Human resource professionals and hiring managers recognize that an inclusive and equitable workplace is an all-around win. The reason is simple: the more diverse its workforce, the more innovative—and profitable—a company can be. Staying competitive in a given industry and responsive to customer needs is top of mind for company leaders. Remote work has the potential to be a powerful tool for any organization seeking to leverage the power of diversity.
Remote work is, by nature, location independent. It facilitates a perfect match between employers and prospective employees who might not otherwise connect. Hiring managers are no longer restricted to sourcing employees from a limited selection of local talent. And job seekers can search for the best fit rather than only the most conveniently located opportunity.
The much deeper and more diverse talent pool afforded by remote work also includes people for whom traditional office-bound roles are untenable. Health, family, or other life issues may prevent otherwise ideal candidates from commuting to an office or working within standard business hours. Remote work roles can incorporate flexible scheduling. As a result, employees can work at times of day best suited their needs, as long as milestones are reached and deadlines are met.
Freed from the chains of geography and the clock, companies can build teams as diverse as their customer base. They can better serve their existing markets, and use their newfound agility to more easily establish themselves in new ones. It’s a win-win scenario.
So why aren’t more companies incorporating remote work programs in their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts?
Not so fast
Literally. Remote work is dependent upon high-speed internet. Unfortunately, the availability and reliability of broadband connections simply haven’t kept pace with demand. This is especially true in rural areas. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, up to 25 percent of rural Americans have difficulty accessing reliable high-speed internet and identify this as “a major problem.”
The digital divide will persist as long as substantial segments of America—and the world—lack the necessary infrastructure. And viable solutions must originate from a variety of sources. Governments can enact change through carefully crafted policy. The Federal Communication Commissions’ (FCC) Connect America Fund is just one example. This national initiative is designed to close the gap between rural and urban Americans by speeding up rollouts of both wired and wireless networks.
On the local level, intrepid individuals are stepping in with novel solutions. For example, Galen Manners of Parsons, Kansas built his own broadband network to support a remote work opportunity for himself. And what started as an effort to save himself from a work-related relocation created possibilities for others. Manners’ experience inspired him to start a company that provides reliable high-speed internet access to his community, which coincidentally includes the parents of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
The work of Manners and like-minded professionals is helping to bring digital equity to rural and other underserved communities. But there’s clearly more to be done if high-speed internet—and remote work—are to take their rightful place as necessities rather than luxuries.
Recruiting done right
Remote work’s potential to produce positive diversity outcomes is further hampered by hiring practices that haven’t kept pace with the digital economy. Biases are still present throughout the recruitment process. For example, a candidate’s accent can still play a disproportionate role in whether they advance from screening to an interview. This unfortunate scenario may play out even in cases when a position doesn’t require native-level proficiency in English and the job seeker is otherwise perfectly qualified.
Hiring practices are also weakened by employers relying on employee referrals as their primary source for hiring—a sourcing method carrying the risk of familiarity bias. Consciously or not, employees may prefer candidates who are similar to them; often too similar to allow companies to achieve diversity goals.
Countering these biases requires forward-thinking. Companies can start by being both intentional and transparent with their diversity objectives when designing their hiring practices. And when sourcing candidates, human resource professionals must use employee referrals sensibly to keep their hiring process remains as unbiased and inclusive as possible.
Care should be taken during screening to ensure a candidate’s vetting focuses on what they can do, not who they are. Companies hiring for remote roles should consider using a skills test or one-off paid assignment to evaluate a prospective employee’s abilities. Ideally, this will happen before a face-to-face interview to lessen the possibility that bias will impact the consideration of a candidate. During the interview process itself, companies leading the way in DE&I hiring recommend utilizing a standardized set of questions for every candidate. This creates a comparable set of answers.
Above all else, companies seeking to enhance their diversity efforts should remember one of the core tenets of remote work: an emphasis on results rather than appearances.
Getting in the door
There’s a catch-22 with remote work: you’re far less likely to land a remote job if you don’t already have remote experience. It’s a situation that presents a barrier to diversity, as it can exclude otherwise qualified individuals who’ve been out of the workforce for a protracted period due to health issues, family responsibilities, and other factors. It also marginalizes those without education opportunities exposing them to computer-based work, such as students in underserved inner cities and rural areas.
Fortunately, a number of companies and organizations stepping in to proliferate and popularize remote work. One example: Utah’s Rural Online Initiative, a program that assists residents who have dropped out of the state’s workforce to obtain freelance jobs and other remote employment opportunities. On the international level, Pointer Remote Roles is connecting companies with top remote talent from across Australia. There are also programs geared toward providing remote work opportunities to U.S. Armed Forces veterans as they reintegrate into civilian life.
Certification is another key strategy to break through remote work’s catch-22. A program that incorporates results-based assessments like the Workplaceless® Remote Work Certification enables job seekers to demonstrate that they have the commitment and skill set to succeed in a remote role. For employers, it provides a valuable “pre-screening” so they can focus their candidate evaluation on specific position qualifications rather than an ability to work remotely.
Remote work has the potential to boost the effectiveness of diversity initiatives. By opening the door for employers and job seekers worldwide to find a perfect match, it creates a deeper, more inclusive talent pool. Most importantly, remote work empowers companies to assemble diverse, agile teams who can easily adapt to their customers’ needs. While there are barriers to overcome before the diversity benefits of remote work can be fully realized, the win-win at the end of the road is clearly worth the journey.
Continuing DE&I conversations
As we continue the conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion as it relates to remote work, we’d love to include experienced research and advice. We invite everyone to register join us at our upcoming Networkplaceless events. In particular, if you are a DE&I advocate or work for an organization that has made strides in this area specific to remote work, we’d love to feature your expertise. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julian Stewart contributed to this post.