In a study conducted of 80,000, the number of respondents who said they want to continue working solely from the office was a mere eleven percent. Now that many employees have experienced the realities of working from home, it’s become clear that the arrangement is more beneficial than the traditional on location working that generations prior were bound to. The sheer convenience of being able to work from home has made it a much sought-after benefit, and one that more and more businesses are beginning to provide. But, like with every major change, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Working remotely is not an ideal situation for all employees. For some, working on location is just a preference; they are more productive at work than at home where there are comforts and distractions that don’t exist in the office. For others, working from home is impractical, either because they don’t have the space or because they don’t have the equipment. Employers will typically provide laptops or desktops to remote employees, as well as other needs like phones and even a chair if they’re feeling generous. Even that isn’t a given, though, as a survey of 850 people showed that a third of polled employees had to pay for their own equipment required to work remotely.
A report by the FCC claims that only six percent of Americans currently do not have access to home internet. When you do the math, you find that six percent of the US population equals an astounding 19 million people. An even higher percentage said they had no place to go that would allow them to have consistent internet access four to eight hours a day, five days a week. And then, there’s the impracticality of working remotely from anywhere except home—you can fire off emails from pretty much anywhere, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a local library or wifi-enabled cafe that will put up with you holding Zoom meetings from a booth.
What good is committing to the improvement of your hiring practices if, due to the rise in popularity of working from home, some candidates—especially those from marginalized communities—are still barred from applying due to lack of a high-speed internet connection? While the percentage of the population working permanently from home pre-COVID was around 12 percent, according to a SHRM study, post-COVID it has more than doubled to 30 percent, meaning that more and more of the employees within that 19 million without high-speed internet access are going to be affected.
So, what can companies do? One answer is to make stable access to the internet a prerequisite for being employed, in the same way, many employers will verify that candidates have reliable transportation (which is also a potentially alienating and unreasonable request on the part of the employer). But is that the best answer? That will take a heavy hit towards any diversity and inclusion measures they may have been planning on enacting, as the leading reason behind not having home internet access is poverty and poverty disproportionately affects diverse and marginalized job seekers.
The second answer is for employers to include an internet package or internet reimbursement as a benefit afforded to remote workers. This not only would ensure they can hire the best candidate regardless of circumstance or location, but would also speak well of their commitment to their workforce. Is this feasible? Well, with the money that companies would save by going entirely or even partially remote, yes, it is. Going remote means not having to pay for upkeep and maintenance of facilities and equipment, providing the funds that could be transposed into an internet benefits package.
While there are challenges to providing a workplace where people can work from home, it has the benefit of providing opportunities for many, including those from disadvantaged communities. These opportunities can lead to a more inclusive workforce. This goes beyond bringing on people of different races or genders. Diversity of skill, background, and location are also factors to consider that, in the long run, will only improve a given company. But when we seek out diverse talent, we as hiring professionals, are obligated also to give them the tools to succeed.
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