Data from LinkedIn shows that remote work opportunities are on the decline. Here’s what HR must do to preserve hard won progress on diversity and inclusion.
The opportunities for remote work are plummeting.
As many organizations brace for economic hardship in 2023, those companies that are still looking to hire are more likely to want new employees to come to the office. According to October data from LinkedIn, 50% of new job applicants are seeking remote work but only 15% of new postings offer remote work.
There’s a massive competitive advantage for companies who are willing to keep hiring remote employees, particularly when it comes to diversifying your workforce.
Further analysis of LinkedIn’s data showed that employees from traditionally marginalized backgrounds became increasingly interested in remote work between January of 2019 and October of 2022. In that period, there was a 16% increase in the share of Latino applicants and a 17% increase in the share of Black applicants applying for remote work. The increase is even bigger for Latinas and Black women.
How remote work impacts DEIB
It’s clear from the data that pulling back on remote work is going to affect DEIB strategies. Julian Lute, senior strategic advisor with Great Place To Work®, says companies should expect two main outcomes:
1. Fewer diverse candidates will come through the door.
It’s simple math. If remote work was helping your organization bring in new faces and source candidates that weren’t typically coming to your organization, pulling back on remote work will shrink the candidate pool.
Meeting diversity targets gets hard if your business is located in an areas that doesn’t reflect the demographics you hope to attract to your organization, Lute says. Employers who stay open to remote work will have access to a broader talent pool.
2. It will be harder to retain the diversity you already have.
Employees who came to your organization expecting to work remotely will see a change in remote work policy as a threat to their careers. Even if you let some people continue to work remotely, Lute explains, those that work remotely will look around the organization and wonder if they can advance.
“If I want to move up, move into a different role, if that remote option is not there, will I stay?” he says. “Maybe not."
Why diverse candidates want remote jobs
Remote work is one of the most obvious ways an employer can offer workplace flexibility — a key attribute that helps make workplaces more inclusive. By definition, a workplace that is inflexible can only serve the needs of a select few.
People from traditionally marginalized backgrounds have different needs when entering the workplace, balancing choices in their lives that are invisible to others.
As an example, Lute recalls a conversation he had with a Black woman working in an Atlanta office who was relocated to a smaller city in Florida. Atlanta is a southern city, but has a cosmopolitan population and a breadth of diversity that isn’t always found in other parts of the Southeastern U.S.
“Her quality of life and who she had to be there, the politics of the place, just all of those things, really, really impacted her day-to-day experience of work,” Lute says. “The atmosphere of where you live and work actually does matter.”
Additionally, remote work can reduce exposure to microaggressions or casual racism in the workplace.
“There's a whole thing about people having their behavior policed,” Lute says. “How do you dress? How do you wear your hair? All of those things come into play in people's day-to-day experience.”
But behind the screen, those interactions become easier to manage. Some employees value that, even if it means missing out on deeper connections with colleagues.
What HR leaders can do
For companies where remote work isn’t an option — a growing reality for many organizations — there are some ways to compensate with other investments in the employee experience. Here’s what Lute recommends:
1. Double down on becoming an inclusive workplace.
Remote work isn’t a cheat code for improving diversity and inclusion at your organization, Lute says. In fact, remote work comes with its own issues in creating a great workplace culture. Behind the screen, it can be tougher for employees to feel like they belong.
“People will have to make the choice,” explains Lute. “I'd rather work remote at a company that is a little crappier, but it's remote, and it supports my lifestyle — or there's actually a company that really treats people well, and while it may not be fully remote, there are all these other benefits that I can get from that that can actually still support me.”
2. Find your workplace culture ambassadors.
Great workplaces can tap into employee ambassadors who will validate the experience at a workplace — with or without remote work.
“You've got to treat the people who are currently working for you in a way that they can be on your side and be able to advocate that you are a great workplace,” Lute says.
3. Make sure entry level roles are as open as possible.
As companies pull back on remote work, it’s a big mistake to limit roles that get new people into the company. “Where you're having the most issues getting people into the organization, you should really try to keep those entry level points open,” Lute says.
If you want to restrict remote work as someone moves up in the organization, that’s better for DEIB than putting the harshest restrictions on roles where people first join the company. If career paths aren’t carefully considered, you won’t have the diverse candidates entering the organization at all.
“You may have to think about your career development or your career progression a little bit differently for people, and for the roles that you know are feeders for executives or senior leaders in the organization,” Lute adds.
4. Consider expanding other benefits to cover the remote work gap.
Remote work is popular for employees juggling many different responsibilities, including caregiving for children and elders. If you can’t offer remote work, Lute recommends looking at expanding child care or elder care services.
5. Think about how programs will impact all employees.
For HR leaders, getting buy-in on a new initiative to support diversity and inclusion can be tough. Remote work is being phased out for a reason, and asking for new expenditures amid recession fears could be difficult.
HR pros should analyze how new programs are likely to help the entire workforce, not just a target demographic. “Once you're helping certain groups that might have been marginalized, more often than not, you're actually helping lots of other people,” Lute says.
“Once you offer benefits to engage and respond to people's real human needs, you find that some of those needs have always been under the surface, but just never communicated.”
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