The Covid-19 pandemic, which is maybe…hopefully…finally, starting to ebb away (BA.2 notwithstanding), has left in its wake the smoldering ruin of go-go, hyper-connected office culture. This has been both a blessing and a curse for women.
Working from home has allowed women to enjoy more flexibility; given them a greater chance of being evaluated on their output; and in some cases, has seen greater engagement. Another positive is that it has exposed to men, the glaring inequalities that have previously existed in the workplace (women, we must note, have always been mindful of these gaps). It has highlighted the unfair burden women face at work and the fact they are also the default caregivers at home.
While the burden women face is nothing new (even before the pandemic, women were already working what sociologists described as the “second shift,” – taking a disproportionate amount of household chores and care); what the pandemic did show was that men and women experienced remote work very differently. More specifically, men (in general), did not see their workload increase while their beleaguered wives were three times more likely to be their children’s primary caregiver.
The upshot of all this though, is what we’re now seeing pan out in research – which is that women prefer remote work more than men – some 69% for women say they prefer it, compared to 57% for men. Essentially, women are choosing not to return to the office. Women cite several reasons for their preference for remote work, including there being no need for formal office wear (70% to 57% of men); more control over their schedule (60% to 48%), and avoiding office politics (52% to 39%).
This trend should concern HR but also force it to respond
In truth this should really come as no surprise. We’ve known for some time that places of work have tended to be designed to meet the needs of the people at the top of office/work hierarchy, which have traditionally been men. As such, many of the women and people of color who say they prefer remote work have watched for years as less qualified managers delegated and nagged people rather than be productive themselves.
But this is an observation that really should worry HR – but then force it to respond.
Given the preference for remote work among high-talent women and the continued demands on their time, HRDs need to ask themselves what they can do to ‘REALLY’ help women succeed in the new remote-first workforce.
Putting people first
At my organization we put our people first. This means we do recognize the sometimes disproportionate burden our women employees face at home and we ensure they have the flexibility and support they need to do their best work.
We believe that work should not be a one-size-fits-all occupation. And by recognizing the unique needs of our people and making accommodations for those circumstances, we’ve been able to tap into a more diverse talent pool.
Women who earlier might have been left out of our recruitment pool – or worse, taken themselves out because they thought they would never get a shot – now know that location, childcare, elder care, and traditional work hours can be structured to their individual needs.
Working from home highlighted how management skills were too often lacking inside organizations. It revealed how many of the systems and processes were based on Facetime and what workers were perceived to be doing. As one observer recently wrote: “Remote work makes who-does and who-doesn’t actually do work way more obvious.”
We find that when employees can work in their own remote environment, they become much more focused on output and delivery. If someone wants to work in an asynchronous manner to accommodate the demands at home, and it results in quality output that meets the deadline, so be it!
The gain of diversity
At our organization, we’ve seen tremendous results. Thanks to an output-focused, remote-first work environment that emphasizes flexibility, we’ve brought more women (and women of color), into the organization and into leadership roles than we ever had before.
These top performers no longer have to deal with the sad reality of micro-aggressions and other daily workplace friction that can infect even the best-run companies.
It has forced us to focus on the proper tenets of management – transparency, expectation-setting, feedback, coaching, and openness – and has made us focus us on getting the work done in the most productive way possible.
Remote work isn’t for everyone or even every company. But for us, in the end, it has created more balance, fairness, and more equitable practices inside our organization than ever before. It has allowed us to live our first core value that before we are employees, we are human first.