How business leaders can avoid proximity bias affecting their hybrid workforce

The pandemic has led to many workplaces operating within a hybrid model, where employees split their time between working from home and the office. While there are benefits for both employee and employer, it also presents challenges, warns Hays CEO, Alistair Cox.

When some of an organisation’s workforce isn’t present in the office at the same time, there is the risk of proximity bias, in which preferential treatment is given to those working within the office environment. Traditionally, proximity bias may have been manifested in the workplace by how close someone sits to the leadership team. In the new world of work, however, the meaning has evolved to relate to those who work from the office more than their colleagues who work remotely.

Commenting on the challenges proximity bias can bring to a business, Hays CEO, Alistair Cox, says, “There are many dangers that proximity bias brings to the workplace and simply assuming it is not happening in your own business is unrealistic. One obvious danger is the subconscious exclusion of people from having the opportunity to work on big projects generated from the centre or working on a major new client account.”

When workers believe they are being excluded, it can lead to them feeling unhappy and disengaged. This can be costly for organisations, as workers become detached and productivity can suffer as a result. Proximity bias also has the potential to destroy diversity within an organisation. Two groups that could be more impacted are workers living with a disability and informal caregivers. Commuting to a physical office can be a difficult task for some workers, and women are more likely to play a greater role in childcare, which might make working full time in an office environment difficult.

Alistair says, “Hybrid working therefore helps these groups. If you are showing favourable treatment to workers in the office, you can cause a negative impact on your workforce diversity.”

Alistair offers his advice to leaders on how they can avoid proximity bias within their organisations.

  • Promote hybrid working

Alistair says that business leaders should lead by example, stating, “Remember, action speaks louder than words and people look to their leaders’ own approach to interpret what is really valued. So, if you are coming in everyday, work from home sometimes and show others that you trust and value their input when working away from the office.”

  • Hold inclusive meetings

Organisations must be inclusive in their thinking and interactions, employees should feel included regardless of their location. Meetings with attendees who have joined in person and individuals who have entered virtually can present problems, as it can be easier to focus on those who are physically in the same room.

To combat this issue, Alistair suggests holding important meetings virtually, “That means everyone is on a level playing field. If that’s not possible, be aware of how inclusive you are being of the whole group. Importantly, make sure business critical decisions are not being made in one meeting. If an idea comes to light between you and others who are in the office that day, arrange a follow-up with all of those working remotely.” 

  • Invest in updated technology

Organisations must ensure they are using the right technology to facilitate a more inclusive environment between those in the office and remote workers. Companies such as Microsoft and Cisco have added features to their meeting platforms to address hybrid working. Both companies have created technology that uses machine learning and AI technology to improve the experience of meetings for employees joining remotely, which help them to feel as though they are in the room.

  • Engage your employees

Alistair suggests business leaders ask their workforce how they feel about proximity bias as this will enable organisations to understand if a problem exists, and to what extent. 

Sandra Henke, Global Head of People and Culture at Hays, said, “Make sure you have the necessary open channels of communication, so employees are able to voice their concerns or provide feedback. Ensure all employees, no matter where they are based, are taking part in company and team activities, so they don’t feel left out. Remind your team that you are all in it together, every employee – whether they are in the office or at home – has a role to play in sustaining the company’s culture in the next era of work.”

Alistair closes by saying, “Being aware of the dangers and the solutions to proximity bias are crucial for leaders to maintain a productive, effective and engaged workforce.”


This press release was adapted from a LinkedIn Influencer blog by Hays CEO, Alistair Cox.


About Hays Singapore

Hays Specialist Recruitment Pte Ltd, Singapore ("Hays Singapore") is one of Singapore's leading recruitment companies in recruiting qualified, professional and skilled people across a wide range of industries and professions.

Hays has been in Singapore for over a decade and boasts a track record of success and growth. We operate across the private and public sector, dealing  in permanent, temporary and contracting positions in more than 15 different specialisms, including Accountancy & Finance, Banking & Financial Services, Digital Technology, Engineering, Finance Technology, Human Resources, Information Technology, Legal, Life Sciences, Marketing & Digital, Office Professionals, Procurement, Supply Chain and Sales. Hays Singapore was named the “Best Small Workplace” in Singapore in 2019 and 2018 and was ranked fourth “Best Multinational Workplace” in Asia 2020 by Great Place to Work.

About Hays

Hays plc (the "Group") is a leading global professional recruiting group. The Group is the expert at recruiting qualified, professional and skilled people worldwide, being the market leader in the UK and Australia and one of the market leaders in Continental Europe, Latin America and Asia. The Group operates across the private and public sectors, dealing in permanent positions, contract roles and temporary assignments. As at 31 December 2021 the Group employed c.12,100 staff operating from 254 offices across 20 specialisms. For the year ended 30 June 2021:

  • the Group reported net fees of £918.1 million and operating profit of £95.1 million;
  • the Group placed around 60,000 candidates into permanent jobs and around 220,000 people into temporary roles;
  • 17% of Group net fees were generated in Australia & New Zealand, 27% in Germany, 22% in United Kingdom & Ireland and 34% in Rest of World (RoW);
  • the temporary placement business represented 61% of net fees and the permanent placement business represented 39% of net fees;
  • Technology is the Group’s largest specialism, with 26% of net fees, while Accountancy & Finance (14%) and Construction & Property (12%), are the next largest