How Black Women Can Prepare For Workplace Challenges As Offices Reopen
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Companies around the country are preparing to reopen their offices and welcome employees back to in-person work life. Although some companies have announced fully remote or hybrid work cultures, some executives still believe in office culture and are working with their HR departments to prepare to transition back to the office as comfortably and seamlessly as possible. 

In a recent PwC survey, 75% of the 133 executives polled anticipate that at least half of office employees will be working in the office by July 2021. The survey also showed that out of the executives surveyed, only 13% are open to remote life, while 68% believe employees should be in the office at least three days a week. Now that you received notice about returning to the office, it’s time to prepare for what this means for your career. 

ESSENCE spoke with  Dee C. Marshall, CEO of Diverse & Engaged, and Domonique Townsend, corporate consultant and founder of We Optimize Work, on how Black women can prepare to navigate their office reopen and its evitable challenges. 

Understand what you desire for your career.

Before you can prepare for your office reopening, you first need to ask yourself if you even want to be back in the office. “I think a lot of women really make an assumption that they have to work and they have to work at that job. I think a lot of people don’t think or believe they have choices, and they have options,” Marshall said. A recent Bloomberg survey showed that 39% of 1,000 U.S. adults would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. Marshall, an expert in mobilizing women in the workplace, suggests we ask ourselves the hard questions to determine our next steps. “Do I want to go back to work, and do I want to go back to work in an office with other people? Do I want to work with other people in an office at this company?”  

Communicate your needs to feel safe to perform.

If you decide you want to move forward with your current company, it’s essential to consider if the return to workplace strategy aligns with the things you need to be your best at work. “Understand what supports me to be the best I can be in my particular career path at my job,” Townsend said. She suggests setting up a meeting to communicate your needs for returning to the office with your manager. “Create a plan of action and get clear on how you also add value to the company,” she said. Townsend’s company helps businesses create human-centered work approaches to increase engagement, productivity and belonging for women in the workplace. Knowing your value and how to express your achievements during the pandemic will allow you to leverage or negotiate your needs with your manager. Townsend also says it’s a great way to get clarity on whether the employer deserves your talents or not. “You can see if the employers are going to be adaptable to your needs or not, but you’d get a clear answer on if this is a time that I need to look for another position,” she explained. “We often force or compromise our wellbeing to adapt to a culture without addressing what this wellbeing looks like with employers.” 

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Make a plan to adjust back to the office space.

The way we work remotely and virtually is not the same way we work in an office setting. Our morning or evening routines may have to shift to get our minds right for a new workday. That’s why Marshall believes, “Putting together a plan around success routines and structure is something to think about when going back into a workplace. This is part of planning and preparing to be your best, give your best, do your best, and expect the best.” She suggests asking yourself another set of questions like, “Do I now need a new routine or habit that prepares me to go back? Do I need to be meditating in the morning? Do I need to be working out in the morning?” Whether you are preparing to go back full-time or for a few days per week, use your Sunday to prepare for the week ahead. Marshall advises that each week block out time in your schedule to do something that raises your mindset, your vibration and your frequency. It could be a fun activity like race car driving or golfing to something relaxing like the spa. 

Use your voice.

“Employers are getting people back into work abruptly without accounting for the needs of employees, without giving that phase in our transitional approach,” shared Townsend. With many people feeling left out of the discussions around going back to the office, it’s time to use your voice to share your concerns and needs. Speak to the company values and the gaps you are experiencing, then provide a solution that benefits the greater good. Townsend also suggests having solutions helps minimize the emotional impact if things don’t go your way or when dealing with a manager that lacks empathy. “Especially as a [Black woman] employee, you often interact with managers that lack empathy, and being in a corporate space as a Black woman; we faced that a lot,” she said. When sharing a solution, Townsend says to remember to show how it can better meet outcomes, have a more engaging environment or increase productivity. 

Plan to feel differently.

When corporate America collectively announced that Black Lives Matter promises to shift the way diversity, equity and inclusion look at work. “Prepare to feel differently because now you’re, you’re dealing with the feels of the pandemic and your safety, but now we’re feeling different about the microaggressions,” shared Marshall. Be empowered to hold your executives accountable for the promises made to the public and their employees. Not only will you feel differently about dealing with racism at work in an in-person setting, but allow yourself to feel the emotions of returning to a familiar space because you have changed. Townsend remembers what it was like to return to work from three maternity leaves throughout her professional career. Still, she admits returning to work during a pandemic is filled with other anxieties. “Now you’re returning in with people that have different mindsets and that have different experiences. You don’t know how they are doing from a well-being standpoint. Some people probably experienced depression, and then you’re probably experiencing your own set of emotions,” she said. Townsend suggests looking for ways to find support. 

Returning to the office won’t be easy, but remember to put your well-being first.