In recent years, following the move to fully remote work for some organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations are trying to return to having their employees in the office. For most, this looks like a hybrid work schedule with 2-3 in the office but others are pushing to have their employees at their desks five days a week.
Employees are often asking “Why?” in response to these calls to return to office, given that they did their jobs successfully from home for the entirety of the pandemic. Leadership often responds with the claim that workers are more productive when they’re in the office. Recent research, however, shows that this might not be the case.
When we talk about remote work and the return to office movement, there is an important conversation to be had around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Is remote work more equitable and inclusive? How can organizations improve DEI by maintaining remote work policies?
How can remote work improve DEI outcomes?
Improving the DEI outcomes of an organization can take many forms. Regardless of context, taking action on DEI should be rooted in data and supported by the needs of your organization and its employees. There are, however, several examples of how maintaining remote work can improve DEI:
Increased flexibility for those with caregiving responsibilities. Individuals who are responsible for the care of others, including child care and elder care, are likely to have increased opportunities to do so when they are able to work from home. Being able to customize work schedules around a child’s school day or a doctor’s appointment relieves some of the burden for those who are tasked with these responsibilities.
Improved accessibility for those with disabilities. The ability to work from home can allow those with disabilities to have a fully accessible working environment. While in-person offices should be completely accessible, there may be situations when one’s home environment is best suited for their specific needs and the ability to work from that environment is the most equitable and inclusive option for those individuals.
Better opportunities for geographic diversity and global collaboration. When organizations are not restricted to one specific geographic area for their employees, they are able to recruit and select from a global and diverse workforce. This increased diversity can increase creativity and productivity.
These are just some examples of the ways remote work can set up those who are traditionally marginalized to have equity and inclusion in their work lives. But are there ways remote work can harm those who are minoritized?
Can remote work harm DEI outcomes?
As with any organizational initiative, a commitment to remote work can be unsuccessful when resources are not appropriately dedicated. For example, if an organization decides that their workforce can work from home, they must also ensure that there is equitable access to the resources that ensure seamless success for remote work. This may include an Internet stipend for employees to have access to fast and reliable access to the Internet, or a technology allowance to ensure everyone has equitable access to the tools they need.
While there are many ways remote work removes barriers for those who traditionally face them at a disproportionate level, organizations must be thoughtful about how they approach their remote work policies to be sure they are equitable and inclusive.
Why is DEI an important consideration in the return to office movement?
As organizations make their decisions now and move forward about what their office and work-from-home policies will be, DEI should not be an afterthought. Considerations for accessibility, caregiving responsibilities, and diversity of current and future employees are just some examples of how DEI should be integrated into conversations around these policies.
The best way to ensure productivity is to ensure an engaged workforce. A dedication to DEI leads to engagement, resulting in the positive outcomes organizations are always looking for. Before you request that your employees come in every day, pause and consider how the same outcomes could be achieved by looking through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Looking to cultivate and grow DEI in your organization? Contact Mattingly Solutions today to learn how we can partner to advance your DEI goals. Together.