Virtual Teams

Is remote working harming diversity?

I came across a post last week that worried that remote working could be harmful to diversity. The data shows that women, people with families and people from some historically underrepresented groups have a preferences for remote working, so in terms of attracting more diverse groups of people remote working should be helpful.

We also know there can be challenges for people working remotely to stay visible and access career development and interesting development work. Proximity bias is a historical reality and a real concern for organisations moving towards more remote working.

So the risk is that if a higher proportion of certain groups prefer to work remotely and they are disadvantaged by our internal processes and ways of working, then this may reinforce historical inequalities.

It should be that remote working will be helpful in improving the diversity of our workforce but we will only benefit from this if we develop inclusive policies for how we manage, collaborate and work when some people are physically present and others are working remotely.

One example – one of our clients, a global law firm, found that partners were naturally (and unconsciously) tending to give more interesting work to the people who were sitting nearby, it was easier to allocate the work and monitor progress. They introduced a work allocation process to makes sure work is fairly distributed to balance development needs and access to learning.

If we want both an inclusive and distributed workforce we have to make lots of small tweaks to our processes in areas like development, recognition and succession.

We need to update our management and collaboration skills to, for example, overcome proximity bias and run more inclusive virtual meetings.

Virtual meetings are another good example of this. They allow us to connect more easily to people in a wide range of locations, potentially bringing more diversity into our meetings. There are also excellent tools and techniques you can use within your virtual meetings to capture and amplify diverse opinions and voices and to improve the visibility of individuals. But they can also be run in a way that reduces participation and engagement. Our inclusive virtual meetings program helps people develop the skills to create more open conversations.

Remote working is now a reality for at least part of the time for most managerial and professional people around the world. Have you updated your skills and ways of working to reflect this and to ensure we create a consistent employee experience for people who are physically present and people who are working remotely? If not you may be holding back your diversity and inclusion progress and introducing inefficiencies to your collaboration.

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