Last summer, Tarrah Wade began a new job as a training and development specialist at a local engineering company. With the organization operating remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Wade couldn’t partake in typical office formalities for new hires — stopping by teammates’ cubicles for introductions, brainstorming around the meeting table, maybe small talk around the water cooler.
But, Wade embraced the flexibility of working remotely and having more control over what her day looked like. When it came to virtually connecting with her team, she said it helped develop organic relationships with co-workers.
“Because you couldn’t see me, there were no pretenses,” Wade said. “We had to work to develop a rapport because there was no physical interaction. We never turned our cameras on, so the only thing they saw was my headshot for the longest time.”
Researchers with Future Forum, a group organized by Slack, reported that Black professionals have a “higher sense of belonging when working away from the office.” Flexible work options reduced the need for code-switching and reduced certain instances of microaggressions and discrimination, the report stated. Data also revealed that 97% of Black professionals working remotely want to continue working from home or have the choice for a hybrid option as employers transition staff back into longtime vacant offices.
Latesha Byrd, founder and CEO of Byrd Career Consulting, says Black workers have experienced an ”emotional tax” over the past year as they think about returning to their offices.
“A lot of organizations are now wanting to focus more on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives,” said Byrd, a recruiter turned career coach and talent development consultant. “We’re seeing trends where organizations will often task their Black employees with being the champion for that and lead those causes.”
Wade, the learning and development specialist, says she works in a fairly progressive company where they’re “trying to shift the culture.” However, she described not looking forward to being the “it girl” when topics of race arise in the workplace.
“I am one of few Black people in this organization, so I’ve been a go-to person for race relations and developing different employee resource groups as it relates to minorities. Maybe I don’t want to be that person,” she said.
After more than a year of working from home, Wade is now adjusting to her full-time schedule in her office. Reporting to work in person full time has changed her perspective on work-life balance.
“Just having freedom and flexibility of my own schedule is really what work-life balance means for me,” she said. “Something more attractive could come around that offers me the ability to work from home, and because now I have this different perspective of work-life balance, that opportunity may be more attractive.”
Attracting and retaining employees are motivations for businesses to keep the door open for flexible work options, including those in the Charlotte area. In a survey of employers in the Charlotte region, nearly 70% of respondents listed staff retention as a primary reason for increasing remote work, while almost 50% listed staff attraction.
Byrd of Byrd Career Consulting noted that in the job-seekers market we’re currently experiencing, it’s important that employers show how they’re investing in their talent beyond compensation.
“Companies are going to really have to pay attention to what people are asking for and make it not just about the work.”