Lindsay Alissa King
Let's Expand Remote Work to Black and Latinx Workers
The data is somewhat outdated in this article, but the overall point the writers make is not: many workers are unable or not permitted to work at home, and BIPOC workers are much less likely to be able to work from home than white workers.
Those are pretty bad, if unsurprising, statistics. As has been widely reported, COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Black people for multiple reasons. The chart above surely outlines one of them.
In the long-term, beyond COVID-19, this is a problem because it means that more white people than BIPOC individuals can capture the “lifestyle” benefits of working from home. Not only to do we need to address the racism that created a society in which BIPOC people are much more likely to work hourly, low-wage jobs that require a physical presence (not to mention the shamefully low wages that hourly workers in America are often paid), but we also need to consider how skin color plays a role in the application and extension of work-from-home policies.
If the past three months of have shown us anything, it’s the fact that many more jobs can be done remotely than we previously thought. One way to begin to close the work-from-home gap between BIPOC workers and white workers is to address head-on the racism that leads employers to assume that low-wage workers might be “unproductive” and “inefficient” when working from home. First and foremost, employers need to take a good, long look at who they permit to work from home and the rationale behind that. If you don’t have a good rationale and most of your in-person staff are POC, then there is a good chance that unacknowledged racism governs your policies. Besides that, statistics keep demonstrating that workers are more productive at home. If your gut reaction is “Yeah, but that’s only true about white collar workers,” then I’m calling that racism.
Another way to close the gap is to develop work-from-home strategies. On a very basic technology level, there are myriad ways to have an office number ring someone’s private cell phone or landline. You don’t need someone sitting at a front desk just to answer the phone! If you’re a brick-and-mortar retail joint, but most of your business is done online, then perhaps it makes sense to transition to appointment-only in-person shopping.
Not all work can feasibly be remotely, but you can also consider cutting out unnecessary meetings and in-person check-ins. If you hire workers for manual jobs, they might need to show up at a particular site location, but could you cut out requirements that they spend time meeting at a central location before and after they do their scheduled work? It is easy to transition team check-ins via telephone, and it might save your workers precious hours, plus gas money.
Even if workers simply must be on the job in person, there are still many possibilities for offering flexible arrangements. Can the work be done in a condensed period of time (without slashing wages)? Can it be done in off-hours? Would you permit employees to bring their children on the job?
This is the kind of planning and brainstorming we need to do to extend work-from-home benefits to more than just 30% of American workers, and especially to BIPOC individuals. We have to do better, and we can.