With remote work becoming the new normal for most companies, employees recognize the overall benefits of working from home– like having more time to spend with family and less time commuting, for example. However, for many Black employees, working from home has meant something different– the chance to work in an environment that’s free of microaggressions and implicit biases.
While working from home, Black employees aren’t just working– they’re thriving. Home is, essentially, a refuge from office politics that can make Black people feel uncomfortable, invisible, and undervalued.
With this added benefit, remote work helps Black employees to feel more secure in their abilities and focused on their tasks. In the great debate of ‘returning to the office’, companies should first recognize the real experiences of Black people in an office setting.
How Black Employees Navigate Office Politics
Office politics can be tricky to navigate daily– even more challenging when those office politics involve microaggressions and implicit biases. Many Black employees unconsciously adapt to fit the narrow frame of professionalism that office politics perpetuates.
Code-switching is one of the main ways Black people try to exist in white spaces like an office setting. By altering their speech, Black people work carefully to present themselves to make their white coworkers feel more comfortable.
Microaggressions are another hurdle to get over, and in the office, they can make Black employees feel nearly invisible– like they just don’t matter. For lots of Black employees, each day they come to work, they leave part of who they are at home– all in the hopes of being accepted professionally, treated equally, and considered valuable.
How Black Employees Experience Working from Home
Remote work doesn’t wholly rid Black employees of workplace struggles. Although, it can distance them from the potential threats of implicit biases and prejudgments. There’s a better chance for Black employees’ professionalism not to be attacked or closely examined at home.
They can live freely while they work from home. As a result, there’s less potential for burnout from the fake niceties masked by code-switching. Plus, there’s less second-guessing and effort when it comes to keeping up appearances. Black women, in particular, have felt more at ease in a remote work setting.
Office settings are one of the main places where their features and appearance have been criticized. In a day, Black women are faced with a number of inappropriate personal questions rooted in implicit bias. Hair-touching, and questions about hair in general, are noteworthy examples of the kind of microaggressions surrounding Black women in the workplace.
While working from home, Black employees can be their authentic selves and focus on the job at hand. With more control over day-to-day conversations, the number of distractions decreases significantly.
How Employers Can Support Black Employees
Whether companies are gearing up to return to the office or committing to remote work, they should prioritize diversity and inclusion (D&I). Here are some ways that companies can foster an inclusive workplace environment:
In all ways, employers must lead by example and educate themselves on moving forward with diversity and inclusion policies. For many Black employees, working from home grants a level of freedom that they’d otherwise not find amidst office politics wrapped up in implicit biases. With less stress from code-switching and the overall pressure to conform, Black employees can show up as their whole selves as they put their careers first.
Employers can take steps to support these employees by listening to their shared experiences of working in an office setting. Whether virtual or in-person, an inclusive work environment that’s free of microaggressions is possible– and it’s an important goal to work toward every day.