Leveraging Remote Work to Create a More Diverse Workforce

Haitham al Mhana

by Haitham al Mhana

5 min read
Leveraging Remote Work to Create a More Diverse Workforce
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Remote work done right makes employment more accessible to more people. Companies with effective policies and flexible attitudes toward staffing can take advantage of the larger talent pool and the more diverse labor force that remote work has created.

However, some barriers to diversity still exist. By addressing and overcoming them, you can enrich your organization’s culture.

Opportunities for Expanding Diversity

Many employees who previously struggled to find sustainable employment are benefiting greatly from digitalization. Workers with disabilities, for instance, can map out a daily schedule that accommodates their health-related needs. Similarly, parents who had trouble finding childcare during the pandemic used remote work to help fill that gap. Remote work has also boosted job accessibility for the many people who don’t have an adequate means of transportation. As the Zebra points out, this is especially true for Hispanic and African American workers. Although only 4.6 percent of Caucasian households don’t own a car, 13.7 percent of Hispanic families and 19 percent of African American families, respectively, have to get by without one.

Barriers to Expanding Diversity

Despite the newly expanded remote workforce, obstacles to diversifying the workplace remain. In fact, the prevalence of the current online environment can sometimes actually raise, rather than lower, barriers to inclusion.

Consider:

  • According to CNBC, Hispanic families have 80 percent more people living in their home than Caucasian households do, which makes managing distractions while working remotely a much bigger challenge for the former.
  • In Caucasian households, 82 percent have a desktop or laptop and 79 percent have quality internet. Meanwhile, less than 60 percent of Hispanic and African American households own a laptop or desktop, and 61 percent and 66 percent, respectively, have Wi-Fi, according to the same CNBC report.
  • Pew Research points out that, as of October 2020, more than half of the highest-earning Americans reported that they’re able to telework. However, fewer than 25 percent of the lowest earners believed they could do their job from home.

Resolving Diversity and Inclusion Issues

As you strive to increase and support remote worker diversity, you must first address these issues. Ensure that new hires are onboarded thoroughly and effectively and that they have the right tech setup. Assign each new recruit an onboarding buddy from within your organization who will regularly check in with and assist the new team member in navigating the challenges of remote work.

Once that’s in place, your focus should be on creating and maintaining an organizational culture that promotes inclusion. You don’t just want to attract diverse workers; once you hire them, you want them to stay. How?

Build an Inclusive Culture

According to McKinsey & Company, nearly 40 percent of job applicants have rejected an offer because they believed the employer didn’t have an inclusive workplace. Moreover, 51 percent of employees have reported quitting a job because they “didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work.”

But there are ways to establish an inclusive environment that both recruits and retains diverse workers:

  • Set up group meetings, games, or other social “events” that allow employees from all backgrounds to become comfortable with one another and to share common interests.
  • Before a meeting, send out an agenda so that participants can prepare to talk about their concerns ahead of time.
  • Schedule shorter meetings with more frequent breaks so that employees can check on their families or handle other personal needs.
  • Make sure everyone has the chance to speak during meetings. When someone raises an important point or suggestion, give them credit; then redirect the conversation to the employee who was interrupted.

Promote Connection

Making personal, one-on-one connections in a remote work environment can be challenging, but it’s essential to an inclusive and welcoming workplace. Since you can’t casually walk by desks to check in with your team members, devise other ways to connect. Hold a video coffee chat, for example (no work allowed!), or make a point of sending texts to individual employees, not to manage them but simply to ask how their day is going.

These suggestions will help you stay on theme with “How are you?” rather than “What are you working on?” during these connection activities:

  • Share some of your own challenges while working from home. Don’t approach this from the perspective of being “the boss.” Instead, think about the problems you’ve had to deal with on a personal level, like your neighbor’s loud lawn mower outside your office window, or the dog that seems to bark only when you’re on a call. Not only will this approach help your employees relate to you, but they’ll be more open to sharing their own problems.
  • Don’t make assumptions about what seems like less attention during Zoom meetings or fewer hours logged by some employees. Instead, with genuine curiosity, ask employees about the main distractions or issues that are interfering with their progress in the remote workplace.
  • Consider culturally based differences in communication styles and skills. Different isn’t wrong; in fact, it can add new layers and open up new paths to discourse during efforts to connect.
  • Make a list with each worker of their goals and desires, then follow up with them biweekly or monthly on the progress they’re making.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends working with employee resource groups (ERGs) to help you better understand how new and current employees from certain demographics are coping with working from home. ERGs can sometimes even identify upcoming challenges your employees are likely to struggle with and can thereby make it easier for you to prepare for them. If your organization doesn’t yet host ERGs (sometimes also called affinity groups), consider collaborating with employees to develop them.

Recognize Individuality Within the Group

When you stay in touch with your employees, you won’t be able to avoid becoming more aware of their needs. It’s easy and convenient just to bundle everyone into one big remote worker “bag,” but your teleworkers are individuals with specific needs that are both categorical (for instance, working parents) and singular (such as a working parent who has three children under the age of 5, one with a cold).

The point here is that as you really get to know your employees—and as you hire more employees with diverse backgrounds—you need to constantly be aware of how remote work impacts them, both demographically and individually.

For example, think about your meeting formats and schedules. How might they impact parents? Single parents? Parents who live in a multigenerational household? Workers who are caretakers for another member of the household?

Another example: employee age. Are you considering ways to make remote work more feasible for people in their 40s or 50s? For millennials? Think about things like familiarity with technology, schedule preferences that do or do not conform to the traditional 9-to-5 workday, and creative ways to promote and reward excellence.

Moving Forward with Diversity and Inclusion

By addressing the unique needs of specific groups and individuals, you can create a truly diverse and inclusive organizational culture. Above all, your company will enjoy all the benefits that come with remote work and, at the same time, minimize any potential hurdles to expanding inclusiveness.

In short, a vertical diversity strategy should include two steps. First, focus on attracting and bringing in new workers from diverse demographics. Second, make sure your company is inclusive so that you can retain these diverse employees. It goes without saying that everyone should work together on implementing these steps, ranging from individual employees to entire teams and departments. After all, that’s what inclusiveness is all about!

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