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  • Writer's pictureRachael Hoad

Proximity Bias & Remote Work

Overcoming the Invisible Hurdle: Proximity Bias and the Remote Worker's Struggle for Promotion

A level playing field for hybrid and remote workers

If you’ve joined a pharmaceutical company in the last 2 or 3 years, chances are you have been working hybrid or remotely. It is undeniable that proximity plays a large role in receiving promotions, as managers tend to have a deeper understanding and connection with employees they interact with more frequently. In the wake of the pandemic, more roles have shifted to a hybrid or remote setting, creating legitimate cause for concern for these workers. If managers are more likely to favour employees they interact with more frequently, will remote workers have an equal chance to compete for career opportunities? Or could their decision to work remotely result in being overlooked and having difficulties advancing their careers?

What is proximity bias?

Proximity bias refers to a cognitive bias where individuals exhibit a preference for, or show favouritism towards, people who are physically closer to them. This may cause managers to unintentionally prioritize or favour those they interact with face-to- face more frequently. Most commonly, proximity bias can result in managers overlooking the contributions and capabilities of remote team members and impacting decisions related to promotions, recognition and overall career advancement.

A closer look at proximity bias

When examining instances of proximity bias, these concerns are clearly valid. A 2022 survey of 200 US C- suite executives found that 41% of participants believed remote employees are less likely to be considered for promotion. This data aligns with a pre pandemic study by the Stanford Graduate School of Business which found that remote workers were less likely to receive promotions than their on-site peers despite being nearly 15% more productive.

Strategies to overcome proximity bias

  • Increase your visibility: Proactively take on responsibilities, offer assistance, and volunteer for projects. Being visible and engaged helps counteract any tendency for others to overlook remote team members.

  • Participate actively during meetings: When participating in virtual meetings, make sure to actively contribute to discussions. Turn on your camera, share your insights, ask questions, and engage with your colleagues to reinforce your presence.

  • Prioritize strong remote culture during job searches: Companies with a strong remote work culture demonstrate a commitment to the development and inclusion of remote employees, offering opportunities for professional growth, clear policies, and a sense of belonging. Strengthening employee autonomy, trust, and flexibility, and creating an environment where remote workers feel empowered to excel in their roles should be priorities.

  • Build Relationships: Actively seeking opportunities to collaborate on projects, providing valuable insights, and offering support to team members can help foster meaningful relationships with colleagues despite physical distances. Socializing in virtual settings, such as virtual coffee breaks or team- building activities, also contributes to a sense of camaraderie.



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