Proximity Bias: Including Remote Workers in Policies

Proximity Bias Including Remote Workers in Policies

The term “proximity bias” has emerged as a way to encapsulate the phenomenon of remote employees feeling left out of their workplace, highlighting the need for conscious efforts in a company’s mental health policy to ensure equality in treatment, communication, and opportunities for all workers, regardless of their physical location.

The past few years have seen an exponential rise in the number of organisations embracing remote work, pushed along in part by the global pandemic and further fueled by the modern digital age. This significant shift to remote work and the subsequent rise of hybrid models (where employees split their time between working on-site and from home) have thrown into sharp relief the importance of addressing mental health within the workplace, regardless of where “work” happens.

Just as proximity bias can lead to remote workers feeling undervalued or overlooked, the absence of mental health provisions for them can exacerbate feelings of exclusion. Key management teams and key decision-makers often overlook distinct mental health challenges that remote workers face.

These can include feelings of isolation, difficulty establishing work-life boundaries, or the strain of managing home and work in the same space.

A workplace mental health policy that acknowledges the needs of remote workers not only addresses the direct challenges they face but also can work to counter the implications of proximity bias, ensuring a more inclusive, productive, and collaborative work environment.

The Importance of a Mental Health Policy

A progressive mental health policy is essential for the overall health and productivity of an organisation. Just as physical health and safety receive prioritization at work, promoting and protecting the mental wellbeing of all employees is crucial.

This is true for both on-site and remote teams. A recent survey from Mind Share Partners revealed that nearly 60% of employees experienced symptoms of a mental health condition in the past year. The implication here is that even if you believe your team is thriving because they are present in the workplace, there are always hidden struggles if line managers do not go undergo training to spot the signs of an employee who is struggling with their mental health. When an employee is “out of sight, out of mind”, struggles can be particularly easy to hide or overlook. 

A comprehensive mental health policy that equally addresses the needs of both in-office and remote workers ensures that workers feel seen and valued, fostering a sense of belonging.

Remote Work & Its Effect on Mental Health

Remote work presents a unique set of challenges. Research from Buffer’s “State of Remote Work” report indicated that loneliness and the inability to unplug were the top challenges faced by remote workers. Being isolated from colleagues, coupled with blurred lines between professional and personal life, can exacerbate feelings of isolation and burnout.

Moreover, the lack of physical presence means that managers might not notice the subtle cues of an employee struggling, making it even more critical for organisations to have specific systems and resources in place to support remote workers’ mental health.

Why Policies for On-Site and Remote Workers Differ

It’s essential to understand that while the basic tenets of mental well-being apply universally, the challenges faced by on-site workers can be markedly different from those working remotely.

Environment Control: On-site workers typically operate within an environment controlled by the organisation. This means lighting, ergonomics, and workspace setups are standardised. In contrast, remote workers have varied environments, which might not always be conducive to productivity or mental wellbeing.

Social Interaction: One of the most highlighted aspects of remote work is the lack of spontaneous social interactions. The water cooler chats or coffee breaks, which often serve as mental breaks, are missing in a remote setup.

Boundaries: On-site workers have a clear demarcation between their professional and personal lives. They leave work and come home. However, for remote workers, this line often becomes blurred, leading to challenges in unplugging or managing work-life balance.

Access to Resources: On-site employees might have better access to resources like an in-house counsellor or wellbeing workshops. In contrast, remote workers may need digital solutions or flexible timings to access similar services.

Given these distinctions, it becomes clear that a “one size fits all” mental health policy isn’t the best approach. 

Remote workers require tailored interventions, flexibility, and perhaps more frequent check-ins. Digital tools, like mental well-being apps, virtual team-building activities, and online therapy solutions, can be part of the solution for remote teams.

The future of remote work

The shift to remote and hybrid work models is more than just a logistical one; it’s about understanding and adapting to the new challenges and needs of the workforce. 

A mental health policy that includes remote or hybrid workers is not just the ethical thing to do; it’s a strategic imperative. As more businesses navigate this evolving landscape, Onebright can ensure workplace mental health policies are inclusive, comprehensive, and, most importantly, tailored to meet the unique needs of remote teams.

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