On the Frontlines: Remote Workers Add Diversity
Blogs Beatrice Saredo Parodi Apr 11, 2023
It is evident in multinational organizations that employees working at headquarters have more power and opportunities than those working for subsidiaries. Being close to headquarters, where critical decisions are made, makes a difference in career opportunities.
Yet even before the digital age, multinational corporations have managed to work remotely with colleagues, clients, vendors, and partners. These far-flung individuals have shared tasks, contracts, and ideas via letter, telegram, phone or email (and recently via online platforms, such as Teams or others).
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many employees, from multinational corporations as well as from local family firms, to work from home — which means remotely, of course. Some companies were already quite used to digital interactions and home working, and it was easier to manage working from home. For others, it was a sort of a revolution.
For a short period, the pandemic allowed us to be equal and on the same level, everyone working remotely with each other. The “remoteness” in that period was no longer an exception, and it allowed us to connect with people from every country or locale without discrimination.
The lesson we can learn from the pandemic is that working remotely shouldn’t have a discrimination effect.
Let’s do some math: In one day, we work with an average of five to 10 colleagues, and adding in emails and other forms of communication, we may interact with 50 to 1,000 people each day. The percentage of remote contacts is certainly more significant than our in-person contacts. Therefore, for most of our working communications, we have already been “remote” workers for awhile.
Despite the fact that workers have been working “remotely” since the advent of the telephone and the multinational corporation — and that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated our ability to work remotely — we still cannot ensure equal opportunities for remote workers.
Moreover, if being diverse can be defined as not having the same opportunities in the workplace, social life, and the world in general — generally applied to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, language, socioeconomic status, physical ability, experience, and education — then being a remote worker could also be considered a form of diversity.
Studies have also shown that diversity provides excellent value. So, how can we offer equal opportunities and benefit from the variety of talent and skill found across multiple locations? Why do we give up a chance to promote talented managers from the same organization just because they work in another country?
At a starting point, being aware that an unconscious bias exists for remote diversity could pave the way to setting rules and policies to manage inclusion. That could result in two extreme options: enabling employees to be all-remote or all in-person.
The first option is for employees to all be on the same level as remote workers. We are already remote workers for most of our working contacts, why not aim for 100%? This would result in a need to better train people to work from home, improving our ability to interact by taking full advantage of the technology and tools at our disposal.
The second option is for employees to all be on the same level as face-face workers. Since I don’t build my career with the walls of the office where I have my desk, if I have to be face-to-face, I need to be face-to-face with the key managers for my career, wherever they are. To ensure that each employee has the possibility to meet in-person with each other (employees or managers who are relevant, from a professional point of view) means that, in a company based in Milan and London, employees from Milan will travel to London and vice-versa. Compared to the first option, the costs and the environmental impacts are higher, the life balance is worse (except for people looking to escape from home), and the number of cross-commutes becomes enormous for corporations based in many countries.
Instead, I image the “Star Wars” scene where the Jedi meet around a virtual table, all holograms, to make vital decisions for the galaxy, and the power of the bodily presence is quite natural. I think we are not far from that stage. We only have to learn a new way of working, just as we did long ago with the telegram, the telephone, or even email. It’s the same feeling when we used a telephone for the first time and the impact of receiving a voice from a cable sounded quite strange. That impact is lost in our early memories because we are now used to using a telephone. Now we just have to improve and learn another step in the magic evolution of the human being.