student and move your goalposts closer, sign up today!

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