How To Protect Your Online Privacy While Working From Home
With the global coronavirus pandemic confining billions to their homes, masses of workers everywhere are adjusting to remote work for the first time. How To Protect Your Online Privacy While Working From Home
This shift is forcing us to negotiate a new reality where there is no demarcation between work and personal spheres. In this moment, we must be extra vigilant about data privacy. Just as it’s essential that we wash our hands to ward off disease, we must now establish habits of data privacy to protect our digital lives.
Everything we do online – the documents we share, the websites we visit, the messages we send – leaves a trail of data behind. If we’re not careful, this data can be used to surveil us, manipulate us, and worse. But there are ways we can improve our security and privacy on the internet. I’ve spent years focused on strengthening internet privacy, managing widely distributed, remote-first teams. Here’s how people can protect their data while working remotely.
Start by implementing two-factor authentication (2FA) on all your accounts. This ensures that no one can break in by guessing or stealing your password. They also need a confirmation code sent to you by text or email. 2FA adds a strong second line of defense to your online identity.
Basic 2FA typically uses a phone number – which may be good enough if you trust your phone carrier. However, a wave of “sim swapping” or “phone porting,” especially in our community, means you often can’t. A better solution is to use an app like Google Authenticator, which generates codes in an app on your phone. For even more security, don’t connect your phone number to your Google or other accounts. Google and others will rather annoyingly keep reminding you to add your phone number, but as long as you have the authentication app you don’t need it.
It’s important to be aware of security at the level of our internet connection as well. In a world of remote work, we must rely on our home wired and wi-fi networks to connect us. This raises challenges that require good privacy practices.
A network is only as secure as its weakest device. That’s why it’s a good idea to set up a “guest” wi-fi network and use that to connect nonessential devices like TVs and electronic assistants. This way, if a Sonos (for instance) has a security flaw, a hacker can’t exploit it to backdoor into your more important devices. Splitting your essential and non essential devices onto separate networks this way significantly reduces your risk.
A network is only as secure as its weakest device.
Pay attention to your router: some are better than others. A particular favorite of mine is the EERO wi-fi system, which includes malware and ad blocking software. It also allows guests to connect using a QR code – which the host can subsequently revoke. Regardless of what option you choose, do your research and make sure you understand the tradeoffs.
Once online, there are more privacy best practices. It’s a good idea to split your internet use between two browsers (e.g., Chrome and Firefox). If you use the same browser for everything, your work and personal profiles will become commingled. An army of bots constantly builds a profile based on your browsing history, and if you don’t separate work from personal, your work and personal histories will be mixed together. And remember: Incognito mode does nothing for online traceability. It simply deletes your history so your housemates can’t see what you’ve been doing.
Even with your devices and browsing safely ring-fenced, your internet service provider can see everything you do. Depending on your jurisdiction, certain services, including messaging and conferencing apps, may be blocked. To mitigate these issues, I recommend using a virtual private network, or VPN. VPNs route traffic through their own servers, making it harder for third parties to see what we do online. Some of the best VPNs include LiquidVPN, PIA, Tenta, Boleh, and VPNSecure.
Remote work requires messaging and conferencing, and it’s important to consider privacy and security when choosing these as well. Zoom, the popular video conferencing app, has taken off during this age of social distancing. During the crisis, it has seen 14 times as many downloads as its fourth-quarter average. But there are real concerns about Zoom’s commitment to online privacy and security. The app’s meetings are not end-to-end encrypted, and privacy groups have criticised it for its admin features, which allow hosts to see location and device data about participants.
Those seeking an alternative should look to Whereby, which offers stronger privacy. For small meetings (up to 4 participants), Whereby uses end to end encryption, but for larger meeting rooms a server is used to maintain stability of the video service.
