A Remote Workplace Can Help You Build a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce
With more than half of all adults in the U.S. now fully vaccinated, many companies are eager to transition their employees back to in-person work.
My advice to my clients? Not so fast.
A remote workplace can be your competitive advantage, equipping you to recruit the most qualified talent. A remote workplace can also be a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
My commitment to the value of a remote workplace is not new. When I founded my company in 1991, I was one of the first leaders of a fully remote workforce in the country. I’ve seen how this approach has enabled me to recruit the best and the brightest minds, attracting highly skilled individuals who bring tremendous drive and dedication but need a flexible working environment.
When clients ask me for specific strategies they can implement to expand the pool of talent they are reaching, and to ensure that their recruiting policies support their goals to build a more inclusive and representative workforce, I recommend that they begin by reconsidering their location bias.
While there are clearly certain types of work that require in-person staffing, one lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is precisely how effectively many roles can be filled by individuals working from remote locations. With a more flexible and responsive infrastructure now in place in many companies and organizations, it’s a welcome opportunity to reimagine how and where key tasks must be performed.
This is especially vital for companies located in areas where the cost of living is high. If you look at the most expensive cities in the U.S. [https://worldpopulationreview.com/us-city-rankings/most-expensive-cities-in-the-us], you’ll find many metropolitan areas that are hubs for finance, tech, medical research, and communications. Too many talented workers are priced out of opportunities in New York, Los Angeles, or San Diego because they cannot find affordable housing or are unwilling to take on a 90+-minute commute.
For companies located in less expensive zip codes, it is still critical to recognize and respond to location bias. Your goal should always be to identify talent with the skills and knowledge you need. Providing a remote workplace ensures that you will be able to recruit employees with specific expertise from anywhere in the country—or anywhere in the world. You’ll have access to researchers at every top university, skilled professionals who are based in urban centers or rural regions. If your customer base includes a diverse population, it’s vital that you have access to knowledge and expertise that reflects that diversity.
Employees who are in diverse locations and employees who come from diverse backgrounds bring a rich and nuanced perspective that can have a significant impact on an organization’s practices. The competitive advantage from this thought diversity will be felt at the team level, in human resources, and in management.
The Women in the Workplace 2020 study [https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-workplace] reveals why employers must rethink many of the paradigms about remote working: more than one in four women are contemplating what many would have considered unthinkable a year earlier: downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely. The COVID pandemic underscored the challenge most working women confront: balancing the demands of professional responsibilities while caring for children or family members.
Companies must recognize and respond to this potential exodus. Research shows that companies with more than 30% women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30, and in turn, these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives or none at all [https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-workplace]. More flexible work hours, and fewer hours spent commuting to and from workplaces, will ease some of this pressure and allow highly qualified women to continue to contribute.
It’s important to acknowledge that a remote workplace also creates opportunities for talent with physical and/or mental health disabilities. The CDC reports [https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/infographic-disability-impacts-all.html] that 61 million adults in the U.S. (26%) have some form of disability. For this large group, an extensive commute can pose daunting challenges; a noisy workplace can be severely overstimulating or create needless barriers to effective job performance. A remote work environment can foster opportunities to eliminate these barriers.
The bottom line
Since so many of the conversations about effective workforces pivot to profitability, let me share some other important data. A recent McKinsey & Company study [https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity] highlights the link between diversity and company financial outperformance. The most diverse companies are more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers in profitability.
That means that companies need to re-think the strategies they are using to recruit and hire top talent. Do you really want to limit your talent pool to the individuals and experts who can travel into an office each day, those who are living—or willing and able to relocate—within commuting distance?
While I speak as a recruiter, working with clients to attract diverse and skilled talent, I also recognize the value existing employees place on remote working. The old arguments around productivity have been largely disproved during the pandemic, and many valuable contributors who demonstrated this are now reluctant to return to in-person work. In fact, data shows that more than half of workers expressed an intent to look for a new job if they aren’t allowed to continue working remotely in their current position [https://hrexecutive.com/requiring-employees-to-return-to-the-office-get-ready-for-them-to-quit/].
In the rush to return to “business as usual,” I encourage my clients to pause and consider two key questions: What steps can you take today that will equip you to ensure that you are talking to the people who will add value to your organization, support your mission, and help achieve your goals? How are you cultivating a workplace that is inclusive, and a workforce strengthened by ethnic and gender diversity?
If your goal is to recruit and retain the most qualified talent, those with the skills and expertise to generate a competitive advantage, a remote workplace may be your key strategic asset.