Does remote work promote diversity in the workplace?

Employment vacancies, contract and project work, freelancing gigs - when offered on remote work basis, do they promote opportunities for all suitably qualified persons? Without regard to their geographic location, colour, race, physical attributes, disability, age, sex, culture or gender? We think they do. Does remote work promote diversity? We believe it does.

When we say diversity, we refer to the differences between people; we think of people with divergent qualities. Some of the qualities can be seen; others are hidden. Diversity extends to people’s educational background, work and life experiences, socio-economic status and geographical location.

Why we need to think about diversity

A team of individuals with a range of qualities and characteristics is what makes a diverse workforce. Diversity in the workplace is a topic that business owners and managers in particular should be familiar with. Why? For starters, diversity links with equity and inclusion in the workplace. It is connected with fairness and access to opportunities.

It’s about hiring the people most suited for the job. It's about engaging the best skilled individuals to do the work without regard to the person’s age, parental responsibilities, race, sex, nationality and so on. Apart from what is fair, there are business reasons for hiring the best people for the work regardless of their personal characteristics or divergent qualities. Businesses can benefit significantly from promoting diversity in their workforces. Research carried out by Harvard University is said to show that diverse teams perform better and manifest greater creativity and less friction. Teams with a proportion of women higher than the average are said to perform work disproportionately better.

When a company employs a diverse group of people, it will enjoy a diversity of thought. A team diverse in work and life experiences, knowledge and viewpoints will be well equipped to resolve problems and to create novel ways of promoting a company's interests. According to an article in Forbes, diversity “leads to greater innovation and the potential to reach previously untouched audiences and stakeholders”.

Remote work and diversity

Remote work offers fertile grounds for greater workforce diversity. Working remotely emphasises the skills a person can bring to their job. Remote work lessens social interaction opportunities - think about those water-cooler chats, joint coffee runs or lunches out with a colleague. When jobs are offered remotely, managers ought to be in an optimal position to hire the best fit for the job. Any temptation to hire the persons they see themselves becoming friends with should lessen. 

The concept of “cultural fit” can hinder finding the best-skilled person for the task. It is a misunderstood concept; many a manager is “interpreting cultural fit to mean they’d like to go for a beer with after work”, writes Paul Estes, an advocate for the Talent Economy. According to Estes, the accurate fit is really about values and whether a job candidate shares the business's values. 

Businesses that operate remotely can recruit talent from all over the world. They have greater scope for attracting people to work for them. With divergent professionals and specialists at their reach, companies will benefit from a vast range of experiences and thinking patterns. When work is made available remotely, a skilled person’s geographic location or physical disability will not impede the person from accessing the job opportunity like the job’s physical or geographic location might have done in the past. 

According to the CEO of Miro, a virtual platform, remote work means companies can benefit from more diverse, more flexible and more inclusive work environments. Remote work pairs easily with flexibility and jobs can be adapted to promote diversity. For example, neuroatypical persons will be able to set up a befitting work environment and work in a way that is more optimal for them. 

Writing in The Life Autistic, one remote worker says that remote work promotes diversity (and neurodiversity). Commenting from the perspective of a person with autism, he says that one of the benefits of remote work is that it allows him to focus on his work on his terms. Traditional workplaces may present many features (such as open space offices) and conditions (general noise or expectation of social chit chat) uncomfortable for neurologically atypical persons. Remote work means individuals can work from a suitable setting of their choosing and they will be better positioned to apply their skills to the job at hand. 

Remote work diversified our team

We said it at the start of this article, and we say it again: yes, remote work promotes workplace diversity. There is anecdotal evidence to show for it. It is also our experience. In early 2020, with the advent of COVID-19, we started working remotely. Surprisingly perhaps, remote working suited us so well that we decided to go fully remote by the middle of 2020. Our team is now distributed over five countries; we benefit from the experience, knowledge and abilities of a greatly diverse bunch of people. 

Maria Nordenswan is the Content Manager at CareerDC. CareerDC coordinates internship programs and project work experiences. CareerDC is a remote-first, fully distributed company. If you are interested in turning your company into a remote business, you can read about our experience of going remote here.

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