It happens more often than you think: despite great talent acquisition practices, flexibility in work, and great internal policies, a company sees its top talent continually exit within a year of employment. The leadership team wracks their brains —  “what are we doing wrong?” — until one employee mentions it in an exit interview: “I just didn’t feel any investment in my growth.”

There’s a major gap in employee development, and it’s felt more heavily by remote and hybrid workers who already function in silos. A big contributor to this is proximity bias, or the idea that those who spend the most time physically close to us — ie, in-office workers — receive more preferential treatment and opportunities.

When it comes to benefits, 59% of employees feel that professional development is very important in their work environment. But proximity bias is so prevalent that 42% of workers are concerned that working remotely will impact their career progression. This bias can often prevent that individual development, as remote workers have a weakened reputation and not enough visibility to be considered. That makes proximity bias a huge hindrance to the success of hybrid or remote workplaces. Remote employees who don’t feel that investment are quick to move on to their next opportunity.

What are the major factors of proximity bias?

Let’s look at the data: two-thirds (62%) of workers feel more productive when working remotely, while just 11% feel less productive. But 60% of managers are still concerned that workers are less productive when working remotely. That may be why over a third (37%) of employers have added or increased the use of employee activity-tracking software in the past year.

Why do employers and leaders feel this way? There’s an inherent bias in play here: leaders believe that the employees they see work harder and are more productive. Relying on trust makes it hard for them to perceive remote employees as productive. So when time zones prevent remote workers from attending meetings, brainstorms, or 1:1s, proximity bias keeps leaders from registering those remote workers as effective.

Very often, remote or hybrid employees don’t feel seen. 49% of workers feel they will not be able to build relationships with leadership or be visible to the executive team members when working remotely. The lack of visibility some employees face while working off-site not only impacts their perception but it also means they very often are passed over for growth opportunities. If an individual isn’t top of mind, a leader won’t consider them for a new learning experience or a promotion.

How to combat proximity bias + promote career advancement

The first step to overcoming your own biases is recognizing them. The second step is making an action plan. 

Start by evaluating the way you communicate with your team. Are you set up with proper asynchronous communication so both in-office and hybrid workers communicate in the same way? Or do you hold all your meetings and status updates in-person and force your remote team members to catch up? Are you providing feedback and praise in-person? Or are you using an employee recognition system that everyone can participate in, regardless of location or time zone? The way you approach teamwork goes a long way in visibility, helping to reduce bias.

Next, take a look at how you help develop your team. It can be easy to pull a chair up to somebody’s desk and walk them through a simple skill or software. But it can be just as easy to coach your entire team using a screen-recording tool like Loom. The way you approach on-the-fly training can go the distance in helping your entire team feel like you’ve invested in their success.

Longer-term, how are you evaluating success? Do you provide continuous feedback loops that are accessible to your whole team? Taking part in regular pulse checks and 1:1s — async or not — helps facilitate two-way communication between you and your team. Tools like 15Five provide continuous feedback on task objectives, sentiment, and personal development. 15Five even offers a “ask for feedback” tool so employees who feel like they aren’t receiving feedback can request it from anyone at any time.

Implementing tools and systems to keep the conversation flowing — and to keep all your people front and center — can help you provide better standards to involve all your employees at the same level. From there, you can invest in better hybrid training and growth development, like 360º reviews and growth and learning stipends, that show your investment in your team.

make hybrid meetings smarter with 360-degree collaboration