ENDING remote work could 'destroy diversity', brand new data shows

The research, undertaken by The WFH Research Group, surveyed different groups of US workers on how often they would like to work from home once the pandemic ends.

White workers said 2.2 days a week on average. Hispanic Americans said 2.42 days; Asian Americans 2.48 days and Black Americans 2.54 days.

The difference becomes even more pronounced when those surveyed were asked what they would do if they were forced back to the office full-time.

33% of white workers said that they would go back but start looking for a job that let them work from home. For minority workers, however, the figure jumps to 40%

New research dovetails with other findings

This latest research dovetails with previous findings.

According to data from the Future Forum, a future of work think-tank launched by Slack, only three per cent of Black knowledge workers want to return to full-time office working, compared with 21% of their white counterparts in the US.

Researchers who found this data concluded that this was because remote working can reduce the need for Black workers to constantly engage in draining “code-switching”, or changing the way they talk, dress or behave to fit into a predominantly white workplace.  

They say it may also spare workers from “microaggressions”, offensive if often unintended incidents, such as being mistaken for a colleague of the same race, or having your hair touched.

‘Destroy diversity’

It led Pilitia Clark, a Business Columnist at the Financial Times, to ask: “Hands up who wants to make their workforce whiter? Put another way, who thinks it is a good idea to run a business in a way that makes black staff or other people of colour think about quitting more than white employees?

“I am aware these questions sound inane. Yet I have not been able to stop thinking about them since I came across [the above] research suggesting this is precisely what some companies may inadvertently be doing as they try to lure workers back to the office from home.”

In fact, in a column for The Irish Times, titled Forcing staff back to office will destroy diversity of workforce she reported on the fact that a forced return will not only impact people of colour but parental workers too – at a time when many businesses are working hard to improve schemes and flexibility for this group, as KPMG recently announced.

She wrote that highly educated women with young children are also a flight risk, as shown by a monthly survey of US workers which shows that 34% of these women would like to work at home five days a week, compared with 26% of men.

What the researchers say

One of the economists leading the US survey research, Stanford University’s Nick Bloom, said the research shines a spotlight on what the future of work will likely look like.

As reported by the Financial Times, he said any employer wanting to retain a well-educated, diverse workforce cannot force staff back to the office full-time.

He told an FT conference two weeks ago: “It’s just not possible,” he said. “We’re in a hyper competitive labour market for talent. You can’t do something that employees hate. It’s kind of Econ 101.”

Diversity benefits

Whilst many of the above data is US-centric, there is a vast amount of literature on the benefits that diversity can bring for any business, something worth bearing in mind despite the headlines around general staff shortages.

Whilst it is hard to pinpoint exact causation between a firm’s diversity and their business success, there is certainly a strong correlation.  

Research from Bersin by Deloitte found that the factor that had the highest impact on business performance was diversity and inclusion.  

A separate study from the University of Chicago found that diverse teams drove higher revenue and better market share.  

As Bersin added at the end of his report: “[These businesses] are not just better at HR – they are higher performing companies.”  

This is not all. Harvard Business Review found that diverse firms are able to solve problems faster and in 2013, Deloitte statistics found that diverse firms have higher employee engagement; something which, in many HR circles, is seen as the silver bullet to better productivity and thus better performance.

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