On the messaging side, WhatsApp messages have full end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp enables storage of messages in your chat history in iCloud and other backup services. Turn this off to be more private. But there are concerns that Facebook, which acquired the app in 2014, plans to merge it with its native messenger app, which raises serious concerns given scrutiny around Facebook’s privacy practices. If you want to get even more private, Signal is a good alternative. WhatsApp actually uses the Signal protocol, but unlike WhatsApp, the Signal code is open source. Signal gathers much less metadata than WhasApp. Metadata is information like who you spoke to and when you spoke to them.
The coronavirus has forced millions around the world to adjust to a new work paradigm almost overnight. Even when the crisis passes, some changes in working patterns are probably here to stay. By establishing good habits, and using the right tools, we can go a long way toward protecting ourselves in this new reality. If we all work to establish good data hygiene, we can even improve our online privacy even while we work remotely. How To Protect Your,How To Protect Your,How To Protect Your,How To Protect Your,How To Protect Your,
Zoom Fatigue Is Real
Hopes of using coronavirus lockdowns to tick off rainy-day jobs have proved empty, because our social lives are busier than ever.
When governments told citizens to adopt a hermit lifestyle in March, Jess Cripps made a lockdown bucket list. “Finally, I can sit down and learn to crochet,” the 30-year-old library assistant from North Wales recalls thinking. And she planned to pickle onions.
She hasn’t lifted a crochet hook, and the onions remain unpickled. Her webcam has made sure of that.
The promise of using lazy lockdowns to tick off rainy-day jobs has proved empty, because coronavirus quarantines didn’t put social lives on ice. They put them online.
Pausing physical contact has made some social lives busier, and social engagements harder to avoid. To get out of yet another FaceTime call, Ms. Cripps says, “You can’t say ‘I really need a night at home.’ ”
Colleagues who were previously kept at arm’s length now invite themselves into living rooms for after-work drinks on Zoom. College friends suggest online quiz teams. Book groups and ballet classes, canceled for the coronavirus, are born again via videoconference.
As museum tours, zoos, language schools, choirs and yoga courses migrate online, at-home idleness has become virtually impossible. “I don’t feel I have the capacity to even read all of the suggested brilliant things we can do with our kids,” says Sonya Dreizler, 40, a consultant living in San Francisco with her husband and sons aged 9 and 4.
“I say this from a very privileged place where we’re not worried about putting food on the table,” she says. “We’ll get through it and we’ll be OK, as long as we stay healthy.”
The family’s initial excitement about video chat is fading, she says. “Zoom fatigue is real,” she says. Before California’s shelter-in-place order, Ms. Dreizler used Zoom frequently with clients. Now encounters ranging from her sons’ playdates to chats with her mom, 69, and grandmom, 93, have moved online.
She has started declining invites, telling friends: “I just don’t want to be on a Zoom happy hour right now. I hope you understand.”
Each Friday at 6 p.m., Ms. Dreizler’s mother and her friends log on to a Zoom happy hour. The first time, everyone muted, then spoke in turn. “It was beautiful,” says Bella Dreizler, living in Sacramento. “The following week, we didn’t do the mute thing and it was frigging chaos.”
Her 4-year-old grandson Leon Schinske has become a video-call refusenik. “No, I don’t want to be on Zoom, my friends interrupt me, and they don’t go on mute,” he told his mother, Sonya Dreizler, when she asked if he wanted to join story time with his class for the third day in a row.
“Four-year-olds don’t have great Zoom etiquette,” his mother says.
Old ways of flaking have evaporated, says Mark Ioannou, 27, an IT consultant in North London. “No excuses, are there?” All that’s left, he says: “I just don’t want to talk to you.”
He moved his work-leaving drinks from a bar to a Microsoft Teams meeting hosted in his bedroom.
Even those with busy social calendars normally, like Mr. Ioannou, are finding the demands of lockdown drinks overwhelming. “You wouldn’t socialize that much on a normal week,” he says.
Natalia Witczyk, 29, worried her social life living in Barcelona would suffer during lockdown. Instead, it went berserk. “I had to run an online calendar with all the meetings because I was losing track.”
