Will DE&I Gains Regress With the Rise of Remote and Hybrid Work?

Given the unique set of challenges that remote and hybrid work presents to DE&I efforts, workers and employers alike need to be vigilant so that the gains made are not abruptly lost.    

This article was originally published by Allwork.Space.

Hybrid workspaces and remote work will be a key part of the future of work.  As more companies embrace new work models, many are wondering how they will impact diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts.

Over the past several years, (DE&I) programs have become much more prevalent in almost all sectors of the work world and, in many cases, a business priority.

How will DE&I programs and new work modalities adapt to one another?

DE&I programs already facilitate better workplaces

In the 20th century, managers and employers mostly ignored complaints of discrimination and harassment at work.

In the 21st century, by contrast, according to Harvard Business Review, “Approximately half of all discrimination and harassment complaints lead to some type of retaliation.” While this is not enough, and more needs to be done to ensure that most of these complaints result in retaliation, it is undoubtedly an improvement.

The case to be made in favor of implementing these programs in workplaces is overwhelmingly positive.

For example, research from the Boston Consulting Group shows that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues than their less diverse counterparts. This result is primarily because teams with higher levels of diversity tend to lead to greater levels of innovation.

Further, studies from McKinsey & Company show that companies with higher gender and ethnic diversity levels lead to “[a] higher likelihood of outperformance.” This means that the more diversity, inclusion, and equity found in a given workplace, the more likely it will be that the workplace will exceed its goals in terms of productivity and positive economic outcomes.

Finally, evidence suggests that LGBTQ+ friendly workspaces are highly correlated with improvements in employee health, better interpersonal relationships in the workplace, greater job satisfaction, and a more significant work commitment.

DEI and hybrid/remote work

While things have improved substantially over the past few decades, there is still work that needs to be done when it comes to DE&I in the workplace.

For instance, according to the AARP, age discrimination still runs rampant in American workplaces. Precisely, a quarter of those ages 45 and older “have been subjected to negative comments about their age from supervisors or coworkers,” and “76 percent of these older workers see age discrimination as a hurdle to finding a new job.”

With all of this said, accommodating DE&I programs for hybrid and remote workspaces will be, in many ways, a tall order –albeit one that yields the best results in terms of productivity, economic prudence, and employee fulfillment.

Remote work, for instance, makes the facilitation of relationships and trust –which are essential in successful DE&I efforts– more difficult to foster.

This is primarily because, in these settings, you’re communicating with your coworkers and managers much less. And given these reduced levels of communication, reporting discrimination and resolving conflict may become much more of a challenge.

Indeed, how is one supposed to facilitate trust with someone when your relationships with them are purely digital?

Over half of workers report not returning to jobs that do not offer a remote option. Likewise, 90% of large companies intend to embrace the hybrid model, which entails a combination of on-site work and remote work. In light of the empirically verified positive outcomes of DE&I efforts in workplaces, companies mustn’t lose sight of DE&I programs and their importance when traditional work models become a thing of the past.

Hybrid work brings with it its peculiar challenges to DE&I efforts as well.

For instance, according to the Harvard Business Review, childcare might be negatively impacted by hybrid work that fails to accommodate parents.

We’re hearing persistent reports of employees being called back into work with only two days’ notice. This leaves no time to arrange for childcare, which may be much more difficult to arrange now than before the pandemic.

In the same Harvard report, instances of lower-level employees being given no access to a remote option while their higher-level counterparts are given this option are already running rampant in the current world of hybrid work.

On the other hand, some new work modalities –mainly those exclusively remote– will bring with them some intrinsic prospects for diversity equity, and inclusion.

For instance, caregivers and those with disabilities often find the traditional work model challenging, in large part because the conventional model seldom accommodates their needs. Working from home is a step in the right direction. It intrinsically gives those who cannot leave their homes or cannot do so often the opportunity to do fulfilling work.

Implementing DE&I efforts in hybrid workplaces

What can be done to ensure that the gains made over the past several decades do not regress as the world of work changes?

Firstly, workers should know their rights.

For example, suppose you are disabled and have been working remotely. In that case, it is essential to understand that The Americans with Disabilities Act grants workplace accommodations, including the indefinite continuation of remote work.

On the employer side of things, various steps can be taken to facilitate a smooth transition from traditional work’s DE&I to a hybrid model. Firstly, giving employees ample notice for returns to in-office work can significantly reduce potential childcare complications.

Next, as exemplified in Ray Dalio’s best-selling book Principles, simply asking employees what would work best through polling or questionnaires is a great way to set up a healthy level of flexibility and compromise as hybrid workspaces become more prevalent.

If this means that some employees are always remote, some are always hybrid, and some are exclusively in-office, this might be what is best for everyone. When these options are left off the table, women, people of color and those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community tend to suffer disproportionately for it.

Next, auditing advancements will become crucial.

If companies fail to conduct these audits, research shows that favoritism for in-office workers is almost a guarantee. Specifically, ensuring that both in-office and remote workers equally obtain opportunities to work on career-advancing projects must be a factor if such audits are to retain DE&I efforts for the future of work successfully, especially considering that remote and in-office workers show no differences in productivity. However, some tentative research suggests remote workers might be more productive than their in-office counterparts. With that in mind, there’s no justification for failing to conduct these audits.

DE&I efforts have measurably improved the day-to-day life at work for millions of people. The gains that have been made in this respect over the past few decades should be celebrated. However, given the unique set of challenges that remote and hybrid work presents to DE&I efforts, workers and employers alike need to be vigilant so that the gains made are not abruptly lost.

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