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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Distributed Diversity: The Relationship Between Remote & Hybrid Work and DE&I

“Remote work has revolutionized the landscape of diversity and inclusion, particularly for people with disabilities,” says Recruitment Consultant Serena Milani to start our conversation about distributed diversity. “Remote work promotes independence, enabling employees to customize their workspace and access assistive technologies that the workplace may not be able to provide. Furthermore, it reduces the potential for bias or discrimination based on physical appearance or mobility.”

By embracing remote work, Serena says, organizations can not only improve their diversity but also “tap into a vast pool of diverse talent, creating a more inclusive and equitable work culture for all.”

The data shows that disabled professionals aren’t the only ones who seek and benefit from remote and hybrid models. According to surveys from McKinsey, 61% of female professionals want to work mostly remotely, while Black and LGBTQ+ employees are more likely to quit if not offered hybrid or remote options.

For companies looking to increase the diversity of their team and create an inclusive work environment, remote work can be an effective way to do so. Let’s take a closer look at how remote and hybrid models support DE&I initiatives and how to implement them effectively in any organization.

DE&I benefits of remote and hybrid models

Among the most consistent benefits of a hybrid workplace is that it shows employees you recognize them as individuals with unique needs. As recruitment Director Amanda Graham says, “Some individuals may need to come into the office every day to have a quiet place to get their work done, while others might require more flexibility due to their personal situations.”

One group in particular that is likely to have these unique needs: working parents. As Recruitment Specialist Jessica Alcock says, “The work-life balance that remote work provides gives working parents the ability to balance their professional responsibilities while managing their children’s needs.”

Jessica also notes another advantage of remote work models across demographics: it changes how employee performance is evaluated. “Remote and hybrid work can reduce bias in performance evaluations since it encourages looking at deliverables and productivity levels versus subjective impressions.”

Another major benefit of remote work for companies is that it can help them overcome staffing shortages by giving them access to a broader talent pool. It removes geographic limitations on where you can source talent, for one thing, along with making the workplace more inviting for underrepresented groups and helping to increase their representation in your workplace.

According to Recruitment Consultant Braeden Demchuk, “Many candidates today place a high priority on flexibility and autonomy. Ultimately, offering a hybrid or remote model can, at times, be a deciding factor in providing the perfect candidate with the confidence and flexibility to participate in your organization. Members of the Black and LGBTQ+ communities often face discrimination or feel a lack of inclusion. Remote and hybrid models can offer these communities the confidence to feel comfortable and safe.”

Melissa Krakana, a Recruitment Consultant in Summit’s Ottawa office, points out that this can also help organizations attract talent from different generations. “Gen Z and Millennial workers are really seeing the benefits of a hybrid or remote environment,” she says. “They are noticing that these types of working arrangements add value to their work-life balance, and that it saves both time and cost when it comes to their weekly commute.” In short, whatever type of diversity you’re working to build, workplace flexibility can move the needle in the right direction.

The challenges of building a remote culture

While remote options are consistently desirable for professionals from underrepresented groups, creating an inclusive culture within these frameworks can be a challenge for companies. The physical proximity and face-to-face interactions that occur naturally in traditional office settings are absent in remote work models, and that can be an impediment to building an inclusive work environment.

As Recruitment Consultant Melanie McQueen points out, “Building employee culture includes shared values, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging, and that can be more challenging to foster when team members are geographically dispersed. Developing a strong company culture in a remote or hybrid setting requires deliberate effort and innovative strategies.”

It’s also important to remember that not all employees have equal access to resources in their home. Jessica Alcock notes, “Not all people have access to the internet, or even have a separate workspace, in their home.”

Companies need to be mindful of each employee’s circumstances and provide accommodations that ensure the entire team can access the same resources. But it isn’t just access to technology that some employees may lack. As Managing Partner Matt Erhard points out, “There are concerns that remote or hybrid options may disproportionately attract candidates who have access to reliable technology, strong self-management skills, and a supportive home environment, potentially leaving behind those who lack these resources.”

In fact, Recruitment Consultant Mariah Beahen says, if companies aren’t aware of these potential drawbacks and ready to address them, “Remote and hybrid models can negatively impact a company’s diversity and inclusion due to the potential for isolation and disconnection, communication and collaboration challenges, and unequal access to opportunities.”

Put another way, Braeden Demchuk says, the biggest challenge of creating an effective hybrid workplace is balance. “It’s important to utilize a structure that encourages consistent contact without being interpreted as overbearing.” For companies just implementing remote or hybrid options, he suggests involving the team in the development process to help achieve that balance.

Tips to create an inclusive remote or hybrid culture

“Leaders must remember to make face time with their teams,” Amanda Graham suggests. “Often, this can become an afterthought if everyone is working remotely and the work is getting done. Set dates in the calendar for team collaboration or social events that bring everyone together. This gives them the feeling of being part of a larger team and organizational vision.”

Amanda also suggests remembering the key benefit of remote and hybrid work: flexibility. Make sure your corporate policy around remote options is flexible, too. As she says, “Indicating certain days of the week as ‘in-office days’ may be seen as restrictive to some employees.”

From Matt Erhard’s perspective, clear communication is crucial for creating inclusive hybrid or remote environments. His suggestion: “Set expectations around flexibility and work-life balance, provide equitable access to technology and resources, promote virtual team building and collaboration, and regularly assess and address any potential biases in performance evaluation and advancement opportunities. Constant evaluation, feedback, and adaptation are necessary to foster an inclusive work environment in a remote or hybrid setting.”

Gail Eckert, Recruitment Director at Summit’s Winnipeg office, seconds this advice. Open and transparent communication is key, she says, and companies need to be proactive in creating open communication channels to prevent remote workers from feeling isolated. She suggests, “Encourage virtual team building opportunities as well as some in person, if possible. Be flexible and aware of varying time zones when scheduling meetings, and provide tools for collaborating like chat groups, What’s App, or Slack.”

Ultimately, while there are tools and strategies you can use to improve your remote work infrastructure, leadership’s approach to remote work is a key ingredient in its success (or lack thereof). As Mariah Beahen says, “Creating an inclusive remote or hybrid work environment requires on-going commitment and engagement from leaders. To achieve it, you will need to prioritize communication and transparency, set clear expectations and guidelines, foster a sense of belonging, provide equitable opportunities for growth, train managers on leading remote teams, and leverage technology and tools to facilitate communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing.

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Distributed Diversity: The Relationship Between Remote & Hybrid Work and DE&I

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