On it, she noted whom she was talking to when and on which video app. She had events almost every evening during the first lockdown week and back-to-back-to-back drinks Friday night. “At first, I was anxious to get plans,” says Ms. Witczyk, a manager at a digital-marketing agency, “then I was anxious about those plans.”
Mitch Adams, 40, who works for a beer importer, knows from bitter experience the transition has created a social minefield. “The difficult thing,” he says, “is that we are trying to put our normal social cues and how we behave onto these video calls.”
During his first foray on the Houseparty app, which lets users go to video-call parties where their contacts are, he found himself inside a friend’s video call with her mom and brother. “I couldn’t work out what the etiquette was, whether it was then rude to leave straight away or if I should stay for a bit.”
He made excuses and left.
Much video-call awkwardness lies in the format that lets you see your face and your interlocutor’s, says Rhiannon Evans, a social scientist at Cardiff University in Wales. There is a lot of performance involved, says Dr. Evans, 35, who now does around seven hours of conference calls a day, then virtual coffees and cocktails. “All day, I see myself interacting with people,” she says. “It definitely consumes a lot more energy.”
For some like Will Ricketts who still work outside, access to social contact and culture online hasn’t palled. Dr. Ricketts, 40, a consultant chest physician at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London working on a coronavirus ward, spent a recent weekend with supporters of his local soccer team. “One of the fans who is based in America set up this virtual president’s lounge,” he says. “We all had a chat about the football that we’re not watching.”
That weekend, he checked out Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” streamed by London’s Royal Opera House and enjoyed a gig by musical group Stone Foundation while texting friends doing the same. A week of so many events under normal circumstances would wipe him out, he says, but now it gives him “some degree of an ability to switch off.”
How to switch off video gatherings is proving tough for Mr. Ioannou, the IT consultant. “With your friends, you can be more brash and say ‘I’m going now,’ ” he says, but work calls can go on, and no one wants to be the one to close them. “Everyone’s looking at each other, like, uh it’s a bit awkward.”
Then there’s the excruciating seconds while the host finds the button to adjourn. That silence needs a name, says Rob Ralston, a career development fellow at the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh.
“Everyone’s desperately looking for the leave-meeting button,” says Mr. Ralston, 34. “There’s a mad scramble not to be the last person on the call with the host.”
CrowdStrike Surges As Work From Home Boosts Security Demand
CrowdStrike Holdings Inc. surged to a fresh high Thursday after it reported third-quarter results that one analyst called “exceptional” as more people working from home boosted demand for cyber-security solutions.
The company, which provides platforms to prevent cyber attacks, rose as much as 17% to $165.75, the biggest intraday gain since March and the second record high it’s hit this week.
“We thought it was an excellent report and we remain highly confident in CRWD’s long-term growth profile,” BTIG analyst Gray Powell wrote in a note, adding that the company should be able to maintain 40%-plus revenue growth over the next few years.
CrowdStrike boosted its adjusted earnings per share forecast for the full year and also raised its guidance for all metrics for the fourth quarter and fiscal 2021. Even the increased outlook should be “beatable,” said RBC analyst Matthew Hedberg.
Employees Are Quitting Instead of Giving Up Working From Home
The drive to get people back into offices is clashing with workers who’ve embraced remote work as the new normal.
A six-minute meeting drove Portia Twidt to quit her job.
She’d taken the position as a research compliance specialist in February, enticed by promises of remote work. Then came the prodding to go into the office. Meeting invites piled up.
The final straw came a few weeks ago: the request for an in-person gathering, scheduled for all of 360 seconds. Twidt got dressed, dropped her two kids at daycare, drove to the office, had the brief chat and decided she was done.
“I had just had it,” said Twidt, 33, who lives in Marietta, Georgia.
With the coronavirus pandemic receding for every vaccine that reaches an arm, the push by some employers to get people back into offices is clashing with workers who’ve embraced remote work as the new normal.
