“City’s [of Calgary] 5,000 inside workers will keep splitting their work time between home and the office … for the foreseeable future.’
– CBC headline
Some employers will need to, or insist on, all employees reporting to a workplace. And others will move to a 100% distributed and remote workforce. But, like the City of Calgary, many will land somewhere between those two points and on a blended model.
There is no way on earth that our post-pandemic workforce won’t look the same as before the pandemic. This isn’t a prediction; it is a reality.
NYU business professor and author Scott Galloway warns that a distributed workforce will create unintended consequences. He is concerned about an “erosion of empathy.” He means that as people spend less time with one another in person, we can lose the opportunity to engage with people who have different backgrounds and experiences from our own.
On the good side, our employees spent the last year learning how to work in new ways. It’s unlikely all of them will want an immediate return to the pre-pandemic workplace. Some may thrive in the freedom, productivity and flexibility that remote work offers. Others may want to work in a more traditional office atmosphere.
But be forewarned that, on the other hand, there will likely be a cost to your career and lifetime earnings because you are not proximate to decisions makers and power.
Proximity bias is real. Proximity bias is the idea that employees with close physical proximity to their team and company leaders will be perceived as better workers and ultimately find more success in the workplace than their remote counterparts. That bias often looks like on-site employees having access to better perks and getting more time with executives. In contrast, remote employees may get left out of meetings, inadvertently silenced on calls, and potentially paid less than their co-located peers.[i]
In a recent podcast interview with Donny Deutsch, Professor Galloway commented that people need to, or should make every effort to, be in the office as much as they can.
Why? Because your career trajectory is a function of proximity. He says that for every promotion or job opening, at least 2 or 3 people are fully qualified for that job. The person who gets that job is often the one with the best relationship with the decider.
Fundamentally these relationships are a function of proximity.
While some companies are still getting used to hybrid and remote arrangements, you can take control by negating any bias by asking for face-to-face mentoring, intentional communication and self-advocacy.
To limit the impact that proximity bias may have on your career, here are some actions that you can try:
Being in the office as often as you can.
If you can’t be physically present, be visible through regular video conferences with your team and boss.
Ask for work or projects to support your partnership with your boss.
Increase your visibility by joining the meetings early and active on your designated work channels.
Value and encourage high-quality internal communications and listening campaigns, including sharing constructive feedback.
Endorse, praise and celebrate your co-workers and their achievements.
This will make a difference in your well-being and engagement levels and, most certainly, in your career.