The rise of remote working has had huge benefits for both employees and businesses, including reduced costs, more streamlined working and higher levels of engagement and employee wellbeing. One of the less recognised benefits is the opportunity for businesses to diversify their workforces.
McKinsey & Company, the global management consulting firm, found that black employees were 14% more likely to leave a job if remote work was not available than their white counterparts. LGBTQ+ employees, meanwhile, were 24% more likely to leave than their heterosexuals peers. It’s clear that remote work is key to hiring and retaining underrepresented groups. In this blog we’ll explore why this is the case, and what your company can do to better cater for diversity and inclusion in your remote workforce.
In this article
How does remote work improve diversity and inclusion?
Remote work is here to stay in one form or another, and employers are recognising that this means much more than a relaxed dress code and video calls. Diversity and inclusion are essential to the long-term health of an organisation, and there are many ways that remote working is improving this opportunity:
Gone are the days when we had to commute to the office every day. The rise of remote working, where people work completely outside the physical workplace, and hybrid working, where they split their time between the workplace and a remote location, has opened up huge opportunities to employ from further afield.
But remote work doesn’t only benefit existing employees. It also allows businesses to employ from a much wider talent pool. They can extend recruitment to overseas candidates, including expats, as well as those with childcare commitments and other family responsibilities, and those with disabilities who may be unable to work on-site.
A truly diverse workforce includes employees from a wide variety of backgrounds. A remote and/or flexible working model can allow greater discretion in the observance of religious and cultural beliefs, for example, religious holidays and time for prayer.
3/ Gender equality
Remote and hybrid working can help bridge the gender pay gap. A 2022 study discovered that 80% of women ranked being able to work remotely as one of their top benefits, while the same was true for only 69% of men.
Being able to work flexible hours, or in or near the home, will go a long way to encouraging women to continue their careers while raising their families.
Remote work can allow far greater diversity in terms of employees with disabilities who would find being physically present in the office difficult or impossible.
In a survey of 406 disabled workers across the UK, over 80% agreed that remote working would be either essential or very important to future employment, with 66% saying they want to work remotely 80-100% of the time.
Reducing or eliminating the cost of commuting is an obvious boon for employees. It also means s smaller carbon footprint for those who travel to work by car, less traffic and less strain on public transport.
Employers can also make savings by reducing office space and therefore saving on rent and maintenance.
Why inclusion and diversity in the remote workforce matters for your business
1/ Increased productivity
There is significant evidence to suggest that diversity increases profits. For example, when McKinsey looked at diversity in executive teams, it found that companies in the top 25% for diversity were 15% more likely to make above-average profits.
These findings are echoed by research from the Boston Consulting Group, which showed that in developed and developing economies, companies with more diverse teams reported increased revenue from innovation.
Job candidates are increasingly looking for flexibility in terms of workplace and hours. However, they are also demanding employers demonstrate values and ethics closer to their own – including on issues such as sustainability and diversity.
Figures suggest that as many as 70% of job seekers value a company’s commitment to diversity when looking for a new employer, and it’s clear that these issues are no longer seen as a nice-to-have by potential employees, but as a prerequisite for taking a job.
3/ The customer
Diversity isn’t just a matter for internal departments. It’s also an issue for businesses in terms of advertising, marketing, brand identity, sales and even recruitment. A McKinsey report showed that more that 75% of ‘generation Z’ consumers – those born since the end of the 1990s – will vote for diversity and inclusion with their spending money, and will deliberately avoid companies who do not align with their values.
A 2019 survey by Adobe in the US found that 62% of adults believed that diversity in a brand’s advertising had some impact on their perception of the company, and its producers, and more than 60% said it was important, or very important. Additionally, 38% claimed they’d be more likely to trust a brand that demonstrated diversity in its marketing.
Challenges in ensuring diversity in the remote workforce
Any significant change in the way businesses operate will inevitably raise challenges. Here are a few challenges you might face when introducing more diversity to your workforce:
It can be difficult to strike a balance between monitoring performance across remote team members and being over-vigilant, leaving employees feeling overly scrutinised and lacking in autonomy.
