It was clear more than a year after the start of the Covid Pandemic in March 2020 that diverse professionals overwhelmingly preferred working from home to returning to the office. In our article Marginalized Staff Prefer Working from Home, we cited:
" … a Future Forum survey of 4,700 knowledge workers found a super-majority of staff never want to go back to the "good old days" of commuting into a central office. The survey revealed that only 12% want to return to full-time office work. Surprisingly, 72% want a hybrid remote-office model moving forward."
A hybrid model involves working part-time at home and part-time working in an office with other staff. In the hybrid model, the "other staff" is typically team members who are working on the same project.
Significantly, about 97% of Black employees who are currently working remotely want a hybrid or full-time remote work model in the future. Comparatively, 79% of white peers want to return to the old commute model, according to the same report. A root of much of the sentiment is staff marginalization. Women, LGBTx workers, and people of color felt their contributions were little appreciated in the workplace.
Working from home has given marginalized workers a significant boost in their productivity. For instance, Black knowledge workers reported a 50% boost in their sense of belonging at work and a 64% increase in their ability to manage stress once they started working from home as opposed to going into the office most days.
Diversity managers have a balancing act to perform when crafting Work from Home (WFH) policies for diverse staff: how to maintain high levels of productivity among marginalized staff while meeting executive demands for a return to the office (RTO)?
Firstly, it's important that Diversity Managers work closely with the rest of HR staff to establish guidelines for changes the or: this could be fully in the office, fully remote, or hybrid. Policies in every instance must be clear on at least a handful of considerations:
It is important for HR and other department managers to understand and appreciate how dramatic the shift back to the office will be. The move will have repercussions as great as when companies worldwide abruptly changed to working remotely at the beginning of 2020. Many people experienced great strains on their mental health during Lockdown. They may or may not have resolved the issues underlying the anxiety and isolation they may have been feeling.
The dramatic transition back to the office "because the bosses said so" will not be sufficient reason to provide staff with the consolation they may need under stressful circumstances. It is important that HR and managers be prepared for lower rates of worker productivity, as a result. They may also have to prepare themselves for more requested sick days than if the pandemic had never happened.
Do not be surprised to see rougher transitions back to the office by women and other marginalized groups than European-American males. Diverse professionals will have become even more sensitive to the microaggressions and patronizing attitudes they had become aware of before Lockdown. HR may have to provide a little extra support to the group.
Women have a great many more challenges to meet than men when it comes to balancing work and family, no matter their ethnicity. Women still handle more of the cleaning, shopping, and childcare obligations at home than men do. Single parents have an especially difficult time meeting the needs of both demanding bosses and children.
Working women of minority groups have yet more barriers to achieving fulfillment at home and at work. They have to deal with overt and implicit sleights from supervisors and coworkers, and they have to juggle conditions at home that require a great deal of their attention.
Diversity Managers have to have made plain in their policies just how they will be supporting staff who experience these sorts of extreme stresses in their lives. Without recognition of the challenges the modern workplace presents to diverse staff, companies will see a talent drain. Skilled staff will move to companies that support greater flexibility and balance between work and family. Enlightened companies know full well that helping employees resolve the tension will lead to greater productivity and employment retention.
There seem to be as many hybrid models as there are companies in the world. No one hybrid model fits all industries or specialities. For instance, some companies dictate that staff co-locate in offices several days a week, and designate which days when everyone is in attendance.
Other companies tell staff they must be in the office several days a week and allow staff to decide, depending on project requirements. And then there are companies that have gone completely remote-first, with no staff required to be in the office. Post-lockdown, there may even no longer be a physical space for staff to work in.
Whatever your organization decides, make it explicit, make it easy to follow, and make it flexible.
Organizations that treat their diverse professional staff like the factory workers of a hundred years ago risk the same level of irrelevance as the horse and buggy.
William R. Dodson is a contributing editor at EmployDiversityNetwork.com. He writes on workplace diversity and Tech trends. His latest book is Virtually International: How Remote Teams Can Harness the Energy, Talent, and Insights of Diverse Cultures (Emerald Publishing Group, September 2021). You can contact him at email@example.com.
Hybrid Working Policy Guide (Personnel Today)