Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Remote Work Increases the Need for Freedom of Religion and Belief

5 Mar, 2022

(With an exhortation about connection in time of war) 

by Kent Johnson, J.D., Senior Corporate Advisor, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection, category DIVERSITY

It has become clear to nearly all business and HR experts: Remote Work, done well, requires close attention to promoting authenticity and connection in diverse workforces. Personal relationships matter, whether they’re forged in physical proximity or over the internet. The implications of this idea reach far beyond our immediate workplaces.

Business experts routinely underscore that an organization’s culture and values are hugely important enablers of good remote work. Here are three examples from hundreds that I could cite:

  1. (1) THE “AGILE WORK” MOVEMENT. Renowned Harvard Business Professor Timothy R. Clark notes that the concept of “Agile Work” has spawned a global movement shaping all kinds of work – especially remote work. “Agile” rests on shared values, the first of which is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” The Agile literature is filled with appeals for personal “vulnerability” and “psychological safety” and many other ideas we’ve been spotlighting in these blogs.

  2. (2) “MORAL INJURY.” Ron Carucci and Ludmila Praslova have identified “wounding of the soul” as a prime cause for employees quitting. To address this, they advocate sensitive connection with employees’ core values and cultures that encourage acknowledgement of wrongs, and forgiveness.

  3. (3) “PRESSURE TO REMAIN SILENT.” In a recent study of 1400 workers, 90% felt emotionally or physically unsafe to speak their mind more than once in the past 18 months, and 38% felt unsafe either every day or every week.

Nearly all the mainstream business articles I’ve seen on coping with remote work touch these kinds of topics. They advocate cultures of personal openness and psychological safety, decry moral injury, and argue to dispel the pressure to remain silent about one’s core identity. They underscore the value of interpersonal connections and deep friendships. But the vast majority still scrupulously dodge the topic of religious expression at work. Until 2019, articles about the role of faith and belief in the workplace were almost entirely relegated to religious media.

This is changing. Companies like Intel, Texas Instruments, American Airlines and Amex are rocking the boat with success stories about how diverse religious expression is enabling rich, diverse connections, and enriching corporate culture. [See my blogs on HOPE for many more examples.]

Point is, work culture is a huge determinant of organizational effectiveness. And remote work certainly presents challenges to culture. Without physical proximity, the struggle to connect across diverse cultural lines is even tougher. Today, remote work and “The Great Resignation” are driving HR leaders to explore new ways to free employees so they can relate more meaningfully with one another.

Faith and belief has much to say on this. The work of champions like the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is helping diverse companies everywhere turn the tide, even where work is remote.

I’ll close with a final note on remote work that pertains directly to the current crisis in Ukraine.

In all our blogs promoting cross-cultural authenticity and connection at work, we have more in mind than just making work more pleasant and more welcoming. Especially through remote connections, there’s a possibility of promoting civility and loving-kindness abroad in a personal way. Surely many of you have business interactions with people in places like Ukraine, and other places where freedom of religion and belief is far more constrained than here in the USA. Do the people you correspond with know that your faith (or belief, or core values) moves your heart to care about them? Are you communicating your heartfelt compassion? Are you praying for them?

This growing business movement for greater freedom of expression of religion and belief has a profound reach far beyond the walls of your company. When the doors are opened, freedom of religion and belief connects remotely, deeply. We help weave a fabric of civility in this sometimes-insane world. I hope many of you will apply the principles of your faith and belief to walk through these doors (both physically and online) and touch the hearts of individuals, whether they’re associated with oppressors or the oppressed. Impact world culture today.