It’s no secret that in many industries, a permanent hybrid working model is strongly preferred by most employees. This model still comes with many challenges, but the past few years have taught us that working from home comes with many benefits, both for employees and employers.
What’s often overlooked is the role that hybrid, or even fully remote, working arrangements can play in organizations’ diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) strategies. Flexible and hybrid work – if done right – can be a vital tool in the quest for equity in the workplace.
Survey data suggests that Black knowledge workers strongly prefer hybrid arrangements, so understanding their reasons and providing them with that flexibility can help leaders recruit, retain, and encourage Black employees.
Start by understanding what employees like about working from home
Naturally, the advantages that all employees get from a hybrid arrangement also apply to Black employees. But when closely examining the benefits of a more flexible work arrangement, it becomes evident that these advantages apply even more strongly for Black employees.
One of the biggest perks of being able to work from home is the savings of both time and money that comes with not needing to commute.
While Black employees may have the same job titles and salaries as their White colleagues, they will still, on average, have significantly less wealth, because of disparities in generational wealth between racial and ethnic groups.
So, Black employees may live in further from their office, which means their commute times can be longer (in 2019, the average commute for Black workers was 12% longer than the average for White workers).
The costs associated with commuting – gas, paying for meals away from home, additional hours of childcare support – are also felt more acutely as overall wealth decreases.
Inflexible companies will miss out on millennial and Gen Z Black talent
Generational wealth – family wealth passed down from one generation to the next – can also play a major role in what cities employees live in.
Differences in generational wealth can be especially impactful for younger employees, as some millennial and most Gen Z employees still receive some form of financial support from their parents, either by living at home or receiving assistance with bills and rent.
Many young employees could not afford to live in the cities where many companies operate without their parents’ support. This means job seekers with less generational wealth are priced out of jobs that they’re otherwise qualified for.
This difference in generational wealth plays a huge role in why Black talent remains concentrated in certain parts of the country.
More flexible work arrangements can help companies overcome the issue, whether it’s by letting employees work from anywhere, or by reducing the number of days a week they need to be in the office. This allows Black workers to live farther from the office, in more affordable areas.
Black employees also may prefer to live in areas with more vibrant Black communities; a preference that flexible arrangements would also help accommodate. It’s much easier to find Black talent if your organization can recruit in locations that are rich with Black talent like Detroit and Atlanta.
Flexible work is better for employee health
Another favorite perk of remote employees is the ability to manage their own schedule. Research shows that low job control is one of the biggest causes of burnout.
Being in the office or the car for 10 or more hours a day places a huge limitation on how employees manage their mental and physical health, their caregiving responsibilities, their errands, and many other facets of their life.
While these benefits certainly help every employee, they are often appreciated even more by Black employees. Black people tend to have higher levels of stress, so having more flexibility to reduce that stress is even more valuable.
Our recent study on working parents revealed that Black mothers are at the highest risk for experiencing burnout. Hybrid and remote work makes managing childcare much easier, which can help address the risk of burnout.
Another consideration is the pressure Black employees, especially Black women, may feel to meet traditional “professional” grooming standards developed by White culture. Caring for Black hair takes a considerable amount of time. A more flexible schedule takes the pressure off the early morning routine, and may even reduce the overall pressure to meet this unwritten expectation.
Home is a safe space
Perhaps the biggest change introduced by remote work is that it fundamentally changes the way in which people interact and communicate with each other.
In this respect, remote work is a double-edged sword, which is why many employees and organizations strongly prefer a hybrid model rather than being fully remote.
Of course, Black employees feel the loss of in-person interactions just as much as everyone else, and in many cases may feel the isolation and loss of community even more acutely as members of a minority group.
While there are also biases and microaggressions that are unique to or exacerbated by remote work, the nature of remote communication and interaction can also help mitigate some forms of bias often experienced in the workplace.
Embracing a writing culture
Interacting with coworkers primarily online rather than face-to-face can make it easier for employees to curate their social groups at work. A colleague that makes you uncomfortable can be easily avoided if you no longer run the risk of bumping into them at the water cooler.
Having more conversations in writing rather than verbally can also help employees who are frequently talked over, or not asked for their input, have their voices heard.
Bolt, a Certified™ workplace, has a “writing over talking” policy that fosters an environment where every person can voice their ideas and be heard. It removes the influence of the “loudest voice in the room.” This policy is especially valuable in creating a successful hybrid workplace.
For some Black employees, advantages like these may outweigh, or at least help mitigate, some of the challenges that come with the social dynamics of remote work.
Considering all of these factors, it’s clear why most employees – and especially most Black employees – prefer a hybrid working model. It makes financial sense for them, it gives them more flexibility, it helps with mental and physical health, it helps them balance their work and personal lives, and it can even bring more equality to the work environment.
Many of the reasons that Black employees strongly prefer a more flexible arrangement also benefit other underrepresented or marginalized groups as well.
As organizations decide what the future of work looks like for them, it’s critical to consider the impact of those choices on their efforts to become great places to work For All™.
When you fight flexibility, your diverse employees suffer the consequences
Flexibility in the workplace is about much more than the ongoing debates surrounding in-person or remote work. True flexibility is about reimagining the future of work and fostering working environments where all employees feel safe to bring their full selves to work, regardless of how they identify.
If you are a leader who is struggling with the shifting landscape of the working world, as many are, consider how this type of innovation in the workplace can enhance the lived experiences of all BIPOC employees.
Learn how Great Place to Work® can help you create an equitable and inclusive employee experience from the Zoom screen to the office.