Remote work has taken the business world by storm, and many organizations gained unexpected benefits since implementing remote work strategies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote work has also produced benefits for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). As your organization contemplates the future of the remote work option for its workforce, consider the following points about how remote work promotes DEI.
Remote work allows businesses to hire a more diverse workforce. You are no longer limited by your local demographic and can widen your talent pool by tapping into workforces beyond a limited geographic range. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are predominantly located in the southeast corner of the country. Nonetheless, even California-based companies can partner with and source from HBCUs if they opt for a remote work environment.
Remote work can help marginalized groups feel a greater sense of safety. While some believe that limitations to having casual workplace conversations pose challenges for employees to build relationships, I believe that the pressure on employees from marginalized groups to code-switch to survive in the office environment is a burden many are happy to unload. Further, fewer office run-ins with strangers mean fewer judgments or even well-intentioned comments regarding appearance or otherwise, that constitute microaggression. This, in turn, gives employees from marginalized backgrounds greater control over their surroundings and less pressure to present themselves in a certain way. Virtual interactions are often more focused and intentional and, as such, present an opportunity for increasing productivity and highlighting skillsets that might otherwise be overshadowed by office social dynamics.
Remote work removes the barriers of commute and inaccessible workplaces for people with physical disabilities. No one misses hour-long commutes to work, which can be even more taxing for people with disabilities (PWD). For PWDs, there’s the added benefit of not worrying about accessibility issues at the office. Many PWDs struggle with traveling between home and office and navigating an office setting. If they have the remote work option and their home office has been adapted to their needs, they are better placed to contribute meaningfully to their team.
Remote work’s flexibility is good for those with caregiving responsibilities. A recent survey found that 49% of parents listed childcare responsibilities as their top concern for returning to a physical office. Organizing care for other family members, particularly the elderly or those with special needs, can be costly and cause much strain and stress in the current times of heightened public health concerns. In addition, given that women are still seen as the primary caregivers for families, remote work can help retain more women in the workforce as it will allow them to also better manage their family care responsibilities.
What You Can Do
These DEI benefits will come naturally with a remote work environment. To increase the impact of these benefits and address any unintended challenges that remote work poses to employees from marginalized backgrounds, you can take the following steps to intentionally create a remote environment that benefits each employee.
Ensure the tools you use do not pose accessibility challenges for your workforce. Be sure to use productivity and collaboration tools that have adequate accessibility features. Video conference applications should include automatic captioning so that lip-reading is not required to keep up. If your website is not accessible, now is the time to make it fully accessible.
Train managers to reduce bias towards familiar team members. In a remote work environment, managers may fall back on familiar teammates for project and meeting participation, causing isolation among employees from marginalized communities. They need to ensure that all teammates are duly included.
Ensure employees have what they need. Employees may have varying levels of resources at home. For instance, some may struggle with unreliable Wi-Fi connections and/or may lack access to high-quality screens or software essentials. Employers should provide necessary tools for their employees to effectively and successfully do their job.
Revamp policies concerning discrimination and bullying to include virtual platforms. Although remote work can help many groups feel an improved sense of safety, NPR reported an increase in reports of hostility toward marginalized communities in remote work environments. An increase in reported incidents of race-based and gender-based hostility in online environments indicates there are gaps in policies and/or processes devised by employers to ensure that employees feel secure.
Remote work can be a powerful tool to bring your organization closer to your DEI goals. As you undertake these additional steps to be intentional about creating a remote environment that includes each employee, the impact of the DEI benefits for your organization increases.