Proximity bias is real. Here's how Prezi is fixing it.

Going back to the office isn’t the answer, but better virtual meetings could be.

Prezi CEO Jim Szafranski

"As simple as that sounds, creating that sense of place and purpose with a digital workspace and branding, those are the key things that we do internally and that we've productized for our customers."

Photo: Prezi

Jim Szafranski, CEO of presentation software company Prezi, started developing video meeting and presentation software Prezi Video as a “hobby project” toward the end of 2019. Then the pandemic hit.

“What was typically thought of as a presentation company suddenly was involved in the virtual work world,” Szafranski said.

Now, Prezi Video accounts for a third of the company’s business, with millions of users and more than 200,000 organizations as customers. Though Prezi was able to shift its focus, Szafranski wanted to get a better understanding of the biggest issues with remote and hybrid work, and what companies could do to fix them.

In a survey of more than 1,100 enterprise workers across the companies it serves, Prezi found that 66% said proximity bias exists in their company culture, favoring the colleagues that make it into the office regularly. But only 8% reported having all of their meetings entirely in person.

“Based on what we observe with our customers, you're still going to have somebody not in the room at most meetings,” Szafranski said. “You're going to continue to need to be cognizant of a remote workforce.”

Szafranski sat down with Protocol to talk about how to beat proximity bias, how working works at Prezi and how to encourage workers to keep cameras on during meetings.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What made you want to explore the idea of proximity bias?

What we're trying to do at Prezi is figure out how to make screens work better for people, because this is where work is happening. When the return-to-work conversation started to happen is when proximity bias came into our view as an important thing. People were starting to think, “Video meetings stink,” “I feel disengaged at work,” “I often multitask.” Video meetings weren't working well. We started seeing the potential that businesses were going to use return-to-office as an excuse to not improve video meetings. If you don't make virtual meetings better, clearly people are going to be disengaged and disadvantaged.

Tell me about Prezi’s remote work policy and how you’ve worked in the past couple years.

What we operate under is a virtual-first model and we made the shift to that immediately [after the pandemic started]. Employees were allowed to choose where to work from, and virtual-first means we shifted every workflow, every operation to work virtually. Hiring, onboarding … all the way through to how we run product stand-ups and all-hands meetings. We prioritized the virtual scenario for every operation. We still have office hubs available for when people do want to get together in some locations … But if you look at it across the company, under 20% of the workforce is going in a day or two a week.

Other than Prezi Video, what tools do you use to make those virtual workflows better?

Our tool kit has largely stayed the same: Slack for instant messaging, Zoom for video calls, Jira and Atlassian products for record keeping. The more interesting thing I'd say is the use of them has changed. We put a pretty big emphasis on increasing transparency throughout the organization. We were always a highly transparent organization, but as everyone went home, trying to make sure everyone had the context so that they could make the best decisions for themselves and feel empowered. That's why we went to a weekly all-hands meeting for the company.

We also created a lot of different [Slack] channels. For example, even though it's a virtual-first operation, we still encourage people to get together, but doing so in a way where people don't necessarily feel left out. We have a channel where anytime anyone gets together, they use a channel called “#stay-connected,” where we snap a photo, send it there so everyone knows we met, and we give a little update on what we did.

Demo of a Prezi meeting. Demo of a Prezi meeting.Image: Prezi

How do you level the playing field for remote workers at Prezi?

There are two key things that we're doing to try to make sure we’re not just aware that there could be bias, but have things in place to minimize it. I think one of the first key things is really to make sure there's a high level of participation [in video meetings]. What we really tried to do is to not have cameras off. If you have cameras off, there's no participation. That’s somebody talking at people. I know it sounds so simple, but camera-on was such a key part of reducing bias. We also enable and encourage people to be able to bring content onto the screen.

Another key thing for us is to try to create a sense of place and purpose. Another big problem people have is “I have my camera off because I'm at home, and I don't want people to see my home.” So we allow people to make the virtual workplace feel like virtual work with backgrounds. So as simple as that sounds, creating that sense of place and purpose with a digital workspace and branding, those are the key things that we do internally and that we've productized for our customers.

What does the future of work look like, at Prezi and generally?

