This has been quite the year, with COVID-19 transforming virtually every part of our lives. And while companies like Pfizer and Moderna bring us closer to a vaccine each day, it is hard to imagine ever truly going “back to normal.” This isn’t to say that group gatherings are a thing of the past. However, our ability to quickly adapt to these new realities has caused many of us to reexamine our ideas around what is and isn’t possible — and what’s most important.
One of the greatest examples of our ability to adapt came in the nearly overnight shift to remote work — a transition acutely felt in the supply chain, where more than 70% of employees reported having to go into the office, plant or distribution site daily. With nearly a year of remote work behind us, depending on your home base, most of the initial challenges have been addressed and a rhythm has been set. Initial anxieties around technology capabilities and productivity have quieted and supply chain leaders have been pleasantly surprised at their teams’ ability to smoothly transition into this remote environment while maintaining, and often exceeding, performance goals.1
With this success, organizations are planning to incorporate remote work into their long-term workforce strategy. In fact, HR leaders globally project an 18-percentage point increase in the number of employees working remote post-COVID. In anticipation of this shift, organizations like Facebook and French automaker PSA have already unveiled plans to let most of their employees work remotely on a permanent basis.
While this shift brings benefits like increased employee productivity and cost savings on office space and travel, remote work and the flexibility it provides can also support the supply chain function’s DE&I efforts. This is an area of renewed focus given the global call to action against systemic racism spurred by the cruel killing of George Floyd. As companies move beyond their written statements condemning racism and discrimination, permanent remote work is one tactic to accelerate progress in this space.
Cutting the tether to physical office space allows you to recruit from virtually everywhere and tap into various underrepresented talent segments including but not limited to:
- People of Color — Geography is one of the first things that comes up when leaders talk about the challenges they face in recruiting racially and ethnically diverse candidates. For example, a millennial woman of color living in a multicultural city might not be eager to relocate to a less diverse community. In this case, remote work is a win-win — helping you to bring on more racially and ethnically diverse talent while allowing candidates to continue to live in locations where they are happiest.
- People with Disabilities — The traditional approach of requiring employees to work in offices has been especially detrimental for people with disabilities. The commute to work may be inaccessible or burdensome; the office and nearby areas may lack accessible paths; and the office environment itself can cause mental and/or physical distress for people with a variety of disabilities. For these reasons and more, the disability community has been advocating for remote accommodations for years and has been overwhelmingly met with resistance.2 With fully remote positions, people with disabilities can work in environments tailored to their unique needs, increasing comfort and productivity.
- Women — From taking care of children to serving as caregivers to elderly family, women have always had to balance their work with their responsibilities at home and the pandemic has only exacerbated this reality. With this added pressure, many women are considering leaving the workforce entirely. In September alone, 865,000 women over the age of 20 in the United States dropped out of the workforce (compared with 216,000 men).3 This is a loss that no one can afford. To help retain and attract women candidates, we must reexamine work-life boundaries with an emphasis on flexibility and empathy.
To maximize the benefits of these expanded candidate pools, supply chain leaders need to work closely with their HR counterparts to identify any untapped or undervalued recruiting channels for candidate outreach. Further, leaders must work with HR to understand the attraction drivers and employee value propositions for these new talent pools and use them to shape outreach messaging strategies. For example, Gartner research finds that, on average, racially and ethnically diverse candidates are more likely to consider the diversity of an organization’s workforce when joining or leaving an employer. Be sure to highlight your function’s DE&I efforts in your communication and outreach to these candidates.
While permanent remote work can help you tap into underrepresented talent and increase diversity in the short term, this alone will not build a diverse, inclusive and equitable supply chain workforce. Many leaders who have improved attraction, recruiting and hiring report disengagement and attrition of this hard-won talent within one to two years. To fully reap the benefits of these new ways of working, leaders must also build cultures of inclusion and belonging, eliminate bias in talent and business processes, and hold leaders accountable for DE&I progress. Without these additional components, and improving managers’ ability to lead and develop remote and distributed teams, we run the risk of reverting to our old ways and missing out on a unique opportunity to drive change.
Senior Advisory Specialist
Gartner Supply Chain
1It should be noted that sustaining this productivity and performance beyond the initial surge is not possible and that employees are experiencing fatigue and burnout at alarming rates.
2“We’re Proving Remote Work Is Possible. That’s Good News for People with Disabilities,” The Tyee.
3“Multiple Demands Causing Women to Abandon Workforce,” NPR.