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‘Anywhere office’ will drive more diverse workplace

By LORNA HARDIE, regional director for VMware Sub-Saharan Africa

Tech communities have talked for years about the ‘future of work’ as some vague, far-off concept. The conversation has often revolved around how to make the workplace more efficient and more collaborative, and in a lot of the conversations I’ve been having recently, inclusivity has risen in the conversation ranking.

Enter 2020, where working environments and practices have been forced into a complete change. We are seeing the rise in ‘anywhere’ or distributed workforces — where the office doesn’t have to be the centre of a business, and swaths of employees have the choice to access the resources and tools to work from any location, whether it’s the home, office, coffee shop or a combination of all three.

In fact, recent research from VMware and Vanson Bourne found that across EMEA, there has been a 41% increase in employees now recognising remote working as a pre-requisite rather than a perk.

While the ‘anywhere workforce’ won’t happen overnight, and not for all organisations or workers, the ethos is likely to become more of a norm. But an essential conversation has to be how do organisations create an inclusive and diverse environment for its employees?

A more diverse and inclusive working model

Think about working parents. Gone are the days where you had to juggle the school run and the commute into the office to not miss your morning meeting. A distributed working environment where location is immaterial, and one where management supports flexible working hours, makes it possible for parents to build their own working schedule in the exact locations that suit them, be it their home, their company office or otherwise.

Forget weekly flexi rotas, leaving early to pick up your child from day care, and forget judging your productivity based on what you’ve achieved solely between the hours of 9am and 5pm.

Distributed and flexible working can alleviate the challenges with balancing work and childcare scheduling as the lack of commute can often mean you’re working closer to where your children go to school.

It is now easier than ever for working parents to thrive in the workforce and this flexibility has resulted in 82% of business leaders in EMEA finding it easier to recruit working parents.

But it doesn’t stop there. Without the limitation of ‘the office’ as the panacea, the talent pool has widened to multiple geographies. The office is no longer confined to a commute’s length and employers now have the ability to recruit from cities to remote villages, way beyond business parks and city centres — something that perhaps wasn’t previously considered because of people’s distance to the office.

In fact, more than three quarters of business leaders in Northern Europe now find it easier to recruit those living outside major economic hubs.

The distributed working model removes the physical obstacle of having to travel to a workplace. That alone can have a huge impact, making it easier and more realistic for those with disabilities to find work, those who cannot afford transport costs or those who do not live near efficient transport hubs.

Having the confidence to be part of a virtual team

The change in working practices has had an interesting impact on the way in which we interact with colleagues. The virtual nature of how we’ve worked in the last year counterintuitively has given some employees a new sense of empowerment and confidence in their working lives.

Many feel more empowered to speak up on virtual conference calls (64%) and almost two thirds claim they’re more confident speaking their mind to leadership. This is a welcomed trend and I hope we as business leaders can build on this.

We are also seeing a narrowing of the gender divide with almost seven in ten saying time in meetings is now more equally shared between male and female participants.

The role of business leaders in the future of an inclusive workplace

Moving to a fully functional, efficient, distributed working model that is both collaborative and inclusive will take time.

As it stands, in Northern Europe, more than a quarter believe their leadership culture discourages remote working. While the majority may disagree, we’re still looking at nearly a third of respondents who don’t feel supported or encouraged to adapt to the future of work in this way and almost half worry about self-isolation.

Business leaders must recognise that if they are operating a distributed working model that they have a responsibility to adapt their practices to ensure the well-being of staff even if they are ‘out of the line of sight’ and not sitting physically in the office.

This year has forced rapid and profound change in how and where we work. But, businesses and employees should recognise the opportunities this can bring. As business leaders, we want a high performing, engaged and empowered workforce, and the appropriate training and management styles need to be considered to ensure that the concerns of the entire workforce are met — not just those that are the loudest or always present.

The factor that isn’t so important anymore is where employees live, and by putting the right practices in place, we can create an inclusive working environment that works for all those within it, no matter where they’re based.

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