July 27, 2021
Like many of you, I can’t stop reading or talking to people about the present realities of work. Forget the future: we’re in the right now, and the right now seems more chaotic by the day.
In the aftermath of my essay about the discriminatory policy that is “just expense it,” I received some very interesting emails asking about the trend of requiring employees to absorb the costs of working from home.
That ergonomic chair you had in the office? Thousands of dollars. An internet and Wi-Fi setup that can handle all those video calls without falling over? Not cheap either. An external monitor, keyboard and mouse or trackpad so you’re not ruining your eyes and posture? These costs add up, quickly.
Some companies and managers have taken the approach of what I’ll call, “we built it, so you should come (back to the office).” If you want that good chair, show up in person. Others, like Dropbox, decided relatively “early” in the pandemic that they’d allow employees to claim up to $7,000 a year for home-office equipment, caretaking support, or even a gym membership. They call it a “Perks Allowance,” and yes, you still have to submit receipts and get reimbursed.
The person responsible for the Dropbox program has a fascinating title: Manager of Global Perks and Wellness. Benefits by any other name, perhaps. But what about this job, described by executive search firm Cowen Partners as “one of the 10 most sought-after management jobs right now”: vice president of productivity and remote experience.
The “remote experience” isn’t only about perks. Just ask Black women specifically, and women of color more broadly. Both The Washington Post and The New York Times have detailed the mixed-at-best feelings many of these women have about returning to the office, which is often a focal point for micro- and macro-aggressions.
On the other hand, working from home has been a daily exercise in letting relative strangers into what used to be an intimate and personal space. As Laura Morgan Roberts and Courtney L. McCluney noted in the Harvard Business Review in June last year, Black employees “are now literally broadcasting more of their identities from their personal living spaces.” Working from the office at least meant not ever having to have a conversation with a coworker intrigued by the “exotic artwork” on your living room walls.
If you’re one of the people tasked with figuring out The Great Hybridization, remember that as with everything else, the burdens and consequences of these policies and protocols are unevenly distributed. Perhaps the VP for WFH should have at least a dotted line to the SVP for DEI.