The option to work remotely is not just good for employees. It is a major step toward creating more inclusive organizations.
By Steven T. Hunt, Ph.D., Chief Expert of Technology and Work, SAP
The COVID pandemic led to millions of employees shifting to 100% remote work arrangements in March/April of 2020. What we have been living for the past 12 months is not normal remote work, it is physical isolation. Employees look forward to moving to more hybrid remote work models that mix in-person and virtual meetings.
But fewer than 20% of employees who currently work remotely want to return to the pre-pandemic model of commuting to work every day. Employees want flexibility to decide when it makes sense to go to the office.
Research also shows employees are more productive when they have to option to work remotely. But for some employees, remote work is about much more than flexibility and productivity. It is about the ability to work at all. Requiring employees to physically commute to an office excludes many people from jobs they are capable and willing to perform.
The option to work remotely is not just good for employees. It is a major step toward creating more inclusive organizations. Three particular groups are placed at a noticeable disadvantage when companies make “ability to travel daily to an office” a qualification for employment.
People with primary family care responsibilities (the majority of whom are women)
Several million women left the workforce in 2020 due to parenting challenges caused by closures of schools and childcare facilities. Women in our society shoulder the majority of family care responsibilities. It is much easier to balance family and work responsibilities when one removes the lost time and schedule uncertainty caused by daily commuting.
Women express a stronger desire to continue working remotely than men. Many of these are mothers who understand the challenge of balancing childcare schedules and commuting traffic and the stress of receiving an urgent call to pick up a sick child from school when you are miles away in a downtown office building.
People with physical or mental health disabilities
Over six million people in the US labor force have some form of disability. Commuting poses a significant barrier to many of these people depending the nature of their disabilities. What might be a simple trip crosstown for an able-bodied person can be a major challenge for individuals with mobility limitations due to mental, physical, or visual impairments. Even if these impairments do not affect their ability to perform job tasks.
People facing economic housing limitations
Prior to the pandemic, there had been a steady increase in the United States of “super commuters”, people commuting more than 90 minutes a day. Many of these people commuted because they could not afford to live near the offices where they worked. People are frequently excluded from job opportunities simply because they cannot afford to live close enough to commute to the office. Making the location of one’s home an implicit qualification for employment creates major hiring barriers for workers in many demographic groups.
Embracing hybrid remote work does not mean people never go into offices. To the contrary, periodic in-person meetings are a critical part of healthy remote work cultures.
But these cultures do not require people to commute to an office just to commute. Healthy remote cultures measure the value of people based on what they contribute as opposed to judging them based on where they sit. This includes taking care to ensure workers are not penalized if they are unable to physically come into the office as often as some of their peers.
Success should not depend on currying favor with executives based on getting “face time” in the office. It should depend on making a positive impact on company performance.
When done well, hybrid remote work improves employee experience, increases workforce productivity, decreases the carbon footprint of commuting, and enables more inclusive and diverse organizations. This includes using human experience management (HXM) solutions from SAP to create effective work cultures and build inclusive organizations.