Recent news of companies like Twitter, Apple and Amazon requiring employees to return to the office has sparked national debates. Will it yield the benefits that companies are claiming, including increased productivity, camaraderie and results? Or is it an antiquated policy that needs to remain a thing of the past?

3 Ways Remote Work Boosts DEI

  1. The employment rate for people with disabilities is at an all-time high.
  2. Companies are building diverse and global workforces to better meet customer needs.
  3. Cross-cultural teams and collaboration give businesses a competitive edge. 

While I can’t tell you what the right answer is for your company, I can tell you that remote work has been a key contributing factor in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within organizations, as evidenced by the progress companies are disclosing publicly.

Flexibility is the key ingredient behind remote work with underrepresented groups, including people of color and working parents, notably mothers, desiring it the most. In fact, 68 percent of employees said they would rather look for a new job than return to the office without the same flexibility. 

I worry that implementing return-to-office policies too quickly or sharply has a chance of disrupting the progress we’ve made within DEI. Please consider these DEI benefits when thinking about your return-to-office policy. 

Read More About Diversity, Equity and Inclusion6 Actionable Strategies to Foster DEI in Tech Hiring


More People With Disabilities in the Workplace

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of remote working conditions are people with disabilities. The employment rate for people with disabilities is 21 percent, the highest it has been since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began recording the data.

Several factors are contributing to this boon, one being the ability to work remotely. Remote work is especially accommodating to the needs of individuals with disabilities and requiring in-office presence on several or all days of the week can potentially deter applicants from applying.

On top of this, half of all employees with disabilities are 65 and older, some of whom may also benefit from not having to commute to and from work daily. The positives of remote work can also help people with non-visible disabilities, including those with social anxieties or who prefer working alternative hours (perhaps outside the in-office 9-to-5 expectation) due to various reasons. 

Let’s be cautious not to undo this great progress.


More Access to Diverse Talent

Prior to remote work being as widespread as it is today, HR once had a more limited, geographically restrictive talent pool to choose from. Today, assuming one is willing to work across borders and time zones, the talent pool is much bigger. We are now seeing companies benefit from tapping into a global talent pool as they now have a greater chance of matching skills to client needs, especially for companies that may operate internationally as well. 

I’ve seen this with my own company, Atlas HXM, now serving 160 countries because we have hired global talent, and have witnessed it time and again with clients, too. One example of this was with a nonprofit that created communities and opportunities for the young adult Jewish community via peer-led programming. It had plans to dramatically extend its impact on the global community by scaling its programs. This nonprofit hired people in the UK, France, Argentina, Czech Republic, Spain and Brazil. The new hires meant they could experiment with more innovative programs to engage young adults in those countries.

Further Reading on DEI10 DEI Initiatives to Prioritize in the Workplace


Cross-Cultural Collaboration Benefits

Remote work has the potential to foster increased cross-cultural collaboration, which is a key driver of innovation, creativity and results in the workplace. Diverse companies are shown to produce better, with diverse teams making better decisions 66 percent of the time compared to non-diverse teams. Diversity comes in all forms, and global companies that hold too strongly a regional identity or presence may be stifling results, as those that are from the same region or area tend to think alike. Hiring based on location and proximity to an office doesn’t help mitigate this risk. 

To illustrate this concept, let’s look at Chicago-style hot dogs. Is ketchup allowed? Imagine you’re working at a global ketchup company, and you think you created the perfect condiment for a hot dog. You ask a bunch of focus groups if ketchup with hot dogs would work, but because you’re based in Chicago, you make the mistake of only inviting Chicago-based residents. 

Constructing teams to include people from different regions, backgrounds and experiences creates a competitive advantage for your company.

After negative feedback, you throw away the idea. However, if you had broadened the group to include someone from, say, Portugal or Brazil, or invited parents who are fully remote due to childcare needs, you might have realized that there are indeed sizable and profitable markets for the ketchup/hot dog combo. (Portuguese and Brazilian hot dogs are sometimes served with ketchup).

Of course, this is an oversimplified example, but the point is this: Constructing teams to be more inclusive of people from different regions, backgrounds and experiences creates a competitive advantage for your company.

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