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The Remote Work Revolution Holds Promise for Employees of Color

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Many Black and Hispanic knowledge workers have unique reasons to embrace the remote work revolution—and figures show that they’ve adopted it even more wholeheartedly than their white colleagues.

That’s according to workplace trend research from Future Forum, a research consortium run by Slack. Researchers found that 81% of Black and 86% of Hispanic knowledge workers in the United States favored remote and hybrid work compared with 75% of their white peers. Likewise, 24% of Black knowledge workers felt their sense of belonging at work had increased over the past year. Just 5% of white knowledge workers said the same.

In light of the inequities highlighted by COVID-19, these findings hold implications for the future of remote and hybrid work as workforces emerge from pandemic restrictions.

Tracing the Benefits of Remote Work

Future Forum’s research began in June 2020 and continued every quarter until January 2022. It ultimately concluded that Black knowledge workers have largely found the remote work revolution to be a positive experience: the number of Black employees who want to stay in their home offices has gone up every quarter since May 2021. However, that figure decreased for white employees during that time.

Other groups also found overwhelming benefits to working remotely. For instance, it allows people with disabilities to avoid inaccessible office spaces and arrange their workspaces individually. Globally, the employee experience score for mothers revealed further interest in remote or hybrid work: half of mothers said they preferred remote setups compared with 43% of fathers.

What accounts for such a stark difference in attitudes? Many employees operate out of physical workplaces that—both structurally and culturally—are not suitable for them. In-person environments can create opportunities to breed inequities both overt and subtle. That’s especially true for those who feel unsure of the expectations for social networking in their office environments.

In being able to work outside of the typical office arrangement, employees including nonwhite workers and women can avoid some of the burden of code-switching, the act of adapting everything from behavior to clothing in order to conform with the dominant culture. Close to 50% of college-educated Black Americans under the age of 50 feel pressured to engage in code-switching at work. Leaving the traditional office setting may help them set aside the continual stress of ensuring they fit in.

In-person environments can create opportunities to breed inequities both overt and subtle.

Recognizing Potential Challenges in Remote Work

The remote work revolution also brings its own obstacles. For example, there’s the matter of “proximity bias,” whereby managers are more likely to give promotions to employees they frequently see in person. That’s particularly significant given that white, male executives comprise the group with the strongest preference for working full-time in an office. More than 40% of executives pointed to proximity bias as a concern in the most recent quarter of Future Forum’s research, up from 33% in the previous quarter.

Some observers even say that remote work can exacerbate the potential for harassment. Remotely, more harmful interactions may go unnoticed by others at work. Employers may also react to remote working trends by hiring remote workers who live in other cities or countries with lower pay expectations. Take Latin America, where the currencies of some countries have lost value since 2020: recently, the number of foreign companies hiring from the region has risen by 156%.

As companies weigh the pros and cons of returning to the office, the nuances of embracing remote work revealed during the pandemic will affect decision-making for employers and employees alike.

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