While companies from Google to Ford Motor Co. and Citigroup Inc. have promised greater flexibility, many chief executives have publicly extolled the importance of being in offices. Some have lamented the perils of remote work, saying it diminishes collaboration and company culture. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon said at a recent conference that it doesn’t work “for those who want to hustle.”
But legions of employees aren’t so sure. If anything, the past year has proved that lots of work can be done from anywhere, sans lengthy commutes on crowded trains or highways. Some people have moved. Others have lingering worries about the virus and vaccine-hesitant colleagues.
And for Twidt, there’s also the notion that some bosses, particularly those of a generation less familiar to remote work, are eager to regain tight control of their minions.
“They feel like we’re not working if they can’t see us,” she said. “It’s a boomer power-play.”
It’s still early to say how the post-pandemic work environment will look. Only about 28% of U.S. office workers are back at their buildings, according to an index of 10 metro areas compiled by security company Kastle Systems. Many employers are still being lenient with policies as the virus lingers, vaccinations continue to roll out and childcare situations remain erratic.
But as office returns accelerate, some employees may want different options. A May survey of 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 39% would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. The generational difference is clear: Among millennials and Gen Z, that figure was 49%, according to the poll by Morning Consult on behalf of Bloomberg News.
“High-five to them,” said Sara Sutton, the CEO of FlexJobs, a job-service platform focused on flexible employment. “Remote work and hybrid are here to stay.”
The lack of commutes and cost savings are the top benefits of remote work, according to a FlexJobs survey of 2,100 people released in April. More than a third of the respondents said they save at least $5,000 per year by working remotely.
Jimme Hendrix, a 30-year-old software developer in the Netherlands, quit his job in December as the web-application company he worked for was gearing up to bring employees back to the office in February.
“During Covid I really started to see how much I enjoyed working from home,” Hendrix said.
Now he does freelance work and helps his girlfriend grow her art business. He used to spend two hours each day commuting; now the couple is considering selling their car and instead relying on bikes.
One of the main benefits, he says, is more control over his own time: “I can just do whatever I want around the house, like a quick chore didn’t have to wait until like 8 p.m. anymore, or I can go for a quick walk.”
Of course, not everyone has the flexibility to choose. For the millions of frontline workers who stock the shelves of grocery stores, care for patients in hospitals and nursing homes, or drop off packages at people’s doors, there are scant alternative options to showing up in person.
But among those who can, many are weighing their alternatives, said Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, who’s researched why people quit jobs. Bosses taking a hard stance should beware, particularly given labor shortages in the economy, he said.
“If you’re a company that thinks everything’s going back to normal, you may be right but it’s pretty risky to hope that’s the case,” he said.
At least some atop the corporate ladder seem to be paying attention. In a Jan. 12 PwC survey of 133 executives, fewer than one in five said they want to go back to pre-pandemic routines. But only 13% were prepared to let go of the office for good.
Alison Green, founder of workplace-advice website Ask a Manager, said she’s been contacted by many people with qualms about going back, citing concerns about unvaccinated colleagues and Covid precautions. Some have said they’re looking for jobs at companies they feel take the virus seriously, or will let them work from anywhere.
Some things are indeed lost with remote work, Green said, like opportunities for collaboration or learning for junior employees. But, she added: “I think we need to have a more nuanced discussion than: hustlers only do well in the office.”
For Sarah-Marie Martin, who lived in Manhattan and worked as a partner at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. when the pandemic struck, the months at home gave her time to redraw the blueprint of her life.
“When you have this existential experience, you have time to step back and think,” Martin said. “In my previous life, I didn’t have time to get super deep and philosophical.”
The mother of five moved her family to the New Jersey shore. And once the push to get back to offices picked up, the idea of commuting hardly seemed alluring. This spring, Martin accepted a fully remote position as chief financial officer of Yumi, a Los Angeles-based maker of baby food.
