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“You are mom tracked to the billionth degree”

Although no one can be sure what workplaces will look like like once we’re away from the pandemic – when we are – our way of working will likely change in the long run. “The more months we stay like this, the more it sticks,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University. Bloom has studied remote work for years, watching it go from a rarity to standard practice during Covid.

Prior to March 2020, most jobs required employees to travel to the office or to the job site. At the height of the pandemic, as many as 40 to 45 percent of workers were home all the time, said Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed.com. In September, according to the latest data from the Department of Labor, 11.6% of employed people were working remotely at some point in the previous month. because of the pandemic. According to the US Census Bureau, 6% of people worked primarily from home in 2019. Meanwhile, more and more workers are requesting remote work. Job seekers are three times more likely to seek remote work than they were before Covid, Bunker added.

Even large companies that once considered their physical workplace one of their biggest draws are shifting to remote working, at least some of the time. In May 2020, the founder and CEO of Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, said that up to 50% of its workforce would work remotely permanently in the coming years. The announcement was “revolutionary,” Bloom said. At the time, many found it surprising that such a large and established tech company, known for an office culture that included on-site food and other perks, was willing to commit to the arrangement, Bloom said. Today, it is companies forcing workers back five days a week that seem like outliers.

Of course, many jobs can’t afford the flexibility of remote work — most jobs in healthcare, for example, or jobs in the service industry. And some industries where long hours are typical will be more resistant to change. But in many white-collar professions, workplaces are already embracing remote work at least some of the time for workers who choose this option.

There are many potential benefits for women in this seismic shift. Until the pandemic forced workers to stay home, professional women who opted for flexible work-from-home hours were often stigmatized at work. So-called “flexible” policies have been used by companies – usually well-known consulting and law firms – as a way to advertise their pro-women bona fides. But they were essentially a trap for women, an access ramp to what has long been called “the mommy trail”. (The term dates back to 1988 New York Times article on women in law firms.) The career path where ambition will die.

Companies have a long history of giving women these tools to work flexibly and then penalizing them for taking advantage of policies, said Colleen Ammerman, director of the Harvard Business School Gender Initiative and co -author of Half broken glass. “There’s a promotion penalty for people who work offsite,” Ammerman said. There’s a strong idea in business that if you’re not in the office, she says, you’re not committed to work.

Studies confirm this. Management consulting firm Egon Zehnder recently conducted a study in which 97% of C-suite professionals said that women in their organizations benefited from working from home, but at the same time, seven out of 10 executives said that Distant and flexible employees could be at risk of getting passed over for a promotion due to reduced visibility at work.

The pandemic has certainly changed the way companies view remote work. Some hope it will last. But many fear that this is temporary. Leadership might talk about its flexible culture, but in the end traditional sentiments will likely prevail, warn Schulte and other advocates. “The ideal working culture will return,” Schulte said. All managers and CEOs – mostly men – will want to enter. “They will expect the hired workers to come back too.”

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon put it all better this summer, explaining why he wanted his employees back full-time. “[Remote] does not work for those who want to hustle. It doesn’t work for spontaneous idea generation. It doesn’t work for the culture,” he said.

Since October, all US-based JPMorgan employees return to the office on a rotating schedule, subject to office occupancy caps. But Dimon’s statement shows the impasse some employees will find themselves in once everyone has more freedom to choose their own hours: Allowed to work from home, and maybe need to work from home, but aware that the management associates it with a lack of “agitation”. ”

Taking advantage of remote work could also further entrench harmful stereotypes that women are less ambitious, Ammerman says. “A lot of times what people will say in a very genuinely curious way is, ‘Isn’t it [that] women don’t want it [more demanding] works?’ So I think we as a culture are always looking for ways to solidify that history.

Leaders don’t need to be outright hostile to remote work to be biased. “Proximity bias” is the unconscious tendency to view those in our immediate neighborhood as better workers. If leaders end up coming to the office more often, they will naturally favor those around them.

Many women themselves may not even realize they are incurring any remote work penalty until it is too late.

“It can be hard to tell if you’re being treated differently than others, and maybe even harder when everyone else is distant,” said Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab and a leading researcher on women and the leadership. “A woman may have to try several times to get promoted and not get promoted before she starts to ‘feel’ like she’s struggling and maybe there’s no just haven’t had enough time for it to happen to people yet.”

Imagine this happening to women in offices across the country, and soon enough, you have a crisis on your hands. “It could be a way to rationalize the persistence of gender inequality in the workplace,” Ammerman says.

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