Christa Quarles of Alludo

The votes are in, and the majority (80%) of UK knowledge workers believe flexible, remote or hybrid work is the way of the future, writes Christa Quarles, CEO at Alludo.

While so many of us seem to prefer the many benefits it offers, there’s increasing evidence that remote work is especially essential for groups that have historically held less power in the traditional, butts-in-seats, visibly hierarchical, in-office world.

The reckoning that got us here

If you had told me a few years ago that I’d be not only embracing remote work at my company, but actively championing it for the knowledge workforce globally, I’d have thought you must have the wrong person.

I’m the first to admit that I was a total in-office advocate. I relished the camaraderie and the energy of a room full of people bouncing ideas off each other. But then suddenly, like nearly every other company employing knowledge workers, we weren’t together anymore.

While the pandemic was devastating, the remote environment worked. It really worked.  

It’s not just that we maintained—even reinvigorated—our culture.

It’s not just that we planned an entire rebrand while scattered around the world.

It’s not just that we virtually pour our hearts out to people we’ve never met in person.

It’s all of that and more. This shift has also forced a reckoning with what’s expected of us at home, how our success is measured at work, and how work fits into our lives. And for many, the ability to work remotely has broken down barriers and offered new opportunities in a way that, no surprise, office walls never could.

Why a lot of women prefer remote work

McKinsey recently reported that 9 in 10 women want to work primarily remote. Among other reasons, they report experiencing fewer microaggressions and higher levels of psychological safety in a remote environment. As my colleague Becca Chambers recently wrote, “In the workplace, women must walk the razor’s edge of being coiffed and presentable without appearing high-maintenance, competent and assertive without appearing bossy, and innumerable other dichotomies that are both physically and emotionally taxing. They spend all day masking and code-switching, only to be told it’s not enough.”

Work/life balance, especially time with family and less time commuting, are often cited as top reasons women prefer remote work. Notably, the McKinsey report also indicated that the preference for remote work was “especially salient for women of colour, LGBT women, or women with disabilities,” who face additional microaggressions and bias that come with intersectional, marginalised identities.

Stepping away from the office is one way to mitigate some of these challenges and helps to create a more level playfield for everyone in your organisation.

Why remote work supports neurodiversity

My company recently conducted an ambitious survey on neurodiversity at work. The results clearly indicate that remote work offers many benefits for neurodivergent individuals. Among them: remote work cuts down on the inherent distractions of an office environment. It enables individuals to set up an environment that supports their needs. It reduces bias and eliminates many potential obstacles, like standing in front of a room of people, or making small talk in the hallways. It mitigates the need to spend all day masking to the point of exhaustion.

The much-needed conversation on neurodiversity at work is just getting started, but increased flexibility in where and how you work is going to be a big part of that conversation—and a critical part of fostering inclusivity.

Remote is only part of the equation

That word—flexibility—is key here. As we build the future of work, it’s critical to avoid applying the old structures and expectations of the past to a remote environment). If your team can work from home but needs to be moving their mouse (maybe with a mouse tracking software attached from 8-5, Monday through Friday), you’re missing the point.

For remote work to serve everyone, it must include freedom. Parents and caregivers need to be able to feed a baby or pick up a kid from school, or kick around a soccer ball in the middle of the day. Dog parents need to be able to take Fido for a walk and play tug-of-war with that one toy they’re always dropping at your feet. Night owls need to be able to seize their time to shine. Early birds need to be able to send 5 a.m. emails without it being perceived as shaming anyone else.

Onward

In a tight labour market and rapidly accelerating business landscape, we can’t let adherence to old ways of thinking stop us from moving forward. And we definitely can’t afford to exclude talented people who will deliver the outcomes you need, simply because they’re not sitting in your preferred cubicle. This isn’t about lowering expectations. It’s about setting high expectations and removing barriers to achieving them.

I’ve heard it said that bringing knowledge workers back to the office will help people feel like they belong. But many people never truly felt like they belonged, even when they were in the office. Offices by default do not build connection or great teams.

As the evidence shows, if you want to create a workplace that is more equitable and inclusive, enabling flexible, remote work is something that can and should be considered right now.