Not Another Hybrid Work Debate
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Chapter 4

Beware proximity bias (train your managers)

All heroes need training: hybrid work requires better managers.

Meet initially in person

Given the benefits of remote work, there are still some aspects of work that are better done in person. This is usually the case when relationship-building is the main goal. 

Experts report time and again that onboarding is the hardest part for a remote or hybrid workforce. It’s more challenging to share company culture with new employees in a remote setting. Microsoft found that employees who met with their managers in person within the first 90 days were more likely to:

  • seek feedback 
  • feel included and trusted by their team
  • build strong relationships with colleagues
  • feel supported when discussing tough issues with their manager 
  • get effective coaching and feedback
Hot Tip

In-person onboarding builds trust and accelerates new hire productivity

Meeting initially in-person can help teach new hires where and how they fit into the organization. This in turn helps new hires become more comfortable discussing tough issues and having productive conflicts—all essential to collaboration and innovation.

New hires who build trust with their managers and teammates can more quickly become productive contributors and collaborators within the team and the company.

“In a hybrid environment, especially if you are coming in and out of an office and you find someone you want exposure to or want to expand your network with, use the time in the office to actually meet up and have that kind of in-person connection at first, and only after that move into a virtual mentorship relationship.”
Sacha Connor
Sacha Connor
Founder/CEO of Virtual Work Insider
frm. The Clorox Company
Listen to Podcast Episode
49% Stat

Managers and executives spend close to half their time (49%) on work they believe is done most effectively in person, such as onboarding new hires and giving feedback.

Meeting initially in person is also recommended for mentorships. The trust and relationship building required for mentoring is also more effective in person. Only when both parties have formed a strong foundation of trust can mentoring in remote settings work. 

Hot Tip

Set clear expectations for in-office time

Managers should establish clear expectations for in-person office time, particularly for young employees who need development and mentoring. In-person training helps new hires understand their tasks and priorities easier, as they can receive close guidance and immediate feedback. 

“Why return to the office? For the genuine experiences that build trust—period. Once you’ve built trust in-person, it becomes a lot easier to work on difficult problems when you’re working remotely.”
Jackie Dube
Jackie Dube
CPO of The Predictive Index
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85% Stat

85% of respondents said the most important factor in an employee’s working life is a supportive manager.

Beware of proximity bias

More than half of employees (60%) are concerned that working remotely will mean they have less of a say at work and miss out on opportunities (Owl Labs). There seems to be some truth to that story.

In 2023, remote workers were promoted 31% less frequently than people who worked some time in an office (Live Data Technologies). This is most likely due to people’s unconscious bias of favoring people and things that are physically close, a phenomenon termed proximity bias, or distance bias. 

Hot Tip

Shift focus from presence to performance

Instead of focusing on work location perceptions, organizations should revamp their performance management to focus on employees meeting their goals and objectives. That may mean training managers on new ways of measuring productivity, such as measuring success based on outcomes and not how often employees are in the office. 

Wow! Case Study
Case Study

Neiman Marcus' 'work-from-anywhere' approach

When Neiman Marcus implemented its ‘work-from-anywhere’ strategy, the company also adopted what it called the ‘results-only work environment.’

Instead of focusing on who is in the office, the company shifted its priorities to focus on the output and saw dramatic results within six months—a 34% percentage point increase in Employee Net Promoter Score, a 50% reduction in attrition, and a 31% improvement in its time to hire.

“We end up rewarding people based on the visual aspects of hustle culture—as opposed to outcomes. How do we actually make sure that our reward systems are based on the delivery of outcomes—not on presenteeism?”
Brian Elliott
Brian Elliott
Co-founder of Future Forum
frm. Google, Slack
Listen to Podcast Episode
31% Stat

In 2023, remote workers were promoted 31% less frequently than people who worked some time in an office.

Proximity bias can also play out in ways where remote employees are accidentally left out. This can happen with watercooler moments in the office or conversations over lunch. Training managers to be conscious of proximity bias is key to making sure that distributed teams are managed fairly.

Hot Tip

Battle proximity bias!

