Will proximity bias hurt your medical career?

According to a recently reported study, some 58% of knowledge workers are now in hybrid working arrangements, according to a new survey of more than 10,000 workers around the world by Slack’s Future Forum. And while flexible work has become popular, there is a concern of possible inequity between remote and in-office employees. Proximity bias — the idea that employees with close proximity to their leaders are seen as better workers — will penalize women, people of color and working parents the most, as these groups are spending less time in the office than their peers.

Yet, as knowledge workers have shifted to hybrid, we’re not seeing an equivalent drop in demand for office space. New survey data suggests cuts in office space of 1% to 2% on average. There are three trends driving this: 1) Workers are uncomfortable with density, and the only surefire way to reduce density is to cut person days on site without cutting square footage; 2) Most employees want to work from home on Mondays and Fridays, which means the shift to hybrid affords only meager opportunities to economize on office space; and 3) Employers are reshaping office space to become more inviting social spaces that encourage face-to-face collaboration, creativity, and serendipitous interactions

The WSJ notes that it is getting harder to say no. Our boundaries have been scrambled by two years of working through a crisis, often from the same place we do everything else. Managers know we’re home. Employees want to prove themselves in a world without face time. There’s a new, unspoken contract between bosses and workers: You can work where you want, but the flexibility comes at a personal cost. You’re always on.

Last night I was asked to participate in a Zoom call at 7pm because of international time zone availability. I said no. There is power in negative entrepreneurial thinking.

By now, many medical workers have perfected their webside manner while delivering telemedicine and virtual care. That has distanced them from both their patients and their employers. What is the impact of space time v face time in the office or the examining room? What are some things that might affect the results?

  1. The rates of telemedicine are dropping, particularly in certain specialties
  2. Office face time has always been a surrogate for management control i.e. they don’t trust their employees
  3. While most patients still trust their own doctor, they are increasingly distrustful of Sickcare, USA inc. Some see virtul care as another way to stuff more patients into the maws of the monster.
  4. Teamwork, leadership and interprofessional collaboration is underestimated and rarely rewarded or taught in medical school or residency. More or less facetime is probably not going to make that much difference now. Not showing up and the resentment it causes from the other members of the medical care team has always been an issue.
  5. As noted, there might be disproportionate impact on women and other groups
  6. Digital health and care delivery products are born virtually. Virtual international teams have been a mainstay in their development and will only become more commonplace.
  7. Performance should be competency and results based, not faith based or face based, regardless of where or how you deliver them.
  8. The brutal truth is that non-face time employment is here to stay so founders, leaders and managers will have to adapt and create different compensation and promotion schemes.
  9. Academic medical centers will have to rethink how they work. How does where you do what you do matter in your academic entrepreneur dossier?
  10. Technology will increasingly replace face time office workers and place more value on critical face time workers, like critical care ICU docs and nurses. Recent union work stopages makes the point.
  11. Face time in the office costs employees more and, due to travel requirements, contaminates the air. In total, the US transportation sector—which includes cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, and freight—produces nearly thirty percentof all US global warming emissions, more than almost any other sector.

Here are some reasons why it is important to meet face to face, be it the board room, the class room or the examining room.

If you like gratuitous face time, use the app. Otherwise, learn to adapt to space time and how to spend your most valuable asset-your time.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs