Internet inequality across America is a big issue for the development of remote and inclusive workforces alike.
A recent study conducted by Stanford professors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta shows that only 65% of Americans have internet fast enough to handle remote work demands such as video calls. There is a growing concern then about the access to higher-level positions and jobs that are not in essential services for low-income families and people in rural communities. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that around 21.3 million people in the U.S. do not have access to high-speed internet, but research varies, with some estimates coming in at double that number.
As a study from North Carolina State University last year notes, the internet can provide job seekers with more information than ever before, “but has made the hiring process more meritocratic.” While lower-wage jobs remain open to everyone and competition is intense, higher-wage jobs are essentially gated by the need to have the tools to perform the work that comes along with them.
As the forced shift to work from home continues through at least the winter and spring of 2021, HR teams have to figure out how to ensure their best candidates will have access to the tools they need to succeed as they look to create talented, diverse teams that are no longer bound by geography.
Check with Local ISPs for Promotions and Programs
Budgets are tight and according to some of our own recent research, are expected to tighten more. An internet stipend or paying for a Wi-Fi hot spot may difficult to prioritize. If this is the case, consider reaching out to local internet service providers to see if they have any programs available to help people get broadband access.
As part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that passed back in March, millions of dollars were allocated to provide broadband services for rural and underserved communities to ensure that people could do their work. Some ISPs may have access to funds that can help them expand service to areas your employees live in.
As part of that, the FCC encouraged ISPs to join the Keep America Connected Pledge, which encouraged the opening of WiFi hotspots, expansion of services and put a pause on cutting off bills for customers and businesses who couldn’t pay due to the pandemic, but that came to an end in June. Now, the FCC is asking Congress to step in and pass legislation that will help address these issues, whether that comes in the form of infrastructure plans to expand access to high-speed internet or providing monthly benefits to workers who have been laid off.
As of now, a number of measures have been introduced and are working their way through the legislative system. It may only be a short time before services expand to areas that will level the playing field, but for now, employers still have to find ways to help a diverse population gain and maintain access to all types of work.
Stipends and Hot Spots
It may seem like a big investment, but given that many employers are beginning to realize savings on office space and a lack of unscheduled absences from work, the costs may actually offset in the long term.
Stipends and providing hot spots likely won’t be a permanent requirement, whether that’s due to the pandemic ending and people returning to work or because of the aforementioned legislation expanding access to broadband. As a result, it may be best to view this expense in the long term, knowing the business case for hiring a diverse range of candidates.
But it’s also vital to creating a positive remote work experience for employees. To ensure productivity and engagement, HR should be looking to set employees up for success through the physical environment they work in as well as the tools necessary to do their work. That means their access to remote work possibilities via the internet. Tackling this problem as a society will take time, but for today, it’s up to HR to convince the leadership of the necessity to empower people from all walks of life to thrive in the environment of the new normal.