remote work meeting on zoom

According to Global Workplace Analytics, 25 to 30 percent of the United States workforce will be working from home one or more days a week after the pandemic. But not all workers can work from home. Last year a study by the University of Chicago found that 37 percent of jobs in the US can be performed entirely at home. Managers, educators, and those working in computers, finance, and law are largely able to work from home while farm, construction, and production workers cannot.

In the throes of the pandemic, this dichotomy alone raised a host of concerns around equity when it came to remote work and essential jobs. How “fair” was it for the IT manager to work safely from home while the factory worker could not?

There are three areas of potential inequity your remote workforce is facing.

Flexibility stigma

Nearly 3 million women left the labor force in the United States from March 2020 through February 2021. Pay inequality, undervalued work, and antiquated ideas of caregiving top the list of reasons for this mass exodus.

An article published by Bloomberg earlier this year cites a phenomena called flexibility stigma, in which both men and women who ask for flexible work arrangements are penalized because they’re seen as caregivers. Women are judged more harshly for taking care of children during the workday.

Certainly, in normal circumstances, the expectation is that all remote employees, regardless of gender, will arrange childcare during working hours. Yet the pandemic taught us that we are not always in control. Continue to support remote workers with dignity, empathy, and flexibility. For example, set a short duration of core working hours for all employees, and then allow them to work their remaining hours based on their preferences and schedules. Offering consistent self-direction and trust will breed loyal and mentally well employees.

Home environment

Not every employee’s home provides an ideal space for work. Privilege is a factor when you consider which of your workers can dedicate a corner of their residence, or an entire room, to full-time work. And not all of your employees may feel safe letting others into that space via a Zoom meeting.

According to recent US census data, Black households have 20 percent more people, and Latinx households have 80 percent more people living under one roof compared to White households. This information alone illuminates the need for organizational leaders to treat each employee uniquely when it comes to remote work practices.

Finally, technology and logistical barriers abound for many remote workers, in the form of poor Wi-Fi connections or sparse office supplies. Provide stipends for employees who work from home. Ask every remote worker what they need to be productive, safe, and well in their environment.

Hybrid complexities

When you give employees the choice to work from home or from an office, new complexities arise. Many organizations are still fighting the perception that those who choose to return to a physical office are more dedicated and hardworking than those who remain at home.

The Bloomberg piece describes a Stanford study of real-life call-center workers at a Chinese travel agency. The workers were split into two groups: one working from home and one working from the office. The remote workers’ productivity increased by 13 percent. However, their rates of promotion decreased by 50 percent during the nine-month experiment. This is one example of potential biases against workers based on their preferred office location. These inequities can quickly shift the scales of power within an organization.

Establishing a standard number of days when employees come to the office is one possible solution. Develop policies and practices that provide equity in other ways such as commuter transport, childcare, and eldercare subsidies.

Conclusion

At first, remote work seemed the answer to a host of employee challenges. It provides many benefits in the form of flexibility, autonomy, work-life balance, and convenience. But remote work inequities can fester if they are not intentionally addressed.

Remote work issues are complex. We are here to help you empower your people to work at their full potential. Contact us today to learn more.