Championing Diversity and Inclusion in Remote Work
Diversity and inclusion efforts have taken center stage in many organizations. Moving beyond a checklist in the hiring process, human resources or people ops leaders are advocating for environments that are welcoming and accommodating for all, including those with disabilities.
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And they’re wise to do it.

The battle for market share is being waged in a very transparent venue—one where sound bites carry, quotes live on eternally, and memes abound.

It’s an incredibly public and connected atmosphere. Achieving transparency in such an environment isn’t easy. And yet, I don’t mean to suggest that promoting diversity and inclusion is simply a PR tactic for savvy Internet companies.

What I am suggesting is that the culture of an organization is no longer the thing of spiral-bound handbooks on dusty office shelves; it is the living, breathing, very visible side of a company. It motivates customers to buy and evangelize. But perhaps even more importantly, culture can motivate your employees to produce their very best work.

The manner in which a company’s culture embraces a diverse group of people—including those with disabilities—may as well be its flagship product.

Culture is to your brand what monthly recurring revenue is to your financial projections. It’s where the rubber meets the road. Your people are at the core of your culture, and thus are central to your brand.

Among them may very well be talented individuals with disabilities, who may opt to self-identify (or not) during the hiring process.

Have you created an atmosphere that welcomes them? If you haven’t asked yourself this question before, there’s never a better time than now to do it. (If you’re looking for examples to follow, see Diversity Inc.’s rankings of 15 companies that topped the list for offering flexible work environments for people with disabilities.)

Championing Diversity and Inclusion in Remote Work

Remote Work Focuses on Output, Not Abilities

Productivity is highly valued in most organizations. But in remote companies, task completion is paramount. Global people adviser Nicole Le Maire, who founded The People Engine and New to HR, agrees. She said she believes that, because of this, working remotely can create a more level playing field.

“There is less judgment, and the focus is on what a person can achieve—skills, talent, competencies—and not on, for example, the way one looks, talks, or walks,” Le Maire said.

Remote teams often collaborate using a variety of equipment, tools, and technologies. Some platforms may work for anyone. Others, for instance, may require modifications for individuals who are hard of hearing, deaf, or have visual impairments.

As inclusivity catalyst at Buffer, Courtney Seiter comes from a startup that has boldly put forward experiments in both company transparency and culture, sharing its journey publicly on their blog. The approach demonstrates the team’s openness to both criticism and positive feedback, and has (perhaps even unintentionally) set a new standard for sharing information.

Seiter leads the remote company’s efforts to create a welcoming and productive environment for all 80-plus employees who work from locations across the globe. For her, diversity and accessibility are continually top of mind. Fostering both in a remote context present their own challenges.

“As a fully distributed team, we rely totally on web tools to connect,” Seiter said. “Our team currently focuses on Slack, Zoom, Discourse, Trello, and a few other key ones. I’ve linked to some of each tool’s individual resources on accessibility, but I’m not sure I’d be able to recommend them as the best remote teams’ ‘stack’ for accessibility without doing quite a lot of extra research first.”

More evidence on usability of emerging and popular web tools would be helpful to companies like Buffer, as well as traditional organizations.

“I’d love to know which remote tools are the most accessible for different types of abilities,” she added.

Tech Can Help or Hinder Employees’ Progress

Selecting tools carefully—or, better still, offering a variety of tools to your remote employees—demonstrates that your focus is on the final product rather than the means to it.

Le Maire added insights from the employee perspective.

“It is all about making sure that the tools are in place to create a productive working environment for everyone,” Le Maire said. “This means selecting tools that can be used around the world in a straightforward manner. For example, there are a lot of wonderful ‘trendy’ tech tools available that help with the communication between individual employees, teams, and the broader organization, that I may find as a dyslexic terrible to use. Not because I cannot use them, but because I do not see the use for them.”

There are ways that employers can create a win-win scenario and an engaging culture for all employees. Le Maire suggests linking up a variety of tools to build your own customized “remote technology toolkit” that can easily be accessed by anyone.

She cautions against assuming that remote work is the “employment solution” for people with special needs, however.

“Many people require support in different ways, and not everyone is made for or ready to work remotely. I also do not believe that remote working in the long term creates opportunities for employees who may be sidelined in the traditional workforce—the traditional employer who hires will still have the same mentality.”

Accessibility, then, is really about two things from the employer perspective,” Le Maire said. “It is about employers who are ready for remote working, and who are open to diversifying their staff, focusing on people’s actual skills and experiences.”

Readers, do you have other tips for diversity and inclusion? What about recommendations on accessible tech tools? Please share in the comments section below!

By Kristi DePaul | November 4, 2016 

Associate Editor