Can flexible working help your business to be more inclusive? 

Can flexible working help your business to be more inclusive? 

Workplace diversity is good for everyone. Multiple studies have shown that it’s an important factor in business success, with a strong correlation between ethnic and gender diversity and increased revenue and profitability. That’s not to say that inclusion just follows simply because a diverse staff is present – but making the effort to create an inclusive workplace has a number of benefits. For a remote team in particular, it creates a more welcoming, productive, and fair work environment.

What are the benefits?

One of the biggest positives of a distributed workforce model is that it allows companies to recruit and hire a broader range of diverse talent who can live and work wherever they want, with the added benefit of reduced overhead costs for the company.

Job seekers are more inclined to take a position if some remote work is offered, which can help with recruiting efforts. Ninety-two per cent of Millennials identify flexibility as a top priority when job hunting and, at the other end of the workforce, the Centre for Ageing Better argues that it could be a key factor in helping the growing number of over 50s work for longer. An IWG Global Workspace Survey concluding that 83% of all professionals would turn down a job without flexible working.   

And remote working doesn’t just allow businesses to hire outside of your traditional geographical profile – it allows you to diversify your workforce by hiring outside of their typical employee profile as well. Katharine Zaleski, former digital head of The Washington Post and co-founder of PowerToFly cites the flexibility of remote work as a potential draw for women – especially in conservative countries like Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t allowed to drive. “Remote work allows for improved work life balance for mothers who might otherwise struggle to balance family life with a traditional office job,” she says.

In India alone, 85% of business people surveyed by IWG think that flexible working helps to keep mothers in the workforce, who would otherwise have stepped away from their roles.

Remote work also allows for diversity of different personality types. Introverts who may previously have dreaded chance encounters in the corridor or camaraderie-building chats around the water-cooler find they can thrive in a remote work environment. “[Extroverted] individuals would much rather work face-to-face as compared to virtually, which will lessen the energy they get from the interaction,” says Andy Luse, a management scientist at the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University. “Conversely, introverts expend energy with social interaction, so while they are more apt to work alone well, they are also better at adapting to a virtual environment given it involves less face-to-face interaction and is thereby less taxing mentally.”

What are the challenges?

“Adding diverse employees to your business does nothing to create a diverse culture if those employees never get to interact, collaborate or even meet one another,” explains Shawn Farshchi, CEO of global mobility platform, Topia.

Research shows that in companies that do remote working poorly, workers often feel isolated, removed from their peers or their team and excluded from the company culture. Gallup research shows that spending too much time fully remote working leads to the lowest employee engagement because it robs employees of the sense of connection to each other as co-workers, but as part of a group.  

What can your business do?

Most businesses already have diversity and inclusion policies and plans. The difference with a remote workforce is that you need to work harder to follow-through on your promises and communicate your messages. From being sensitive to people’s differences, to creating employee resource groups and holding better meetings, employers need to find the tools that best enable them to do this.

Another element could be to create or build a strong mobility programme. These types of programmes usually see employees given the choice to work in a variety of locations, which very often means in an actual office with co-workers – albeit perhaps in a location, culture or environment, quite different from that of their business headquarters.

“Since they actually get to work face-to-face with people of varying cultures, they truly get a diversity experience that is enriching, that builds leadership skills, advances their career and gives them the adventure and learning experience they crave,” says  Shawn Farshchi,

Flexspace, such as that offered by IWG, can support mobility programmes, offering office space in locations convenient to your employees. Rather than being isolated at home, they can visit an office and chat with other people within or external to the company.

Last thoughts

“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone” says Sundar Pichai, the chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc. With the current world still in a state of flux as business learn new ways of working, different perspectives will continue to be invaluable. Ensuring your business is staffed with people who don’t look, talk, or think alike pushes you to think critically and creatively about future challenges. 

For over 30 years, IWG has been helping millions of people have a great day at work. Now more than ever, it is here to support a more sustainable and happier way to work in the future. Find out more today.