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Remote versus mobile working and why it affects diversity and inclusion

16th Jul 2019
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There’s a big difference between remote and mobile working and that distinction could make or break your diversity, inclusion and retention strategy.

Thanks to a plethora of tools and technologies, remote work is becoming the norm for millions of employees around the world. In fact, as soon as next year, it’s estimated that half of the workforce will be considered remote or mobile.

While this is a boon to both employees who crave flexibility and to the businesses that want the low-cost benefits and ability to hire talent from anywhere, there’s a critical distinction between ‘remote’ and ‘mobile’ workers.

This distinction can make or break your inclusion and retention strategy.

The reality of remote

While remote workers are typically on their own working from home or wherever they choose, mobile employees work in an identified location, typically a satellite office, a branch location, or an international facility.

Mobile assignments can be short-term, lasting just a few weeks to a few months, or they can be long-term or even permanent.

Remote teams may enjoy a greater work/life balance, and there’s evidence that shows they’re also more productive than their office-bound peers.

Plus, job seekers are more inclined to take a position if some remote work is offered, which can help with recruiting efforts.

This is especially true among job-seeking millennials, 68% of whom say they’d be more interested in employers who offer the option of remote work.

The inclusivity difference is that mobile employees are legitimately embedded in the culture of both their place and their employer.

Unfortunately, that’s typically where the diversity and inclusion (D&I) benefit of remote work ends. Minority headcount increases, but the real, practical benefits of D&I never materialise.

This is because remote workers often feel isolated, removed from their peers or their team and excluded from the company culture.

This leads remote workers to have some of the lowest employee engagement, and lacking this sense of connection to their co-workers and the organisation puts them at risk of leaving.

That means your remote workforce not only feels disengaged, but your retention strategy suffers as well.

Mobility changes the game

For a distributed company, a strong mobility programme can provide a better solution that bolsters your D&I efforts while also improving retention, and still giving employees the flexibility, experience and balance they desire.

The inclusivity difference is that mobile employees are legitimately embedded in the culture of both their place and their employer.

Since they actually get to work face-to-face with people of varying cultures, they truly get a diversity experience that is enriching, that builds leadership skills, advances their career and gives them the adventure and learning experience they crave.

Fewer than 20% of mobile employees are women, which proves that while mobility can bolster inclusion, mobility itself isn’t inclusive by nature.

Now more than ever, young professionals, in particular, are seeking opportunities to expand their worldview and to experience new cultures.

This is driving an increase in the ‘digital nomad’ population—those who rarely put down roots and instead move from one location to another for the global experience.

A well-executed mobility programme can offer this kind of flexibility, which the World Economic Forum has called “one of the biggest drivers of transformation” in the workplace.

Keys to a successful mobility programme

Unlike remote work, mobility allows companies to fully leverage the D&I benefits of improved creativity and innovation, a more holistic perspective on the needs of the customer and a more diverse leadership bench.

In order to make mobility work, however, and to facilitate inclusion and retention, there are several key components that must be included in any programme.

Equal opportunity

Fewer than 20% of mobile employees are women, which proves that while mobility can bolster inclusion, mobility itself isn’t inclusive by nature.

Make a determined effort to encourage women and minorities to participate in mobility opportunities by offering options and incentives that speak to their needs—assimilation assistance, the freedom to choose the most appropriate neighborhood and living arrangements, and family support, for example.

Communication

Among the 99% of U.S. companies that offer mobility programmes, over 40% of employees say they don’t or they’re unaware of the option.

Overcome this communication breakdown by including relocation assistance as part of every job posting and circulate job openings internally first, to give existing employees the first opportunity.

Candidate and backfill policies

Another way to ensure equal opportunity is to set policies that clarify exactly how employees can qualify for mobile assignments and how their vacant positions will be backfilled.

This not only ensures a level playing field, but also prevents a situation in which a manager might be hesitant to recommend an employee for a move out of fear they’ll be left short-handed.

Having policies and systems in place to head off these misunderstandings makes mobile opportunities more accessible.

Mobility tools for HR and employees

Managing a mobility programme that supports D&I efforts and retention requires tools that make relocation a smooth, efficient and seamless process for both HR and employees.

Using spreadsheets, manual forms, and email are cumbersome and time-consuming and could deter highly qualified candidates from exploring mobility because it’s too complicated - or, they may worry they won’t have adequate support.

By using purpose-built tools for managing and supporting mobile employees, companies can efficiently operate a mobility programme that provides an inclusive, satisfying and engaging process for employees, and keeps the HR team from losing their minds.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, ‘remote working’ and ‘mobile’ arrangements are not the same when it comes to providing an inclusive work environment that attracts and retains top talent.

Only a strong mobility programme, backed by modern tools that streamline the process, can offer the high-value engagement, inclusive culture and diverse experience that spurs innovation and growth, both for the individual and the company.  

Interested in this topic? Read Analysing the challenges in global mobility.

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