The view I have is essentially a more and more globally distributed workforce, tapping talent pools beyond what was originally our four office locations. I think that's going to help all companies. Companies like ours are always in a fight for talent and the more you can be globally distributed, the more you can attract it. And obviously, that also gives you the opportunity to increase diversity. That's the future work for us: as a bigger team, spread out, more diverse, but still connected using our tools and some of our operations.

As we do virtual meetings from different locations, what we've done is we've shifted the place we're working, but I think as we look into the future, we'll also be shifting the time we're working too, through asynchronous work. With more messaging, more recorded videos, I think there's a lot more asynchronous work in our future.

What does the future look like for Prezi Video? Do you expect that to grow?

It's become over about a third of our business at this point, with pretty robust deployment globally. The way we're thinking about the future of the Prezi Video is that it can start actually becoming a guide for how to run meetings. We can have templates for, say, having a brainstorming kind of session. If you're doing a project update meeting, here's how to do a project update meeting. It’ll become more of a visual-templated guide to help organizations do better meetings, track agendas, tasks or action items. I think that's a key part of the future.


This carbon capture startup wants to clean up the worst polluters

The founder and CEO of point-source carbon capture company Carbon Clean discusses what the startup has learned, the future of carbon capture technology, as well as the role of companies like his in battling the climate crisis.

Carbon Clean CEO Aniruddha Sharma told Protocol that fossil fuels are necessary, at least in the near term, to lift the living standards of those who don’t have access to cars and electricity.

Photo: Carbon Clean

Carbon capture and storage has taken on increasing importance as companies with stubborn emissions look for new ways to meet their net zero goals. For hard-to-abate industries like cement and steel production, it’s one of the few options that exist to help them get there.

Yet it’s proven incredibly challenging to scale the technology, which captures carbon pollution at the source. U.K.-based company Carbon Clean is leading the charge to bring down costs. This year, it raised a $150 million series C round, which the startup said is the largest-ever funding round for a point-source carbon capture company.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol covering climate. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

Why companies cut staff after raising millions

Are tech firms blowing millions in funding just weeks after getting it? Experts say it's more complicated than that.

Bolt, Trade Republic, HomeLight, and Stord all drew attention from funding announcements that happened just weeks or days before layoffs.

Photo: Pulp Photography/Getty Images

Fintech startup Bolt was one of the first tech companies to slash jobs, cutting 250 employees, or a third of its staff, in May. For some workers, the pain of layoffs was a shock not only because they were the first, but also because the cuts came just four months after Bolt had announced a $355 million series E funding round and achieved a peak valuation of $11 billion.

“Bolt employees were blind sided because the CEO was saying just weeks ago how everything is fine,” an anonymous user wrote on the message board Blind. “It has been an extremely rough day for 1/3 of Bolt employees,” another user posted. “Sadly, I was one of them who was let go after getting a pay-raise just a couple of weeks ago.”

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.


The fight to define the carbon offset market's future

The world’s largest carbon offset issuer is fighting a voluntary effort to standardize the industry. And the fate of the climate could hang in the balance.

It has become increasingly clear that scaling the credit market will first require clear standards and transparency.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

There’s a major fight brewing over what kind of standards will govern the carbon offset market.

A group of independent experts looking to clean up the market’s checkered record and the biggest carbon credit issuer on the voluntary market is trying to influence efforts to define what counts as a quality credit. The outcome could make or break an industry increasingly central to tech companies meeting their net zero goals.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (


White House AI Bill of Rights lacks specific guidance for AI rules

The document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is long on tech guidance, but short on restrictions for AI.

While the document provides extensive suggestions for how to incorporate AI rights in technical design, it does not include any recommendations for restrictions on the use of controversial forms of AI.

Photo: Ana Lanza/Unsplash

It was a year in the making, but people eagerly anticipating the White House Bill of Rights for AI will have to continue waiting for concrete recommendations for future AI policy or restrictions.

Instead, the document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is legally non-binding and intended to be used as a handbook and a “guide for society” that could someday inform government AI legislation or regulations.

Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights features a list of five guidelines for protecting people in relation to AI use:

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories