The past year brought two major changes to American culture, both of which have significantly changed the way we think about jobs and who does them — remote work and a push for increased diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
While change is never easy to grapple with, it might be possible to achieve both goals at the same time and build a diverse remote workforce for your organization. This article will examine how that could happen and some of the pitfalls to avoid along the way.
2020 showed many companies that employees could work from home just as productively - if not more so - than they did in the office, but that some still crave in-person interaction for meetings and other tasks.
The future appears to be trending toward a hybrid model that will allow for some time at home and some time in the office. This will help to encourage collaboration and camaraderie among team members while also giving individual employees the flexibility and autonomy that comes with working remotely.
Everything from job descriptions to onboarding to retention plans needs to be revamped to accommodate these changes. This also provides an opportunity to review processes and protocols through a DEI lens to ensure that you are being as open and inclusive as possible and not putting up unnecessary roadblocks that disproportionately impact BIPOC candidates.
In some ways, these practices are an extension of impact hiring, which calls for reviewing internal policies that might be acting as barriers for some applicants. The requirement to be in a physical office location could be one of those barriers. This is a great time to take a step back and reflect on whether you really need someone to be in the office to be productive in a given role.
Remote work might also help overcome geographic barriers that previously prevented diverse candidates from seeking out an organization, whether it’s the prospect of a long commute or a move to an area that’s not as culturally diverse. Those things are no longer issues with remote work, but your organization needs to demonstrate that it can foster an equitable and inclusive culture from a distance, which is easier said than done.
While remote work can help break down barriers in DEI hiring, it can also introduce barriers that do not exist in a physical office environment. The past year has shown us that working from home successfully requires reliable high-speed internet access and a place that the employee feels comfortable participating in video meetings.
Remote work also impacts an employee’s sense of work-life balance and can make existing structural barriers even more difficult to overcome without the benefits that come from face-to-face communication. Communication among remote teams tends to be more task-oriented, which can foster a culture of sweeping personal conflicts aside and ignoring things like bias and discrimination.
None of these factors are deal-breakers for advancing DEI goals through remote work, but they should be taken into consideration at every step of the hiring process. The goal is to ensure that candidates and employees have what they need to be successful.
Maybe you could consider adding a stipend for remote work tools to your hiring package or update your benefits to include mental health services. Or maybe you consciously set aside time for remote teams to connect on a personal level and talk through issues with a trained facilitator who can approach them with an eye toward structural racism and unconscious bias.
Trust also plays a tremendous role in both remote work and DEI practices. Without the luxury of in-person accountability, everyone must trust that their team members are doing the work they need to do and speaking up when issues arise. Successful DEI work also depends on the trust that individuals will be respected and treated fairly regardless of their backgrounds, which is also more difficult — but not impossible — to do virtually
Fostering trust among remote teams requires leaders who can give employees agency to complete their work in a way that abides by group norms and demonstrates genuine care for each other’s well-being. This is not an overnight process, but creating conditions where trust can flourish will lead to deeper, more inclusive relationships and better collaboration in the long run, even in a remote environment.
Finding the balance between remote hiring and successful DEI initiatives requires careful planning and attention to detail at every step of the recruiting process. As the world begins to settle into the new normal, now is the perfect time to determine how your organization can reap the benefits of remote work without sacrificing DEI goals to get there.
Use this time to re-examine hiring practices and processes with an eye to barriers that might inhibit remote work and create barriers for diverse candidates. Take steps to address these issues, and don’t be afraid to seek help along the way as needed or admit where you might have blind spots.
Your organization can’t control COVID-19 or political conversations about racial justice. But you can make sure that you are doing everything you can to support your employees no matter where they come from or where they might find themselves working.
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