Combat Proximity Bias in Remote and Hybrid Work

Have you ever wondered why some employees get promoted faster than others, especially in a remote or hybrid work setting? The answer might be closer than you think, quite literally.

The Hidden Challenge of Proximity Bias

In a fascinating conversation with Bjorn Reynolds, the founder and CEO of Safeguard Global, we delved deep into the concept of proximity bias. Although not a new concept, proximity bias has garnered more attention as organizations grapple with the challenges of managing distributed teams. This type of bias manifests when leaders, perhaps unconsciously, show favoritism towards employees who are physically closer to them. This can lead to a detrimental impact on remote workers, who may feel marginalized or overlooked due to their lack of physical presence in the office.

The implications of proximity bias are far-reaching. Surveys conducted by organizations such as SHRM paint a concerning picture: an overwhelming two-thirds of supervisors acknowledge a differential treatment between remote and in-office employees. This disparity fosters a climate of alienation and inequity, particularly for those who work remotely. They may perceive a glass ceiling in their career advancement or feel excluded from critical communication and decision-making processes, simply because they are not ‘in the room where it happens’.

Safeguard Global’s proactive stance in addressing proximity bias sets a commendable example for other organizations. They have shifted from a traditional, location-centric work culture to one that prioritizes remote-first principles. This transformation is pivotal not only in changing the mindset of leaders and employees but also in restructuring the core decision-making processes within the organization. By adopting a data-driven approach and establishing clear, objective criteria for employee evaluation, Safeguard Global ensures that recognition and advancement are based on merit and performance, irrespective of an employee’s physical location. This approach transcends the superficial layer of face-to-face interactions, delving deeper into the actual contributions and achievements of each individual.

The results of this shift are tangible. Safeguard Global has observed a marked reduction in employee turnover, an indicator of enhanced job satisfaction and a more equitable work environment. By systematically addressing proximity bias, they have created a culture that values and rewards performance and productivity over physical presence, setting a benchmark for others to follow in the era of hybrid work.

Educating Managers and Implementing Short-term Goals

Awareness and education are pivotal. Most managers are not even aware of their proximity bias. By making them conscious of this bias and its impact, we take the first step towards rectifying it. Moreover, setting short-term goals and regularly reviewing them provides a tangible way to measure performance objectively, steering clear of subjective judgments.

Trust is the bedrock of any successful remote or hybrid work policy. But trust doesn’t appear out of thin air; it’s built through consistent and fair practices. Managers need to be educated to manage by outcomes, not hours. This shift in perspective is essential for building trust in a remote work environment.

The future is clear: businesses must adapt to the changing landscape of remote work or risk losing top talent. As Bjorn Reynolds aptly puts it, “the genie is not going back into the bottle.” The pandemic has shown us the benefits of remote and hybrid work models, and it’s imperative for businesses to embrace this change. The focus should be on creating a more data-driven, objective, and fair work environment, where decisions are based on performance, not proximity.

My Role in Consulting for Flexible Work Models

In my consulting practice, I have worked extensively with clients to help them navigate the challenges of flexible work models, including overcoming proximity bias. And Reynolds’ approach involves a lot of what I’ve seen be successful in other companies. My approach emphasizes awareness and education among leadership, implementing objective performance metrics, and training managers for effective remote leadership. By fostering a culture of trust and empathy, and guiding organizations to continuously evolve, I help ensure that remote and hybrid work environments are equitable and productive.


The conversation with Bjorn Reynolds, combined with my own experiences in consulting, highlights a crucial aspect of today’s work environment. Proximity bias is a silent career killer in remote and hybrid settings. By addressing it head-on, companies can ensure a fair, efficient, and productive workforce. It’s not just about adapting to the new normal; it’s about thriving in it. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to pave the way for a more equitable and effective workplace, regardless of where our employees log in from.

Key Take-Away

In remote work, combatting proximity bias is crucial for fair promotions. Proximity, even in virtual settings, plays a role in career advancement. Be mindful of this hidden factor..>Click to tweet

Image credit: William Fortunato

Originally published in Disaster Avoidance Experts on December 27, 2023

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was lauded as “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times for helping leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. Dr. Gleb wrote the first book on returning to the office and leading hybrid teams after the pandemic, his best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). He authored seven books in total, and is best know for his global bestseller, Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019). His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, with 8 years as a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7 years as a professor at Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at