Everyone’s felt alone in a crowded room at least once – for the same reason that a packed tube carriage is an unpleasant experience, rather than a shining experience of social harmony.
It’s because loneliness isn’t just about physical closeness to people – it’s an inclusion issue.
In a hybrid working environment, ‘proximity bias’ can lead to unintentionally excluding people from meetings, relationships, and even information-sharing – causing social isolation, loneliness, and a general lack of team connectivity.
When you’re selecting someone to lead on a project, you’ll gravitate to the person with their hand up – not the one waiting for an opportunity to chip in through a dodgy video link.
A preference for the present, championing those close-at-hand… proximity bias is about favouring those in your immediate vicinity. Like many biases, it’s an unconscious one – and insidious in how innocently it plays out.
Hybrid organistions are tricky: studies show they have less cohesion than remote-only or office-based teams. And it’s easy to see why, when you consider proximity bias.
Managers favour those in the office because they’re easier to chat with, more visibly ‘at work’, and they have more off-the-cuff interactions – building a stronger relationship, and gradually excluding and isolating those who are primarily out of office:
If you’re thinking “tough luck for them”, think again. Becoming a successful hybrid organisation means understanding why exclusion happens, and working against it.
So is remote working is the cause of professional loneliness? Though it might seem a logical conclusion, it seems unlikely given the large proportion of the workforce that wants to keep having the option.
In this explanation of why remote working isn’t the cause of loneliness, it makes the point that “your current WFH scenario is not your future WFH scenario”. It’s false equivilance to assume the alternate to office working is a silent spareroom.
As the world returns to some kind of normalcy, it’ll be harder to scapegoat WFH in itself as the cause of employee loneliness – so planning ways to mitigate proximity bias now is key.
Adapting to a hybrid working model is bound to have its challenges – but there’s no need to guess what those will be. As you’re moving into your next stage, get regular feedback from your employees to stay on top of any issues.
We can help you with that, with surveys proven to get high response rates and practical feedback. Get in touch to hear more: