Remote work is the new normal for many, but what of the future? There may be far better reasons to embrace it than just avoiding the coronavirus
Pisana Ferrari – cApStAn Ambassador to the Global Village
Much has been said and written in past months about how the current coronavirus crisis will affect the future of work. Carola Milanesi is the founder of The Heart of Tech, a consultancy focused on education and diversity, and is often quoted as an industry expert in publications such as The Financial Times, Bloomberg and The New York Times. In a recent article for Fast Company she writes about the great potential of remote work in improving inclusion and diversity in the workplace and says that companies, once the coronavirus crisis is over, should incorporate remote work practices in their businesses for the long run. Many companies, she says, are looking at diversity and inclusion simply from an ethical perspective and do not see how much their businesses could actually thrive by opening the door to new talent pools.
Remote work can improve diversity in three key areas: gender, accessibility, and race. It can help women return to work after having a baby or while caring for a family member – in the U.S., for example, 6 in 10 carers are women, says Milanesi. It gives them the possibility to be part of their children’s lives, while continuing to pursue their career. For people with mental or physical disabilities the most obvious advantage is avoiding the commute to the office, but it also allows them to be in an environment organised around their needs, and to fit doctor or physiotherapy visits into their schedule without disrupting work. Taking the U.S. again as an example, only about 19% of people with disabilities are employed. Remote work positions can be more appealing to people who do not live within a reasonable distance and who are not keen on relocating, e.g. on account of high living costs, or are not able to do so, for whatever reason. In Silicon Valley, out of over 2 million people, only 2% are black. Milanesi says that while remote work may not be not a “panacea”, it can certainly help boost the diversity numbers faster.
“Remote work is good for diversity, and diversity is great for business”. The numbers appear to prove Milanesi right: a McKinsey report on 366 public companies, reported in the Harvard Business Review, found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. The same article quotes many other studies that point in the same direction. Remote work presents a number of challenges and is not applicable to all industries, of course. But Milanesi makes a very good case for at least those companies who can to include remote work practices in their businesses in future.
- “Working from home is great for diversity. Let’s keep it going“, Carola Milanesi, Fast Company, March 23, 2020 and The Heart of Tech website
- “Why diverse teams are smarter”, David Rock and Heidi Grant, Harvard Business Review, November 4, 2016
- “Remote work is the next diversity frontier”, Paul Estes, Fast Company, March 20, 2020