Remote Work, Employee Experience, and the Rise of D&I Technologies

COVID-19 has transformed the world of work. At the beginning of the pandemic, we prepared for a looming recession and focused on saving costs. After that, as mental health challenges surged, we asked how we could enable resilience among our employees. More recently, we started grappling with longstanding issues around diversity, inclusion, and equity. For HR, the novel coronavirus has deeply re-architected the way we work, and it seems the only constant has been change.

However, one particular trend is emerging among the changes. With the changes that coronavirus has brought upon the workforce, we believe that a fundamental shift in how we relate to talent is underway. We are facing a world where remote work will become a norm rather than an exception, and where violence and discrimination could explode. As a result, we believe that digital-first diversity and inclusion (D&I) tools, particularly social media screening, will experience tremendous growth.

Why Diversity & Inclusion Tools Are Growing 📈

We will need new ways to get to know our employees

Tempting as it is to believe that the workplace will go "back to normal," there are strong indications that remote work will continue well after the pandemic.

In addition to the cost savings, lower stress levels, and lower turnover gained from working remotely, talent management experts say that many companies are experiencing increases in productivity and innovation. According to Dr. John Sullivan, most companies have witnessed a rise in productivity since the pandemic began, and with a larger talent pool, diversity and innovation will follow.

More importantly, there are now constraints in the physical environment due to coronavirus. Previously, we were able to rely on in-person interviews and everyday interactions to gauge temperament and personality. We no longer have many of those tools available to us, and given the current trends, we likely won't.

So how will we get to know our employees in an increasingly globalized, remote-first work environments?

When it comes to vetting, a more common indicator will involve the way we communicate online. While it's possible to gauge some of these things after onboarding, that process becomes far more resource-intensive than gathering knowledge on the front end, especially during periods where budgets are tight.

That means that HR needs a new approach to vetting as we shift into an increasingly globalized, remote-first environment. According to The National Law Journal, there has been a 61 percent increase in social media engagement during the lockdown. With many employees only interacting with each other via digital channels, we expect even more of our vetting practices to move into the digital realm.

We need to protect employees as harmful behavior surges

We are in a profoundly challenging moment in history. It's a moment of deep fear and polarization, and with there has also been an increase in bigotry and intolerance towards certain people groups, particularly on social media platforms.

Hate speech against Asians has increased by 900% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling #HR leaders to use diversity & inclusion tools as part of a broader wellness and risk management strategy:

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The existential stress of a pandemic can bring the worst out of people, triggering them to post inappropriate statements and hurt other people. Hate speech against Asians and Asian-Americans on Twitter has increased by 900 percent in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With the tragic murder of George Floyd on the 25th of May and the protests that followed, additional political divisions have made their way online.

SHRM reported that politics in the workplace was a divisive topic years ago, but COVID-19 and the movement for Black Lives could make socio-political divisions in the workplace an even more pressing issue. With the additional challenges that have arisen since 2016 and seem to be peaking in 2020, how can we help our organizations develop resilience amidst enormous emotional and social turmoil?

Besides highlighting the character traits of a candidate in a time where employers have limited face-to-face contact with talent, social media screening detects hate speech. Used as part of a broader wellness and risk management strategy, it can reduce the total burden that employees are shouldering.

Protecting employees from injury and abuse should be one of the focal points of mending the damage COVID-19 has inflicted on the workforce.

The reasoning is simple: acknowledging the difficulties employees are facing and preventing further harm helps offer them respect and dignity while giving them space to build greater resilience. In turn, it strengthens their performance and the broader organization.

We will need to rethink the employer-employee relationship

Perhaps most importantly, our standards for diversity, inclusion, and equity have grown tremendously. Over the last decade, employees have demanded new operating paradigms in the workplace, all of which point to the same central message: "I'm not just an employee. I'm a human being."

The growth of the #MeToo movement in 2017 began to show that employees are not going to endure the pressure of workplace intimidation anymore and will demand executive accountability. However, the demands for equity in the workplace are even more profound today and made at a scale that employers haven't experienced before.

People are asking about the representation of Black, Indigenous, Latino, and other underrepresented talents. Nearly every aspect of the employee experience has come into focus because of it, further solidifying the notion that diversity, inclusion, and equitable distribution of power are essential for the future of business.

That means we can no longer afford to ignore these conversations. We cannot merely address the issues at the symptom level through well-intentioned PR initiatives or one-time projects to satisfy the cultural moment.

Instead, we must begin re-examining the relationship between employer and talent and find ways to facilitate a more meaningful and equitable conversation at every stage of the employee experience.

The subtle biases that have led to the surge in these topics can occur at any point in the employee lifecycle, but the inequities often start at the very beginning. At Fama, we aim to help create a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and human-centered workplace, beginning at the point of hire. As a provider of candidate insights, we aim to be as critical as possible in our approach to enabling equity:

  • How do we create a fairer screening process that respects all people, some of whom have historically "fit" the culture and others, from outspoken employees to people with disabilities, who are changing our ideas about work?

  • How do we take compliance seriously, understanding that legality helps set the foundation for a flourishing culture, one of the keys to innovation and transformation?

  • How can we meet the moment, which asks that we fundamentally reconsider the way we treat employees and think differently about what makes a successful business in the new world?

The answer lies in rethinking our relationship with candidates and employees. We must dive beneath the surface of our present difficulties ("How can I address workplace diversity?") and identify the root cause, starting with the dynamics built into the talent screening process ("Is my hiring process fair?").

That's why we believe social media screening is on the rise. It is not just another "step" in a recruiting process or a buffer against the uncertainty of our globalized, digital-first environment. It is an enabler of organizational culture, starting at the very beginning of the employee lifecycle, that centers humanity and decency as the pathway towards innovation and value.

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Tina Nataros is a writer and journalist who covers topics including workplace diversity, equity, and psychological safety. Before becoming a freelance writer, she served as a journalist for a youth-affirming news organization and in marketing for AIESEC, a youth organization that awoke her passion for HR.