2/ Conflict/resentment between remote and on-site teams
Not everyone can work remotely. Many essential roles, such as nursing and construction, can only be performed in-person. When managers can adopt remote or hybrid working, and frontline workers cannot, it can lead to resentment.
Remote workers can become isolated, leading to feelings of loneliness or exclusion, especially if business don’t make an effort to promote connections in virtual spaces.
4/ Siloed workers
Divisions can form between hybrid, remote and on-site workers, and can impact team performance and productivity.
5/ Unconscious bias
People aren’t always aware that they’re being racist or sexist. Where there is little or no physical or face-to-face engagement, it’s important to stay aware of the tone, style and language being used every day.
How can you promote diversity and inclusion virtually?
Diversity in the workplace cannot add value without making sure that everyone has the chance to make their voice heard. It’s essential to ensure that diverse influences, cultures and working needs are taken into account to create a truly inclusive workforce. Inclusivity should run through everything, from recruitment to working practices to brand strategy, marketing and advertising.
12 ways to promote inclusion and diversity in the remote workforce
- Make diversity and inclusion a formal policy – and outline how inclusive practices will be integrated into remote and hybrid working. Make the policy accessible to everyone.
- Set up a remote diversity and inclusion committee – to address needs, create and value conversations, and challenge the status quo. Be prepared to act on recommendations.
- Help everyone feel seen – ensure your teams, committees, steering groups, and project development groups are all equally representative.
- Hear and encourage all voices – create opportunities, on and off-line, for everyone to raise issues, make suggestions and request support or change.
- Create an open community – work to create a work environment in which everyone feels able to contribute without fear of bias or judgement.
- Meet your employee’s needs – make sure work policies represent what your employees really need/want, and recognise that not all your employees will benefit from the same blanket policy.
- Promote a positive remote-first culture – ensure that remote employees are considered in company decisions and have access to information, updates and opportunities to contribute at every stage.
- Nurture a culture of belonging – encourage every member of the team to feel valued at work, celebrating progress and success, and noting individual contributions regardless of location.
- Make space for non-work conversations – create flexible opportunities for social and informal interaction, open discussions and sharing diverse experiences and views.
- Cultivate empathetic leadership – consider issues of diversity when monitoring wellbeing, performance, and productivity. Allow flexibility in working policies for religious holidays and personal circumstances.
- Make diversity and inclusion part of recruitment – be on the lookout for unconscious bias, and educate recruiters to be objective when hiring.
- Set up online skills training – ensure everyone has equal access to upskilling and top-up training. Publish opportunities, targets and goals equally across the whole workforce.
Discover more tips and advice on how to build a positive remote working culture virtually on our dedicated blog.
FAQs on remote workforce
What is a diverse workforce?
A diverse workforce is a collective mixture of employees’ differences and similarities, including: individual characteristics, values, beliefs, experiences, backgrounds, preferences and behaviors.
What is inclusion and diversity in the remote workforce?
A diverse and inclusive workforce is one where everyone, regardless of who they are or what position they hold in the business, feels equally involved and valued across all areas, with the same opportunities and support available to them.
What is remote working?
Remote working implies that an employee has a fully-remote contract. In other words, there is no obligation for them to attend a usual place of work, e.g. on office, except in some exceptional circumstances such as for a meeting or event.
What is working from home?
Working from home is a colloquial term that means roughly the same as remote working. The implied difference, of course, is that ‘remote’ working means an employee has the ability to work from locations that are not their home address – and this may even include other countries.
What is flexible working?
Flexible working suggests that the employee works both remotely and in a physical location. Flexible workers can choose to work from home some days of the week, but are often expected to attend their office a certain number of days in a given week or month.
What is hybrid working?
Hybrid work is a flexible approach that allows employees to split their time between working in the office and working from home or another workspace.
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