How to safeguard your career against proximity bias in remote and hybrid work
Today’s hybrid and remote environments offer organizations a range of ways to deploy staff and get work done. But flexible new arrangements also introduce complexity.
What’s the impact on culture when huge numbers of employees are no longer co-located? What will the office of the future look like? How can communication remain clear and consistent when the workforce is so dramatically distributed?
For individual employees who find themselves working remotely or in a hybrid environment, the potentially more pressing questions are:
- How do I ensure that "out of sight" doesn’t become "out of mind"?
- What do I need to do so that my career continues to grow and thrive?
Proximity bias now joins the lengthy list of biases that organizations must acknowledge and leaders must guard against to ensure the success of evolving workplace configurations.
My last SmartBrief article addressed the steps leaders and managers can take to combat proximity bias and ensure an even playing field for everyone. This second article in the series addresses the other side of the equation -- what employees can do to not just protect their career but also promote greater success as they work from a distance.
The individual's responsibility
It’s easy to pin the issue of proximity bias on managers, the ones presumably acting upon (either consciously or unconsciously) prejudice that may disadvantage remote or hybrid employees. And clearly, they have an undeniable responsibility here.
But so do employees. Working through the challenges of evolving organizational structures requires collaboration, and it’s in the employee’s best interest to be an active partner in the process. So, what can individuals do to combat proximity bias and ensure that remote or hybrid work doesn’t undermine their careers? Plenty, starting with these seven strategies.
1. Add value
It goes without saying that success – no matter where you perform your work – depends upon making valuable contributions to the team and/or enterprise. This becomes even more important for remote and hybrid workers.
Making a difference and achieving are what garners attention and visibility. So, ask to take on more responsibility. Volunteer or step up to new challenges. Solve problems. And acquire the skills that will allow you to elevate your performance.
2. Spotlight your contributions
The contributions of those who work remotely can frequently go unnoticed. It’s rarely an intentional slight but rather an oversight. That’s why those who are not co-located need to paint a picture of the efforts that others simply can see.
Because colleagues and supervisors aren’t able to observe your hard work firsthand, it’s important to showcase your commitment and dedication. This means communicating generously and reporting frequently on accomplishments and progress. (I like to think of this not as bragging but as flagging what’s important for others to know.)
3. Make meetings matter
Meetings, always an important feature of the business landscape, have taken on even greater significance, especially to remote employees. In most organizations, meetings are the primary vehicle through which you operate and interact with others. And they are the venue where remote workers must make their voices heard (quite literally.)
As a result, preparing for meetings (even more rigorously than when doing so in person) is key:
- Internalizing the agenda
- Determining what and how you can contribute
- Preparing your comments
- Generating thoughtful and thought-provoking questions
All of this ensures a vibrant presence during virtual calls and meetings that reminds others of the vital role you play.
4. Deepen social connections
The most effective and successful remote and hybrid workers recognize that relationship building is on them, and they take responsibility and act accordingly. So, rather than waiting for others to reach out to you, take the first step.
Proactively seek out contact with your manager and co-workers with the intention to build relationships. Take the initiate to schedule calls and meetings. Volunteer updates. Offer support and assistance. Ask for help when necessary, and generously recognize others. These are tactics that deepen social connections and keep you on the radar screens of others.
5. Negotiate clear expectations
Much of the bias human beings experience is unconscious, and this is certainly true with proximity bias. Even so, such bias can result in behavior that frequently (if inadvertently) can leave some people advantaged and others disadvantaged.
You can help your manager avoid this bias about your performance by ensuring that you have clear expectations and measurable objectives that will serve as a standard yardstick against which to evaluate results.
6. Master the technology
It is absolutely incumbent for anyone who expects to be respected and valued as a remote colleague or partner to be flawless in their use of the digital tools required for communication and collaboration.
Whether it’s a consistently strong Wi-Fi signal that enables smooth, lifelike video or timely, appropriate use of Slack, Microsoft Teams or whatever else helps to coordinate group efforts, technology can never be an excuse for virtual employees. Colleagues who commute in every day have little tolerance for this.
7. Be "there"
One of the major objections that leaders express regarding remote work is their desire for people to be "there" -- available to participate in what’s going on, to be pulled into an impromptu meeting, to answer an urgent question. So, bend over backward to make yourself available and accessible.
When co-located employees (who may be resentful of your flexibility) are waiting on responses from you, let’s face it, their imaginations go wild with images of you sitting by the pool, hanging out at the local coffeehouse or doing the laundry. Don’t let them go there. Be "there" for them instead.
Working remotely or in hybrid configurations is clearly here to stay. And the benefits to organizations and individuals are enormous. Don’t allow your career to become a casualty of where you work. Take action -- in the form of these seven strategies -- to help your organization and your own manager combat proximity bias, and to cultivate the career you desire.
Are you ready to help those around you enjoy better, nimbler, and more effective development? Download my "VUCA Career Development for a VUCA World: A Leadership Playbook for Career Development that’s Fast, Frequent and Flexible" for an updated framework and 20 questions to drive more dynamic and effective growth.
Julie Winkle Giulioni is a champion of growth and development in the workplace, helping leaders and organizations optimize the potential of their people. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, she’s the co-author of the international bestseller, "Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want." Learn more about her work at JulieWinkleGiulioni.com.