From today’s New York Times:
Kristen Egziabher was all jitters just before the pandemic, awaiting news of a possible raise, until her manager came back dejected from his meeting with the higher-ups.
“I was presenting the case for you,” he told her. “And people were like, ‘We don’t really know Kristen. We only know her work.’”
Sure, her work. What else could be relevant to a performance review? But this was exactly what had always irked Ms. Egziabher, 40, about her office, where she served as a project manager for a Texas food chain. No matter her productivity, her colleagues seemed to care primarily about the chitchat — what’d you do last weekend, where’d you get that purse? Ms. Egziabher, who is Black, felt that her white co-workers were fixated on who was jostling for entry to their in-group.
“What does all that matter for my pay?” she wondered. “If we’re being real, I don’t care what you did last weekend.”
Remote work brought a reprieve. Several months into being sent to work from home, Ms. Egziabher got a promotion and an 11 percent raise: “If I had continued going into the office,” she added, “there might have been some excuse around likability.”
When one of America’s earliest open-plan offices debuted in Racine, Wis., in 1939, women made up less than one-third of the country’s labor force. The design of that early office, not so different from the one that modern workers experience, fit the needs of a particular employee: someone who could stay late because he didn’t have to rush home to make dinner for his children; someone pleased to cross paths with the boss because it meant time to talk golf.
The office, in other words, was never one size fits all. It was one size fits some, with the expectation that everybody else would squeeze in. Office banter, for example, might have been a small annoyance for a segment of workers. But for many others, it amplified a sense that they didn’t belong.
The last two years ushered in an unplanned experiment with a different way of working: Some 50 million Americans left their offices. Before the pandemic, in 2019, about 4 percent of employed people in the U.S. worked exclusively from home; by May 2020, that figure rose to 43 percent, according to Gallup. Of course, that means a majority of the work force continued working in person throughout the last two years. But among white-collar workers, the shift is stark: Before Covid just 6 percent worked exclusively from home, which by May 2020 rose to 65 percent.
Read the complete article here.