Diversity and inclusion (D&I) has long been understood to be a valuable way of introducing new ideas and innovation into companies. More voices from more diverse backgrounds creates space for a better understanding of your customers.
Itâ€™s also great for the bottom line. It is not just the right thing to do for your team, it can also lead to better business outcomes. D&I ensures that you donâ€™t have a team that all think the same way because they are drawn from a very narrow group of people.Â
It enhances creativity and cultural awareness and ultimately it will make your company more profitable – thatâ€™s what the experts at McKinsey have found.
But often when people write articles about diversity and inclusion there is a caveat – itâ€™s difficult to get it right. It requires the HR team to align on a broader corporate strategy. It requires more effort during recruitment. Even when corporate leaders know that it is important, they often find it hard to achieve.
There is an easier way. Offer people the opportunity to work from home (WFH) and you will naturally start attracting a more diverse group of people to your company.
How can it be this simple?
First, think again about what we really mean by diversity and inclusion. The immediate response if you ask someone to define this strategy is that the company needs to attract a wider variety of people from different ethnicities and religions. However, this is a very narrow approach to D&I and misses some vital opportunities.
Contact centres provide a very clear example. When a contact centre relies on people working from an office then it is only possible to recruit people within commuting distance of the office – so diversity already depends on the area where the contact centre is located.
In addition, most contact centres with a requirement to work in-office focus on young people at the start of their career. The contact centre is seen as a gateway to jobs in sales, marketing, or customer service management so this emphasis on hiring young people self-perpetuates.
Now consider the WFH alternative for a contact centre service.Â
There is no need to commute so the jobs on offer are available to people with a disability that makes it a challenge to commute twice a day. There is no need to be sitting in an office full of young people, so people of all ages with a variety of skills can be approached – including retired people who want to work flexible part-time hours.
Offering flexible hours from home also means that people with caring responsibilities, such as parents or carers for elderly relatives, can also contribute. They might not be able to work 8 hours a day, but a four-hour shift in the middle of the day could be exactly what you need to boost agents during the lunchtime peak.
All these people are usually excluded from the traditional workplace that demands an office commute and then a long shift at a single location. Working mums, long-term home carers, wheelchair users, and the recently retired. They can all participate fully in work if they have the flexibility to work from home.
Meta, the huge tech company responsible for Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, achieved their own goals for diversity and inclusion two years early because of remote working. McKinsey research has found that many underrepresented groups of employees have a strong preference for home working because it levels the playing field – they donâ€™t need to be in an office full of people that look or feel â€˜differentâ€™, they can just focus on the work that needs to be done.
It is clear that office-based jobs attract a certain type of employee – diversity is traditionally low because the employees must all share the same values. They must be willing to commute for work. They must live near their employer. They must be prepared to dedicate a solid block of time everyday to being in the office. There is very little flexibility in this traditional view of how professional work is organised.
The ability to work from home creates many more possibilities than just allowing your team to work without requiring a commute. It allows you to recruit from anywhere, which also means you can raise the bar on who joins the team. If they can be recruited from anywhere across the country – or even internationally – then you can afford to look only for the best potential team members.
It also creates the opportunity for much more diversity in the team. The contact centre example makes it clear that many different groups of people could become available if this flexibility is on offer. The opportunity exists beyond contact centres alone – as the success at Meta indicates – which then leads to an obvious question: if you are not already promoting diversity and inclusion by allowing team members to work from home then why not?