Remote Working Bias – “The Zoom Ceiling”

By Amanda Beattie
24 Oct 2022

Working remotely can present barriers to progression. Not quite a ceiling, more of a screen, the term “Zoom Ceiling” is being used to describe these roadblocks.

The reason these barriers exist is because of proximity bias. In this article, we’ll take a look at what proximity bias is, how much of an issue it is, and how you can address it.

If you are struggling to manage a hybrid or remote working schedule, speak to one of our HR experts today on 01455 858 132.

What is proximity bias?

In simple terms, proximity bias is when you favour an employee who you work physically closely to for progression and pay rises. It is a term commonly used in tandem with remote work.

Proximity bias may be both unconscious and conscious. To a manager, they may not think twice about promoting an employee they work closely with. After all, they have visibility on their daily performance, achievements, and suitability for senior roles. Unfortunately, this can result in suitable, or even better candidates being overlooked.

How much of an issue is this?

Other than the term itself—we much prefer “The Zoom Screen” to “The Zoom Ceiling”—how serious the issue is can vary from business to business.

Recent research released by Envoy investigated the issue. They found that most business leaders pay more attention to employee’s work contribution when they were in the office. Similarly, a study by the University of Pittsburgh found that career advancement is stunted for those working at home. While studies seem to point to a boost in employee morale and productivity, remote working often has a negative impact on opportunities.


Colleagues on a video call


How do I address proximity bias?

For many organisations, hybrid working is a new structure they adopted following lockdown. So it’s understandable that processes haven’t been put in place to address proximity bias remote work difficulties.

First of all, if proximity is a problem, fix it. Have regular catch ups and check-ins with your remote staff. Finding the right balance is key, as too many video calls may disrupt the flow of work and feel like micromanagement. As a minimum, setting regular weekly catch ups will help keep you informed and in touch.

Next, when making decisions on progression and pay rises, be sure to refer to data. We know—data is dull, but it will help you in the decision-making process. Take note of an employee’s performance metrics, KPIs, and achieved goals. While this won’t eliminate proximity bias, it will help you make more informed decisions.

Proximity bias hybrid work support

If you have questions about hybrid working, proximity bias, or just want to weigh in on whether “Zoom Screen” is better than “Zoom Ceiling”, you can contact us today.

Call 01455 858 132 to speak to one of our expert HR advisors, and receive support today.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

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