BusinessStacy M. Brown

Studies Show Remote Workers Face Discrimination and Lack of Upward Mobility

The ease of crawling out of bed, grabbing a cup of coffee and taking a few steps to the home office has proved a cost-saver and, perhaps, a lifesaver for many.

But as companies scale back remote work and require employees to return to the office, studies show that those who continue to work remotely may lose out on career opportunities.

More than two-thirds of supervisors, or 67 percent, of remote workers surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), admit to considering remote workers more easily replaceable than on-site workers at their organization.

Sixty-two percent believe full-time remote work is detrimental to employees’ career objectives, and 72 percent say they prefer all their subordinates to work in the office.

Researchers found that most employees agreed remote work is beneficial and increases performance. But more than half said working remotely permanently would diminish networking opportunities (59 percent), cause work relationships to suffer (55 percent) and require them to work more hours (54 percent).

Still, another study led by Stanford University researchers found that remote workers are less likely to earn a promotion than those who work in the office.

The researchers experimented with a travel agency in China in which employees worked remotely for nine months. They found remote workers 13 percent more productive yet they received promotions about half as often as those inside the office.

“They can get forgotten,” said Stanford University Professor Nicholas Bloom, one of the study’s authors.

Luke Palder, the CEO of three companies, called remote work a blessing and a curse.

“It’s flexible in schedule and geography, of course, but it’s also flexible in who can participate,” Palder said. “Remote work does amplify ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ If you’re looking to climb a career ladder, you’re best going into the office at least part-time.”

Proximity and recency biases often mar appraisal and performance, noted Joe Flanagan, a senior employment advisor at VelvetJobs, the career matchmaker that connects more than 1 million new curated jobs globally.

“These biases have become more pronounced as more team members are now working remotely, with increased freedom and autonomy,” Flanagan noted. “The experience of working in isolation, along with a lack of appreciation, accelerates the process of disengagement and disillusionment from one’s work and might also result in burnout.”

As noted in a report in the Harvard Business Review, in this moment of reckoning, “companies are becoming increasingly attuned to unintended racial effects.”

But among employees who have been working remotely, white employees are seven times more likely than Black employees to report being interested in returning to on-site work (21 percent versus 3 percent).

According to the Harvard Business Review report, a big reason is that Black workers face a more negative in-person workplace environment.

The report continued:

“When working from home, 64 percent reported being better able to manage stress and 50 percent reported an increase in feelings of belonging at their organization.”

Another racial dimension to consider:

Although Black and Latinx employees make up approximately 30 percent of the labor force, they represent 50 percent of people who left or lost a job in the past month to care for children, according to the most recent census household pulse survey.

Harvard Business Review added that people of color have also faced much more severe consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Black, Latinx and Indigenous Americans are about three times more likely than white Americans to face hospitalization and twice as likely to die from COVID-19.

For this reason, Black and Latinx parents are less enthusiastic about returning to in-person schooling and on-site work.

“It will be more important than ever that inclusive leaders take a human approach and have compassion for those who are working remotely, understanding that there are likely personal circumstances that have led them to make this choice,” said Renu Sachdeva, a certified leadership and inclusion coach, facilitator and consultant with Talking Talent.

Some companies have resorted to a hybrid system.

Still, if incorrectly implemented, it could lead to the worst of both worlds by creating a two-class system where the in-office workers are constantly favored over remote workers, warned Christelle Rohaut, the CEO and founder of Codi.

“Remote work discrimination, like all discrimination, is a policy choice and one that can be avoided,” Rohaut asserted.

“The first step is to kill the old central HQ and move to a local workspace benefit that provides all employees access to a flexible work hub, whether it is in rural Georgia or downtown Manhattan. Ultimately, how organizational cultures adapt will determine how much of an issue remote work discrimination becomes,” Rohaut said.

Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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