Remote work, at least as we are currently able to imagine it, is a kind of double-edged sword: It can mean better work-life boundaries, or the complete erosion of them; more flexibility for parents with small children, or near-impossible conditions; more workplace harassment or less.
For a group of Black women who spoke to the Washington Post, working from home has been an indisputable good, reducing workplace microaggressions, interactions with rude coworkers, and the pressure to conform to white expectations of professionalism. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re working in isolation: During the last year-plus of the pandemic, many Black women have organized coworking pods with each other—a practice that pre-dates covid, according to the Post—creating a version of office life that better suits them.
“My co-workers are my best friends because I had the freedom to choose,” 29-year-old Mary Smith, a project manager based in Texas, told the Post of the women in her pod.
The importance of these alternative work spaces became especially clear last summer, when the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor spurred protests across the country. Instead of trying to bottle up emotions to get through the workday, women said they could lean extra hard on their coworking communities, knowing that someone would be able to understand what they were going through.
“When Philando Castile died, I didn’t take off work, and the hurt that I felt … I just felt like these people don’t care,” Funke Adeniji, a 28-year-old based in Maryland, told the Post. Whereas last year she found: “I can speak with my community by myself. I’m able to talk about this tragedy online without having to actually walk into work and see that no one cares about it.
In general, “communicating and networking in a traditional workspace doesn’t really do anything for me,” she continued. “I do want to network, I do want to be able to grow my career. But at the same time, sometimes it’s painful to be in that room.”
Of course, this will not be everyone’s experience. Some studies show that workplace harassment—both gender- and race-based—has skyrocketed during the pandemic, with some harassers appearing emboldened by the possibilities of making inappropriate comments through a computer screen rather than in person. According to one report, published in June by the non-profit Project Include, 25 percent of respondents said they experienced a spike in gendered harassment during the pandemic, while 10 percent said they experienced a spike in racist harassment. Another study found that women of color and LGBTQ women were more likely to experience microaggressions and incidents of harassment in the past year than their peers.
That everyone’s experience is different is precisely why there should be more flexibility when it comes to asking people to return to the office, not less.