Over the course of the COVID pandemic, we have experienced changes to the corporate landscape that many of us would have deemed outlandish three years ago. The benefits of the hybrid work models that emerged from the pandemic are widely acknowledged: suddenly it is possible to fit in a run before work, to cook healthy food at midday, to spare the planet from the carbon emissions of the daily commute.
Yet, remote work also has its downsides, which many of us experienced in 2020 – isolation, a lack of team collaboration, and lower visibility and recognition of our accomplishments. Whether it be training for a new role, a promotion celebration, or a goodbye to one of our esteemed colleagues, virtual gatherings do not serve as replacements for in-person camaraderie and teamwork.
The pros and cons of hybrid work arrangements will be contested for years to come, and only data-based longitudinal studies will have the final word in how leading companies choose to attract, select, and retain their talent. As this workplace evolution continues to unfold, I would like to bring a different lens to the conversation, one that cannot be ignored among our own company and clients: the effect on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. (DEIB).
In the recent past, we’ve lived through an era of major progress in the DEIB space. Companies are hiring DEIB directors and teams, focusing on diversity among their employees and leaders, and practicing increased transparency in communications around DEIB goals and initiatives. But as we begin to see organizations make a strong push for return-to-office, it is important to take a step back and ask ourselves: is this one step forward for those in privileged positions and one step back from a diversity perspective?
When I graduated from New York University with a master’s degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology in May 2022, it was for many reasons an unprecedented time to be learning about the talent space. How do we effectively study best practices in organizational design while the landscape is shifting around us each day? It is a hard question to answer.
If I learned one thing, however, it was that major disruption happens in the talent space when companies adapt to, rather than resist, change. As we all recognize on some level – whether it be personal or professional – our greatest accomplishments are seldom achieved by retreating to our comfort zones.
If we are limiting the available pool of talent to those who can pay New York City rent and commute to the office two to five days each week, we are missing the opportunity to disrupt both the talent space and DEIB landscape as we know it. Remote work has several DEIB benefits that are important to keep in mind as organizations push for a return to in-office work.
In addition to return-to-office policies and DEIB initiatives, one question that is top of mind in the talent space is how companies can retain talent. One of the core tenets of talent retention is, and always will be, a sense of autonomy. Employees will be more motivated to work in an environment that allows them to maximize their potential – whether that be living in an affordable location, having time to pick up children from daycare, or ensuring a customized work arrangement.
Shared offices and in-person collaboration will always be important – they may even help with visibility among leadership and increased recognition. But for those who are significantly disadvantaged by commuting and/or working from the office, maintaining the option to work remotely could make all the difference. And if we are to remain companies that strive to uphold a psychological contract among our employees, do we not owe them that choice?