Gene Garland, 24, unknowingly opened the floodgates to people’s frustrations about office returns. After his employer, an IT company, in April told people they needed to start coming in, two of his close colleagues handed in their resignation letters. Garland, who lives in Hampton, Virginia, tapped out a tweet:
Bro, they said no more teleworking and my co-workers started QUITTING
— Genie (@GenieShinobi)
May 3, 2021
Hundreds of people responded, with many outlining plans, or at least hopes, to leave their own jobs. Garland says he himself has no plans to quit, but empathizes with those who do.
“Working inside of a building really does restrict time a lot more than you think,” he said. “A lot of people are afraid of the cycle where you work and work and work — and then you die.”
Twidt, the compliance specialist in Georgia, had already lined up a new job by the time she handed in her resignation letter: a role at a Washington-based company.
The recruiter that approached her, Twidt said, asked what it would take to get her on board. She replied that she would prefer something 100% remote.
“They said, ‘we can do that for you immediately.’”
Employment Disparities Between Young And Old Widened During Pandemic
The wealth gap between older and younger Americans persisted.
Covid-19 hasn’t affected everyone equally. The virus has been deadliest for older people, but the pandemic-driven economic downturn wreaked havoc on the professional lives of many young people. In the U.S., stock market gains helped boost the wealth of senior workers and retirees while youth unemployment soared.
Young And Jobless
Americans age 20 to 24 continue to see double-digit unemployment rates.
A Generation Gap Persists
After a decades-long pattern of wealth gains by the oldest Americans at the expense of the youngest, the resulting disparities were scarcely changed in 2020.
Job Satisfaction Flips
Younger workers became more disenchanted during the pandemic.
Woe Is Gen Z
The personal financial outlooks of the young have been the slowest to recover.
European Youth Retreat From Work and School
The pandemic didn’t just devastate employment prospects for young Europeans. It also spurred them to drop out of education and training in record numbers.
In Western Europe, All Ages Cut Spending
U.K. consumers were more cautious than German and French peers last year on concerns over Brexit, lockdowns, and job prospects. Adults 40 to 49 cut back the most.
Down and Out in A-Pac
Young workers were hurt in selected Asia-Pacific nations.
Why The Hybrid Workplace Is A Cybersecurity Nightmare
It’s a hacker’s dream: a constantly changing mix of office and remote workers, devices that move in and out of the company networks, and security staffs stretched thin.
For many bosses and employees, there is a measure of relief in returning to the office—especially for those who have the flexibility of continuing to work from home part of the time. But for those teams working to protect their offices from hackers, the new hybrid workplaces aren’t nearly as welcome.
In a typical hybrid workplace, some employees will be in the office, some will be working from home—or spaces like coffee shops and client headquarters—and some will be cycling back and forth. Devices, too, are moving in and out of the company network, with employees bringing their laptops onto company networks and then taking them back home—where they’re much more exposed to hackers and can easily get infected with malware.
So, security chiefs are faced with the task of supporting a constantly changing mix of office workers and remote workers, and company and home devices. Whereas security teams were able to focus on protecting the remote workforce during stay-at-home orders, doing so when employees are in the office for certain days of the week and at home for others will be difficult, says Rick McElroy, principal cybersecurity strategist at VMware Inc.’s Security Business Unit.
“It’s hard to maintain a security staff that looks one way in the data center or one way in an office, and then one way for remote employees,” he says.
Making things even worse: Security teams have been stretched thin by the demands of the pandemic. For the past year, they’ve had to make sure everyone is equipped to work from everywhere and can use critical tools such as virtual meeting rooms.
Things will only get tighter now that businesses are hiring more workers and launching into new projects they had put on hold during the pandemic.
The issues associated with hybrid work follow a bruising year for companies that were caught flat-footed by the coronavirus pandemic, many of which had to move to a fully remote model for the first time—and often almost overnight.
Hackers were quick to realize that insecure home networks and a lack of security controls typically found on corporate networks could work to their benefit. The World Economic Forum estimates that cyberattacks jumped 238% globally between February and April 2020.
