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Hybrid work is the worst option for employees from marginalized groups

July 7, 2022, 3:03 PM UTC
Man working at home
Most employees who work remotely said they, fearing discrimination, lie about or omit parts of their identity—something in-person workers can’t do.
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The idea of remote work being more equitable than in-person work isn’t aging well.

Fully remote workers are more likely than hybrid or on-site workers to say their employer treats every employee fairly, finds a new survey of over 1,200 employees from Software Advice.

That should be good news, as the survey suggests remote work may be the best way for companies to progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. If you’re fully remote, your manager will more likely measure your work through outcome-based metrics, which ideally don’t include judgment or bias. In turn, high performers are transparently defined by their output, not their gender or race. 

But there’s a catch. Most employees from marginalized groups who work remotely said they, fearing discrimination, lie about or omit parts of their identity at their current job. This included 71% of employees with disabilities, two-thirds of employees 55 or older, almost two-thirds (64%) of women and LGBTQ+ workers, and 57% of nonwhite workers. 

While on-site employees may be more honest about their identities, it isn’t always by choice, the survey points out; they may expect to face more discrimination because they can’t hide who they are when showing up in person.

“With more employers implementing remote work permanently, it’s encouraging to see that minority workers believe remote work is more equitable,” Brian Westfall, Software Advice’s principal HR analyst, wrote in the survey’s report. “But DEI initiatives don’t really work unless employees feel safe to be their authentic selves.”

Why work from home works

The pandemic has long established that the marginalized groups Software Advice surveyed—plus parents—prefer working from home. Only 3% of Black workers in the U.S. wanted to return to fully on-site work, out of fear of microaggressions, per a Future Forum survey from last year.

“Women, people with disabilities, and people of color all have a preference for remote work,” Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford and cofounder of WFH Research, told Fortune in May. He says companies who hold fast to return-to-office mandates stand to face even more DEI issues down the line. “That’s just another cost I don’t think they’re aware of.”

But, Software Advice found, hybrid work is even worse than both fully in-person work and remote work when it comes to DEI progress.

Hybrid work can create an uneven amount of visibility per worker, and those who come in most often end up currying favor. That favor can come in many forms, including better assignments and stronger performance reviews, all the way up to better pay or more promotions.

This creates a double-edged sword, Westfall wrote. “If your employees work at an office, they’ll be more authentic, but likely face more microaggressions and negative bias because of it. If they work from home, they’ll avoid some of this negative behavior, but as a result of hiding or downplaying their identity in virtual interactions.”

To alleviate the pressure on employees in marginalized groups, Software Advice advises HR leaders to make company values clear during hiring and onboarding and to encourage employee-led resource groups at every level. 

Another new idea, particularly popular in the tech sector: hiring someone to manage the remote work experience full-time. This is especially pertinent as many employees still favor remote work

“You have to have someone who owns this,” Josh Bersin, an HR consultant, told Fortune about the “head of remote work” position. “There’s tools, there’s culture, there’s measurement, there’s pay, there’s taxes.”

And there’s also the need to enable employees from marginalized groups to feel free to be their authentic selves.

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