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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant share of businesses were enabling more of their employees to work remotely. In fact, since 2005, the number of people working from home has increased 140%. Companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Twitter are advising their workers to work from home. Experts anticipate COVID-19 will only accelerate these trends.

Why Remote Hiring Matters

Some 18% of workers work from home full time and 51% of firms have work-from-home policies of some sort. In total, over 4 million people work from home at least part time. It’s worth noting, however, that 44% don’t allow work from home at all. According to one study, an estimated 48% of workers will work from home at least part time for the foreseeable future. Some tech companies have even made working from home their new normal. Moreover, 77% of executives in one poll expect remote work to continue to increase after COVID.

There are seemingly countless benefits to work-from-home arrangements for both employers and employees. Telecommuters are happier and more productive; two-thirds of workers report they work best from home. Companies can now source from a wider pool of candidates and with the right tech stack, make hiring more effective and efficient.

Beyond productivity and preference, there is evidence that suggests that increasing opportunities for remote work and hiring can actually boost a company’s diversity, especially as it pertains to disability. Making the workforce accessible to people with disabilities is a civil rights issue, one in which employers are legally compelled to avoid discrimination.

The Americans With Disability Act was originally signed in 1990 and amended in 2008. The ADA defines workers with disabilities as those who have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”

As of 2019, less than 20% of workers with disabilities are employed, compared to two-thirds of able-bodies workers. The unemployment rate for workers with disabilities is roughly twice that of able-bodied workers. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, “across all age groups, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than those with no disability.” Of the more than 90,000 discrimination claims The Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received in 2018, nearly one-third of them pertained to disability discrimination.

So how can remote hiring improve disability diversity?
  1. Working remotely enables disabled workers to work in their home, where they are more likely to have access to all of the accommodations required to create the most optimal physical environment to perform their job. Traditional work environments provide numerous challenges to folks managing a wide-range of disabilities–physical discomfort, sensory overload, etc.

  2. Eliminating commuting eliminates obstacles to work. Many disabled workers rely on public transportation, van pools, wheel-chair accessible vehicles, etc. Those methods of travel are often incredibly time consuming, physically draining, and emotionally stressful for workers with disabilities. By allowing workers to work remotely, you eliminate this obstacle.

  3. Greater Flexibility further enables disbaled workers to organize their work tasks around potential healthcare needs–medical appointments or treatments, physical therapy, medication schedules, etc.

  4. Telecommunication can protect workers from potentially toxic work environments where microaggressions may be prevalent. As the EEOC data above indicates, disabled workers report experiencing widespread discrimination and microaggression in the workplace. Toxic work environments are not only deterrents to remaining with an organization, they also hurt productivity.

Is It That Easy?

No, of course not. Increasing remote hiring is not a cure-all for discrimination and diversity issues. Companies should by no means view remote hiring as a substitution for more explicit efforts to identify and root out diversity, inclusivity and discrimination issues in your business. A truly inclusive and diverse corporate culture requires a rigorous commitment and holistic approach to these values. 

Moreover, while remote hiring can help create a more diverse workforce, there are also aspects to telecommuting that can make creating a more inclusive, team-oriented company more difficult. Remote work, for example, often creates obstacles to collaboration which can make some team members feel left out.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that remote hiring provides potential. If managed carefully and thoughtfully your business can make sure to maximize that potential and use it to improve the performance of your team and boost the diversity of your organization.

Mason Mitchel is a content marketing manager at SmartRecruiters.

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