Those attacks have continued to hammer corporate networks, and in many cases target the technologies that companies implemented to quickly provide for remote work, such as cloud services.
A report from Verizon Communications Inc., published in May 2021, found that attacks against cloud-based email, remote desktop applications and similar technologies designed to assist with remote work all increased over 2020.
“I think many organizations probably rushed [the move to remote work] and maybe haven’t done it in the right way,” says Phil Venables, a vice president at Alphabet Inc.’s Google and the chief information security officer of its cloud unit.
Now, the task gets even harder, as some workers return to the office, some stay home and some do both. Here’s a look at some of the challenges businesses are facing as they make this transition—and how they’re dealing with them.
Catching Up On Patches
One of the most basic problems security teams face is getting their machines up to speed with the latest software patches. These updates are released constantly to ensure that security vulnerabilities aren’t left open for hackers to exploit. If companies miss just one of these, they can pay a high price in terms of their vulnerability.
Now security chiefs are wary of the number of devices that may have sat idle in offices for over a year—turned off and unable to download patches—while employees have been absent, says Jadee Hanson, chief information security officer at cybersecurity firm Code42 Software Inc. And we’re not talking about just one patch, but potentially dozens or hundreds.
Of equal concern are devices that have been used by employees during remote working. Because of the extended time away from the office, users may have gotten negligent about installing patches, leaving machines vulnerable when they reconnect to the corporate network, says Ms. Hanson, a former security chief at Target Corp.
“We push a lot of the patching stuff down to our end users,” says Ms. Hanson. “But if they have not connected to the network in a long period of time, we just don’t know what’s left unpatched out there.”
Keeping Personal Devices Sequestered
When it comes to employees’ work-from-home devices, it’s not just a lack of patches that’s a problem. It’s the fact that many employees have gotten lax about security practices while stuck at home for so long.
Email-security firm Tessian Ltd. published a survey of 2,000 workers in December, for instance, that found over half had connected work devices to public wireless networks, which are often regarded as insecure.
Similarly, a survey of over 3,000 workers published by AT&T Inc. in March found that over half of respondents had used work devices for personal business such as online banking and downloading apps, and over a third had connected them to smart home devices such as speakers.
Bringing those machines immediately into a company network, where they might spread infections and give hackers a beachhead, could be dangerous. Instead, the safest thing may be to have personal devices log into a “quarantine network,” says Mr. McElroy of VMware.
Under this model, he says, user devices would connect to a network that is separated from corporate systems until security staff can ensure the devices are free of malware and appropriately patched.
Security staff must also be vigilant for deeper threats that may be waiting in employee devices—such as malware that can stay asleep for some time before it awakes and allows for further infection.
Will quarantining work on a continuing basis? Quarantine networks may be difficult to manage if workers are in and out of an office frequently and have to continually quarantine devices, rather than doing so once during a full office return, Ms. Hanson of Code42 says.
“If somebody is doing 100% overnight, that might make sense” to go with a quarantine, she says.
Removing The Human Factor
To some security chiefs, though, the hybrid model has so many risks that we need to rethink the way we approach network safety entirely. Imagine if we had hybrid work from the very beginning. Would we really be treating cybersecurity the same way we do now?
Not likely, the security chiefs say. The usual ways of training employees to guard against hackers often don’t work, they say, so we should take that responsibility out of workers’ hands—and create defenses that work behind the scenes as much as possible.
“I think it’s insane that we have basically said that we are going to train people to filter phishing emails. We didn’t train people to filter spam emails, we just invented spam filters to take the problem away,” says Tim Sadler, Tessian’s CEO.
So, what’s the alternative? One possibility is a concept called zero trust.
To understand zero trust, consider the traditional type of network security. Usually, it focuses on building a perimeter around the company network to keep intruders out—think of firewalls.
The problem is that hybrid work makes it very easy for intruders to breach those outer defenses, because employees working at home aren’t as vigilant as they should be. And because traditional security is focused on keeping hackers out, it’s tough to stop them once they get in—so the bad guys can run wild.
