How BIPOC employees are impacted by digital workplace communication tools
Earlier this year, Loom surveyed over 3,000 working adults in the US and UK about their experiences and opinions of digital workplace communication tools. The report sheds light on the impact of these tools, from traditional email to modern video messaging, on team connection, employee engagement, productivity, and more.
Modern office workers want to forge real connections with their colleagues and be seen, heard and understood at work, whether fully remote or in person. As a McKinsey report earlier this year put it, “it’s not about the office, it’s about the membership.”
The new tools have been shown to unlock greater visibility, improve self-expression, and address pervasive communication challenges in the remote/hybrid workplace. However, it is important to avoid consolidating all employees into a homogeneous unit. With that in mind, we took a closer look at data from Loom’s recent “Building Connection in the Post-Modern Workplace” report and found the ways in which BIPOC employees (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) reported different experiences of communication in the workplace.
Take on the extra burden of (over)explaining yourself
Ninety-one percent of all modern office workers have seen their digital messages – emails, instant chat, Slack messages, etc. – misunderstood or misinterpreted by their colleagues.
Our data shows that these all-too-common misunderstandings feel even more prevalent for Black employees. The data revealed that black employees spend an average of two minutes longer than their white colleagues thinking about each of their digital communication interactions. They are also more likely to add extra punctuation marks and informal expressions (like ‘lol‘ Where ‘haha‘) to clarify their tone or the intent behind their messages.
This echoes long-reported data and experience of black workers facing additional scrutiny from managers and recent data on the prevalence of implicit bias in remote workspaces.
Resolving Misunderstandings Harms Mental Health
Feeling misunderstood at work (or proactively fearing a misunderstanding) not only affects how black and POC workers communicate, but it also impacts their mental health.
Black respondents to the UK survey said they felt “less confident” and “unworthy” when messages were misinterpreted. And the data also indicates that employees of color spend more time than their white colleagues resolving communication issues after they occur. And these employees are also more likely (37% vs. 30%) to set up a meeting with colleagues to clear up the confusion. This not only takes time out of the day, but can add extra stress to the workday. This stress related to resolving misunderstandings – although experienced by all groups – was more prevalent among Black and POC respondents.
Mary-Frances Winters, author, CEO and inclusion expert, has led thousands of focus groups with black and brown employees. In his book, Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes Mind, Body and Spirit, she takes a careful look at the company’s framework, reporting how this stress “affects the ability of black employees to perform at their best. […] Being constantly on guard and wondering how to respond to inequities is tiring.”
Signs of improvement: Workplace “visibility” is on the rise
The survey data also points to significant improvements for the employee experience, including increased visibility in the workplace.
Thirty-five percent of people of color said they now communicate more with their teams than when they were in the office full-time. On top of that, 31% also say they are able to express themselves better and showcase their personal tone of voice, compared to 18% of their white colleagues. We also discovered that 33% of Black employees feel their visibility to executives has increased through remote working and the use of digital communication tools. Remote work, ultimately, can help level the playing field.
The data continues positive trends reported last year by think tank Slack Future Forum in which black workers reported a “50% increase in their sense of belonging at work and a 64% increase in % of their ability to handle stress once they started working”. from home.” This is not to say that visibility and belonging are “solved” by remote work, but it is positive evidence for continued investment in initiatives and tools focused on these areas. As Future Forum reports, these positive trends are likely due to the more positive environment created by remote work, helping black employees in particular feel less of a need to “switch code.”
Workplaces are adapting, but there is still work to be done
As companies settle into long-term plans, flexible working (whether hybrid or full remote) remains strong. Seventy-four percent of U.S. companies use or plan to implement a permanent hybrid work model. This is a promising trajectory, given that the Future Forum study concluded that flexible working was “essential for a sense of greater inclusion among black workers.”
But a lot of work remains to be done. Professor Laura Morgan Roberts and Assist. Professor Courtney L. McCluney co-authored an excellent article for the Harvard Business Review in 2020 titled “Working from home being blackIt breaks down ways managers and leaders can promote inclusive practices, including redefining and respecting employee boundaries, actively monitoring for biases, reassessing workplace expectations, and more. with a quote from organizational psychologist Bernardo Ferdman, who wrote that “Practicing inclusion involves everyone having a voice in defining the collective.”
Survey data where workers can self-report their experiences provides a small glimpse into a much bigger picture. There are so many elements in the workplace that contribute to belonging, connection and inclusion. But while workplace communication is only one piece of this puzzle, it’s a particularly critical piece.
Image credit: Wavebreakmedia / depotphotos.com
Vinay Hiremath is co-founder and CTO, Loom.