empty cafe with wall covered in clocks made from flags around the world
PHOTO: Farzad Mohsenvand

It’s difficult enough to get companies to be responsible about workplace diversity. Diversity has meant age, gender, race, cultural backgrounds and religion among other factors. Some companies are making great strides to be more transparent in reporting their efforts. And while a person’s work location is not typically considered in diversity discussions, I would argue we should include a person’s location in diversity efforts. When a company allows remote working, it opens the organization to a wider pool of potential applicants that can offer a greater variety of voices and perspectives.  

In addition to how traditional diversity can benefit company and workers, here's a look at how remote working can support and improve these efforts. To understand how, let's start by looking at the list of most frequently mentioned benefits of traditional workplace diversity and where remote working fits in.

Higher Innovation

Conformity discourages innovative thinking. Diverse teams increase the chances that more radical ideas will arise and be explored. By eliminating location boundaries, remote workers can offer a different perspective on how a B2B company’s products are used by employees outside of headquarters.

Increased Creativity

Companies spend enormous amounts of time trying to spur creativity, such as sending employees to conferences or investing in team building exercises. Remote workers naturally practice creativity every day, for example, by finding new ways to connect with people. They also tend to have a propensity for using technology. For remote workers, the ability to easily change visual site lines by working in various rooms or in public spaces can help spark creativity.

Another benefit related to creativity is faster problem-solving and better decision-making. Teams that work well together can assign aspects of a problem to various team members and come together to make an informed decision. Each team member brings a different perspective and, in general, sharing perspectives including where you work, can lead to a better, faster outcome.

Related Article: Why Businesses Should Be Ready for More Remote Workers in 2019

Higher Employee Engagement

Ah, engagement. This decade’s word for job satisfaction. Employees who like their job, their work environment and their colleagues are more engaged. In other words, they enjoy their job and stick around. It’s a good thing, no doubt, and something that is getting a lot of attention during this time of talent shortages and demand for skills. Companies expend a lot of effort to make their workplaces inviting. But when economies get tough and companies are not hiring, it'll be interesting to see how much focus is put on engagement.

It will also be interesting to see if company openness toward hiring remote workers increases. After all, remote workers don’t contribute to real estate costs, cafeteria subsidies and many other in-office perks. But most importantly, remote worker job satisfaction — being able to balance work-life issues — is a large part of employee satisfaction.

If employees are happy with their work-life balance, it is one less reason to want to leave, which can decrease employee turnover significantly. In a 2017 survey, SHRM found that work-life balance was the No. 2 reason employees left (13%) compared to the No. 1 reason, career development (21%).

Better Company Reputation

Before the internet, if an employee left a company with grievances, they might tell 10 or so people. However, now there are job sites, such as Glassdoor, that aim to bring some transparency for job seekers by providing anonymous employee experiences. Employees like to know the inside story when interviewing with a company. If current and past employees are complaining about work-life balance issues openly on these sites or on social media, it can impact finding the needed talent. And it is not just about work-life balance. Because of the other reasons mentioned above, a company’s overall perception of being innovative, modern and a great environment in which to work may be downgraded in the mind of the prospective employee.

Related Article: How to Improve Support for Remote Workers

Increased Profits

It often comes down to the bottom line to get corporate minds to change. Multiple studies show productivity of remote workers outpaces that of in-office staff. Eliminating commute time is one factor, but eliminating commute stress is another. Remote workers, particularly those who work from home, do not approach their work with the stress from a terrible commute. Nor do they spend time thinking about when to leave to beat the rush or what route to take to get home at a decent time and in a good state of mind to be with their families. Remote workers also log fewer absences.

Beyond productivity, there are hard savings to be had — some of them have been previously mentioned, including savings on real estate costs, in-office perks and external team building events. Globalworkplaceanalytics.com reported in August that by allowing a previously office-located job to be done remotely even half the time, businesses would save an average of $11,000 per half-time remote worker per year.

The hiring market is shifting toward a rise in companies enabling remote work. The real test will be in an economic downturn. My money is on a continual rise of remote workers. Employers will come around to the remote working decision for the cost savings and stay for the productivity.