To combat proximity bias, managers need to ensure that the processes and systems are equitable while leading globally distributed teams. That requires intentional training on how to lead in a hybrid environment and putting programs in place that are inclusive of remote and onsite employees.

Wow! Case Study
Case Study

How The Predictive Index balances remote and onsite employee engagement

At the Predictive Index, Chief People Officer Jackie Dube ensures equity between remote and onsite employees by intentionally planning programs that level the participation field. There is always a remote option and an in-person option.

For example, during their fitness and nutrition week, they hosted both a remote cooking class and an in-person hike. They also have a practice of being on Zoom during meetings regardless of whether participants are onsite or not so that those who are remote can easily observe facial expressions.

“You start to look at the data over time. Are you promoting people faster who are right near your conversation spaces or Hub locations? It takes time to make sure that the system is fair, and you have to reinforce those principles because you can slip back to old ways of working.”
Dena Upton
Dena Upton
Head of People at Dandy
frm. Drift
Listen to Podcast Episode
63% Stat

63% of employees feel concerned that managers view those in the office as harder working and more trustworthy than their remote counterparts.

Provide face time with leaders

By 2030, Gen Z will account for roughly 30% of the workforce (Johns Hopkins University). They are also among the biggest supporters of hybrid work. 74% of Gen Z workers prefer to interact with colleagues face-to-face (Accenture) and 44% of 2023 graduates prefer hybrid work (ZipRecruiter). 

Gen Z employees want flexibility, but they also want face time with senior leaders and colleagues to learn from. Many of them missed out on critical moments to build interpersonal skills because of the pandemic and are looking for mentors to help bridge the skills gap. 

“Mentoring is something that’s very much better done in person. And the fact that it’s hard to mentor also will make it harder to recruit. If you look at 20- to 29-year-olds, they have a very strong preference for having at least two, three days a week on site.”
Nick Bloom
Nick Bloom
Stanford Economics Professor & WFH Research Co-founder
83% Stat

83% of Gen Z said a workplace mentor is crucial for their career, but only about half of workers reported having one.

Providing more face time with leaders can also help mitigate rising disengagement problems in the workplace, especially from younger workers. According to Gallup, Millennials and Gen Z employees have seen the greatest decline in: 

  • feeling cared about by someone at work, 
  • having opportunities to learn and grow, 
  • feeling connected to the mission of the organization, 
  • having progress discussions with managers, 
  • being given opportunities to develop, and 
  • feeling that their opinions count. 

Younger employees are feeling significantly more disengaged from work and detached from their managers. Seeing their leaders as human beings they can connect with will help younger workers align themselves with the organization's purpose, values, goals, and culture.

Hot Tip

Build a culture for younger workers

Leaders who want to attract, engage, and retain young workers need to create a culture that builds trust, connection, and growth. That means setting an example for being on-site and being available for employees to ask questions and learn from. Organizations that are intentional about providing training programs for both skills and hybrid working will be more prepared for the future workforce.

“Hybrid work is like money—it makes you more of who you are. If your organization already has high trust and employees are ready to adapt to challenges, then they can figure out flexible work. But if you're already a low trust organization and people aren't coming to work with their engaged whole self, that's going to continue in flexible work. It's the idea of: if you get more money, you're going to do similar things with it.”
Elizabeth Knox
Founder of Match PACE

Hot Tips

Get past the predictions with tips you can implement right away.


Structure intentional onboarding and mentorship programs that include a series of training sessions, milestone check-ins, and regular evaluations to gauge progress. In-person programs are more effective for introducing new workers to the organization and building strong foundational relationships.


Integrating technology into daily work (such as meeting setups and desk booking) enhances productivity, collaboration, and the overall hybrid workplace experience. IT leaders should also collaborate with HR to deploy easily-adoptable tech tools along with appropriate training for smoother implementation.


Redesign office spaces to focus on training and events for employees who are more remote, and to design flexible workspaces that create more opportunities to interact with each other. Office spaces that support community-building and promote connectivity and culture will be essential.

Chapter 5

Choose your battles: Fighting for your seat shouldn’t be one of them.

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