Studies show that most workplace co-operations take place between colleagues who work near one another. We are less likely to involve colleagues whom we rarely see. We have a proximity bias.
A bias at tipping point
Proximity bias is when, consciously or unconsciously, we orientate ourselves towards the people who are physically near us. There might be a colleague in another department who would be a better choice to ask, but it doesn’t occur to us. We have a blind spot: a bias.
This is not a new discovery. But at a time when some of us are at the office while others work from home, it is as relevant as ever.
There is a growing risk that we will staff our assignments ineffectively, without making best use of the available expertise, knowledge and skills.
Key passive face-time
Researchers point to two types of communication in the workplace.
There is ‘active face-time’, when we communicate in direct conversations and meetings – often in formal settings.
And there is ‘passive face-time’, when we give attention and recognition in spontaneous encounters – for example, when you say to someone, in passing: “Good morning – good to see you.”
Passive face-time is about being seen, met and recognised. Its effect on cohesive collaboration is invaluable.
When working from home, we do not meet others as often as we do in the office. We lose the passive face-time opportunities.
So how do we compensate for this loss? How can we create passive face-time opportunities? See the factbox for a few suggestions.
Recognise the existence and risk of proximity bias, and talk about it.
Ensure everyone is involved at hybrid meetings. When you ask for input, start with the colleagues attending digitally.
Establish a framework for informal meetings, such as a virtual morning coffee every Friday.
Make an effort to stay in contact if you often work at a distance.
Use chat features or services to encourage informal communication.
Seek advice when you staff a task. Have you overlooked somebody who a colleague would definitely include?