Systems that are more vigilant use multifactor authentication: Users might have to confirm their identity rigorously when they sign in to the network, such as entering a password along with something else, like responding to a message on their phone.
Zero trust takes that a step further. Even after users pass the authentications, security checks constantly exchange information in the background to verify whether users can access certain systems or files, rather than assuming that because they passed through the gateway, they should be allowed free movement.
By doing it this way, security staff assume hackers are already inside a company’s digital walls, and their job is to make it difficult for them to wreak havoc. And, because these processes are usually automated, zero trust doesn’t have to rely on users to make it all work.
At Microsoft Corp. , CISO Bret Arsenault’s team has built out a zero-trust system to check employees’ identities and devices at every turn, including through multifactor authentication that can include face, eye and fingerprint scans.
Once the tools verify Microsoft users, he says, they will push employees directly to cloud-based apps such as the Office365 workplace suite, rather than onto a corporate network.
Security veterans such as William O’Hern, the chief security officer at AT&T, say that improving identity management and other core zero-trust concepts can go a long way toward foiling hackers, who often rely on compromised credentials such as breached usernames and passwords.
Around 61% of attacks during 2020 involved this information to some degree, Verizon said in its May report.
“If I had one thing to tell everyone to do, it would be to focus on strong identity proofing, not only of individuals but of [devices], too,” Mr. O’Hern says.
Remote Work Has Vastly Improved The Black Worker Experience
A survey finds that Black employees in white collar jobs feel more valued and supported working from home.
Working remotely has its downsides: Cramped apartments, endless Zoom calls, juggling child care duties. But for many Black workers in white-collar jobs, getting out of the office has resulted in a vast improvement in their employee experience.
Over the past year, Black workers in so-called “knowledge” roles, like graphic design or data analysis, are more likely to say they’ve been treated more fairly, value their co-workers more and feel more supported by management, according to a survey by the Future Forum, a research consortium created by software maker Slack Technologies.
The survey of more than 10,000 people saw a 26 percentage point increase in Black respondents reporting “I am treated fairly at work” from a year ago, and similarly big jumps in other questions about their work lives. Overall, Black workers in the U.S. said their job experience was steadily improving, while responses plateaued among other racial groups in the most recent survey.
“Going virtual levels the playing field,” said Ella Washington, a management professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “Because everything is virtual, there’s less of this informal chatter we had in person. So that’s going to make anybody feel more like they belong, especially folks that are not usually in those conversations.”
The findings support longstanding research that shows Black workers, especially Black women, feel less valued and respected by colleagues. Black people make up a disproportionately small percentage of employees across the biggest U.S. companies — and their ranks thin higher up the corporate ladder. Racism, discrimination, and every day slights are among the many reasons they say they can’t advance.
Slack, which commissioned the survey and makes virtual collaboration software, benefits from a more remote workforce. There are also many reasons a person’s job experience could improve over the last year, besides working remotely. Still, the findings further complicate return-to-office mandates, especially as companies attempt to meet pledges to improve diversity.
While the Delta variant has delayed most companies’ plans to come back in person imminently, cities like New York and London are seeing an uptick in staff returning to their desks. Two-thirds of executives in the Future Forum poll said they’re designing post-pandemic workforce policies with little to no direct input from employees, which could lead to dissatisfaction and increased employee turnover in the months ahead.
More than three-quarters of employees polled wanted flexibility in where they work and almost all — 93% — want flexibility in when they work. But a higher proportion of Black respondents want a fully or mostly flexible schedule, the survey found, compared with White workers. Some companies are heeding that demand: PwC, the accounting and consulting firm, said last week that its 40,000 U.S. client-service employees could work remotely in perpetuity, becoming one of the biggest employers to do so.
Such freedom matters to all but “makes the most significant difference for underrepresented and historically marginalized populations,” the Future Forum survey found.