Corritta, 32, was forced to work in her office until January 2020 despite making it clear to her supervisors that she preferred remote work. The Ohio-based HR systems analyst said her job was technical and isolating, leaving her with few, if any, opportunities to socialize and travel with her family. When the employers refused to budge, she offered to resign. Then, her employers agreed to let her work remotely.
Corritta is one of many BIPOC workers who knows what it’s like to have to choose between working remotely or keeping their job—and that number is steadily rising as employers start to force employees back into the office after teleworking for two years.
Before the pandemic, 20% of employees worked remotely in the U.S. When offices closed to mitigate COVID-19 transmissions, 71% of employees worked from home. More than two years later, several companies across different industries are now calling their workers back into the office. Some of the bigger companies, like Goldman Sachs, recently announced their “back-to-office” plans despite worker resistance. Other companies, like Twitter, have introduced a hybrid model that allows employees to choose where they work.
Not all employees are on board with the idea of giving up on remote work just yet. Recent studies show one in three employees are willing to quit their jobs if work-from-home policies end. Some workers try to find a middle ground by taking a pay cut or working at a lower position that accommodates remote work, but others aren’t as lucky. The fifth annual “State of Remote Work” report conducted by Owl Labs and Global Workplace Analytics found that 50% of workers in the U.S. would be willing to take a 5% pay cut for the ability to work remotely. This sentiment is stronger in BIPOC employees as they face more microaggressions and discrimination at work.
“Working remotely removed me from the passive-aggressive work environment at the office,” Corritta said. “It gave me a chance to do my job without the anxiety of being questioned about my hair or clothes.“
Being a BIPOC employee in a white-dominated office can be isolating and stressful, said Belinda V. Givens, a speech language pathologist in Orlando. Having the freedom to work from home does not completely eliminate these challenges, but it can reduce the stress since it gives employees more control over their work environment while minimizing exposure to office politics, she added.
Remote work saves money
Along with an increased sense of safety, finances play a huge role in many BIPOC employees’ support of remote work. Working from home saves the money spent commuting, buying and maintaining vehicles, and purchasing gas (which is getting increasingly expensive), and it even reduces the need for businesses to invest in real estate or expensive office suites. Studies show the average commute for Black employees is 12% longer than the average commute for white employees, which adds to the inequitable work conditions in many workplaces.
Remote work is also particularly helpful for BIPOC moms who often face lower wages and manage child care and household responsibilities at home. Leaving children at home alone isn’t always an option, and the rising cost of child care services makes it increasingly inaccessible for many BIPOC families. Remote work can be a gamechanger in these cases.
“As a mother, having the freedom and flexibility to balance work and home life means I can pick my kids up after school, help them with their homework, prepare more home-cooked meals, and experience decreased overall fatigue as I am no longer required to spend countless hours commuting to work or getting stuck in traffic on my way home from work,” Givens said.
Remote work can also help BIPOC employees find better paying jobs that aren’t located in their area.
“High-paying jobs are typically not found in Black neighborhoods,” said Adrian Devezin, the executive director of Empowr, a nonprofit that helps members of the Black community learn software development skills to access well-paying tech jobs.
People can have the necessary skills to do a good job but still be limited by their location—and moving isn’t a privilege everyone has, especially for BIPOC, who are more likely to live in intergenerational households.
“Many BIPOC people want to remain in locations where they have roots, either family or community,” said Everett Harper, the co-founder and CEO of Truss, a remote-first company.
Remote jobs allow employees to maintain such a support system while opening up new opportunities for growth and career development that might not be available in their cities.
“Remote work means that people who want to live in their home countries don’t have to assimilate into a foreign society just to keep their jobs,” said Pearl M. Kasirye, a Ugandan co-founder of Pearl Lemon, a remote company with a staff made up of 80% people of color. “This is very important for mental health and life satisfaction because some of us are very connected to our roots and prefer to live in the countries we were born in instead of an over-priced, over-crowded city in the West.”
Remote hiring benefits both employees and the workers. A Stanford study of 16,000 workers over nine months found working from home increased employee productivity by 13%. Establishing a remote team lets companies hire people with the right skills without worrying about the candidate’s geographical location, said Amit Raj, an Indian founder of The Links Guy, a remote company with 80% BIPOC employees.
Raj said he experienced serious discrimination early in his career, found it difficult to secure a job, and was being passed over for promotion. So when he started his own remote company, he became adamant to “give equal opportunities to anyone that applied for a job at the company no matter where they were from and their background.”
Raj’s company isn’t the only one going fully remote to attract talent. Companies both big and small are hiring remotely to attract and retain valuable employees. A 2020 FlexJobs survey showed that nearly 80% of employees would be “more loyal to their employer if they offered flexible work.”
Remote work also improves turnover rates. The 2017 “State of Remote Work” report showed that companies that allow workers to work remotely experience a 25% lower employee turnover rate.
Why the government and employers want workers back in the office
Despite the clear benefits of remote work, the government and various employers are still urging workers to go back to the office. President Joe Biden recently announced during his State of the Union Address that it is “time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”
“The push to return to the office has to do with widespread vaccinations, booster shots, and an acceptance that COVID-19 and its mutations will be a part of life,” said Mehwish Aslam, the chief business officer of FinTech solution bSecure.
The decision also likely comes from a need to refuel the economy. The average price per square foot for U.S. offices is about $35, but it can be as high as $81 per square foot in large cities like New York. Estimates suggest the average yearly cost to rent office space in New York can be $14,800 per employee.
“Companies have invested a lot into office space and real estate, and now they need to obtain their money’s worth,” Devezin said.
Another factor is the urge for companies to be able to keep a closer eye on their workers. A European study found two-thirds of bosses don’t trust their employees to be productive when working remotely.
“It is an old mindset rooted in control,” Corritta said. “You do not have to see everything an employee is doing to believe the job is getting done. If the work has been getting done the last two years, why is there a need to return to the office?”
There is—and will likely continue to be—a strong division between people wanting to return to the office and those wanting to work remotely, Aslam said.
“The solution for companies could be giving staff the option to come to the office if—and only if—they choose to,” she added.
This way, everyone gets to do what’s right for their unique circumstances.