Can Remote Workforces Improve Diversity and Inclusion?

Talent Acquisition

Remote work is being praised for a variety of reasons ranging from its flexibility to increased productivity. But something that is also being noticed is the role remote work plays in leveling the playing field for all employees.

The remote environment strips away certain factors that can sometimes cloud the judgement of individuals within an organization. For example, communication methods change, giving introverts a new medium to express themselves in ways they normally wouldn’t if it involved speaking in front of a group of people.

With this in mind, many organizations that have been making the shift toward remote work are beginning to ask themselves an important question. Can remote work improve diversity and inclusion?

Seeing the Connection

Despite its ability to open up the talent acquisition process to a global pool of candidates, the correlation between remote workforces and diversity hasn’t always been clear to HR leaders. In a time where remote work isn’t so much an option or a benefit, it’s becoming easier to see that connection than ever before.

READ: Diversity and Inclusion: HR’s Guide to a Successful Strategy

Ways in which remote work promotes diversity and inclusion include:

  • Issues of race, gender and sexual orientation

Every employer would like to think they have a highly enlightened workforce where discrimination is not an issue, but the fact is, organizations are made up of human beings with biases that are both conscious and unconscious. In a remote environment, however, these biases come to the fore less as what matters most is productivity and effectiveness. Personalities spend less time clashing and more time coming to understand each other’s value through the work.

  • Access based on location

Ask the average person if they miss their commute. With millions of Americans commuting more than an hour each way to work pre-crisis, more often than not the answer to that question is no. For companies, the talent pool is typically limited to those who live within a reasonable commute distance of the metropolitan areas that attractive employers call home, completely eliminating the value that employees who live in rural areas and foreign countries can offer due to their inability to commute. Remote workforces solve both issues, making it possible to broaden the base from which the company can pull candidates from and save everyone a whole lot of time in traffic in the process.

  • Salary questions

If you’ve worked long enough, you’ve likely encountered an organization where people know what each other’s salaries are. This can be problematic as questions are raised over how employees are valued. Levels of income relative to geography is part of the issue, as co-located employees understand how much their colleagues make more clearly and sometimes don’t see each other as being on level footing. In the case of remote workers, the context of how far someone’s money stretches in a given area is lacking. Someone in Florida likely doesn’t understand the value of someone in Taiwan’s salary, alleviating some of the tension of knowing who the highest earners are. At the same time, you can assure employees there’s a level the playing field through being transparent about the way compensation is calculated, factoring in national averages, cost of living and tenure into the equation to eliminate levels of subjectivity.

  • Freeing workers from the schedule

In the case of remote teams, the difference in time zones can be both a challenge and a blessing. While getting an immediate answer to a question or feeling connected to employees in different time zones isn’t always easy, those obstacles can be overcome. Meanwhile, the adoption of asynchronous workflows and communication allows everyone on the team to fit work into their life where it makes the most sense. For some they will work at night in the U.S., and as a result connect with colleagues in Asia they may have otherwise spoken to very little.

READ: Diversity Inc. Rankings Highlight D&I Power Players

How to Support Diversity through Remote Work

There are a variety of methods for using remote work to support diversity in the workplace. Here are some to keep in mind.

Open Up Communication Channels

Communication is vital in any work environment, but in the world of remote work, it’s interesting to see how chat communications can change our perceptions of one another. In a text driven platform, for example, employees in foreign countries where English is a second language are more comfortable expressing themselves without fear of their accent getting in the way. Introverts communicate in ways they normally wouldn’t and extroverts find new ways to express themselves that may be more effective in some cases.

The World is at Your Doorstep

Once you have the tools in place, there is no sense limiting the talent pool you have to choose from. Employees from different countries bring different perspectives, different experiences and enrich the cultural norms of your organization, making it better prepared to do business across cultural lines. There was no shortage of candidates looking for remote work before COVID-19, with search terms including the word remote seeing an increase of 32% year over year according to Indeed. Now, that number is likely to sky rocket as millions are out of work and the interest in remote work has skyrocketed. Simply putting the word remote in a job posting will attract candidates from places you previously would not have gotten interest from.

Focus on the Work

In a remote setting, you are less likely to get tied up in someone’s personal business or see them goofing off with colleagues. Instead, their work becomes the primary focus and way of assessing whether or not they’re a good fit culturally. In office settings, we sometimes confuse regular meetings and desk visits as work getting done, but in reality it’s what you might call “shallow work.” Remote workers reputation rests on the quality of their work rather how often they connect with you or who they connect with. This sort of meritocratic approach levels the playing field in the sense that it eliminates any notions of popularity and simply comes down to how effective the person is. The same can be said for the remote hiring process, where the person’s previous work takes center stage as opposed to the visual cues of a traditional interview.

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