Company leaders need to use the shift to hybrid work to level the corporate playing field and attract and retain the best people, according to research from Slack’s think tank Future Forum.
The risk in going back to “the way we’ve always done it” is that this choice will reinforce many of the stereotypes and inequalities built into the traditional 9 to 5 workplace, according to Sheela Subramanian, senior director of the Future Forum.
“If you want to return back to the old way of working, you’ll lose your talent because talent is asking for flexibility and a culture of trust and a new way of management,” she said.
The Future Forum publishes the Remote Employee Experience Index quarterly to track how attitudes about work change over time. The first index was published last fall. The current research focused on the experiences of Black employees during this extended time of fully remote work.
A majority of workers don’t want to go back to five days in the office but this preference is very strong among Black workers. The research found that 97% of Black people currently working remotely want a hybrid or full-time remote working model. Only 3% of Black workers want to return to full-time in-person work compared to 21% of white workers in the United States.
Company leaders should pay attention to what the shift to remote work has revealed, Subramanian said, a system that doesn’t work for moms and non-white employees especially.
“What we see is that all of the executives go back and all of the white men employees go back but the people of color and working parents are the ones staying at home, and that will open up its own divide in terms of access and mobility,” she said.
SEE: UK government: Make flexible work a standard option for everyone (TechRepublic)
Subramanian said now is the time to create a hybrid model of work that has guardrails to ensure equity for the entire workforce. Future Forum recommends taking these steps to accomplish this:
- Take accountability for driving fundamental change.
- Establish flexible work as the core working model.
- Make investments to bridge the sponsorship gap.
Why remote work is less stressful
As the Future Forum explains in a blog post about this latest research, Black people are “chronically underrepresented in the ‘knowledge worker’ jobs that have proved resilient through the pandemic. Despite making up 13.4% of the general population, just 8% of managers are Black, only 5.3% of people working the tech industry are Black, and there are only four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500.”
This increased satisfaction among Black knowledge workers makes sense in the context of another finding from the research. During this time of remote work, Black people report significantly higher satisfaction with their jobs, including an increase in sense of belonging, a 64% improvement in ability to manage stress and 25% greater improvement in work-life balance.
Subramanian attributes this increase in satisfaction to the unique dynamic of remote work: There’s no need to code-switch when there is no in-person office. According to an article from Harvard Business Review, code-switching means “adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities.”
She said that an office-centric work setting forces Black employees to code-switch to fit into outdated norms of professionalism.
SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)
The survey also found that Black knowledge workers rank “making sure their employer knows they are working” as their second most pressing challenge.
Subramanian said this shows the need to shift from outdated ways of thinking about work.
“Organizations need to start looking at outcomes like time to market rather than the number of hours worked,” she said. “The number of hours worked doesn’t equate to the impact on the business.”
Building formal sponsorship programs
The Future Forum research identified another problem that is unique to Black people who work in the knowledge industry: A lack of sponsorship. This is a problem because “low representation in industries such as technology means there are few sponsors, mentors and peers opening the door to opportunity,” according to the blog post.
Subramanian said that formal sponsorship programs can have a big impact on improving equity and inclusivity at work. Slack has a Rising Tide program and Subramanian participates as a mentor.
Successful sponsorship programs have metrics for mentors as well as opportunities for mentees to provide feedback. She said that organizations also have to explain why these programs are effective.
“This means tracking the time investment, following through on introductions, keeping in touch with a mentee after the program is over,” she said.
Subramanian also said that companies should celebrate the really good examples of sponsorship to inspire other people to get involved.
“Reinforcement is really important to send a signal to the broader organization,” she said.
Subramanian said that the Future Forum is planning to build roadmaps to help corporate leaders rethink how they approach inclusion, diversity, recruiting, retention and sponsorship.
She also noted that the Future Forum’s research shows that middle managers are struggling during this time of extended remote work, possibly due to a lack of strong peer networks.
“We’re also seeing middle managers of smaller teams are struggling as well so it’s really important to keep an eye on that group and offer some training,” she said.
Nonprofit joins Future Forum
The Future Forum also announced that on Thursday MLT is joining as a founding partner. MLT is a national nonprofit that helps Latino, Native American and Black people climb the corporate ladder. The organization will do research with the Future Forum into how underrepresented groups can excel.
The group’s goal is to have 1,000 MLT Rising Leaders in senior positions in business and social sector organizations by 2025 and to have 10,000 more MLT Rising Leaders in the pipeline. The group’s programs and initiatives include career prep, MBA prep, professional development and an experienced talent network. MLT provides a professional playbook, coaches and a network of MLT alumni to people who participate in the various programs.
Slack launched the Future Forum in September 2020 to help companies rethink corporate culture, office norms, tools and technology. The forum will produce original research, case studies and position papers and hold events to discuss these new best practices for remote and hybrid work.