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Flexible working may usher bias towards those in the office, LinkedIn study finds

As more businesses offer employees greater flexibility around where they work, there is concern that this may lead to “proximity bias” – those who are physically in the office getting preferential treatment.

Respondents in a LinkedIn study of around 250 C-level executives in the UK said their biggest concerns about remote working was that employees may feel left out of promotion or career decisions (35%), and proximity bias may arise where people positively favour employees who they regularly see (32%).

Employees are equally concerned–- a study of more than 1,000 workers in the UK finds that nearly half (44%) believe people who choose to work from the office are more likely to be favoured by bosses or senior management.

Nearly two-fifths (39%) said working from home may negatively impact their career due to less face-time with their boss, and a third believe that being in the office is better for their progression.

This comes as the vast majority (86%) of UK businesses plan to offer employees greater flexibility around where they work.

“As some employees return to the office and others opt to work flexibly, we find ourselves in another period of transition” said Becky Schnauffer, senior director at LinkedIn.

“Leaders and managers will need to work closely with HR teams to facilitate the appropriate training and guidelines to ensure career progression is centred around performance, and not location,” she said, adding: “Managers will also need to work with their teams to build a culture centred around trust and communication to help distributed teams work effectively together.”

Read more: UK jobs recruitment drive falls short of diversity and inclusion targets

More than three-quarters (76%) of business leaders are confident that their company can ensure all employees feel included, regardless of their location.

The majority (78%) of executives said they intend to introduce training courses to help people work effectively in flexible working environments. The top skills leaders say are most important are communication (62%), trust (55%), integrity (47%) and inclusive leadership (44%).

“All employees now have the legal right to request flexible working, but the uncomfortable truth is that most people don’t feel like they can ask for it because a culture of presenteeism means they are worried about how it will be perceived,” said Nick Zygouris, director of mental Health, Maximus UK.

He said it's important workers feel comfortable approaching their employer to ask for a way of working that suits them without feeling like their career is being jeopardised.

The study also showed nearly three-quarters (74%) of business leaders believe enabling flexibility can help improve the diversity of their workforce as it will appeal to those with caregiving responsibilities or disabilities, and those that can't afford to live in big cities.

To help organisations build inclusive workplaces, LinkedIn is launching a feature which allows companies to share more detailed information about their return to office policies, benefits and location requirements.

Watch: What to ask in a job interview