The discourse around remote work is contradictory and confusing. Some laud the enhanced productivity and work-life balance, while others rue the lack of social interaction while working from home. Across industries, the consensus is remote work allows for higher savings on fuel and commute. But others regard it a bad deal since remote workers risk a stinted career growth, despite hitting the same KPIs as onsite employees. If there’s a common thread unifying these diverse narratives, it’s either the benefits or drawbacks of remote work for dominant working groups.
But what that misses is the value of remote work for marginal working professionals. Though recent coverage has touched upon how remote work ensures greater workplace diversity and empowers women, other groups still find their voices missing. When Ridhi Chaturvedi (F 24), employed with Sage – a leading global academic publisher – praised remote work, saying:
with a neurodivergent mind, working in a familiar environment really helps in focusing and avoiding stress
I understood what she meant.
In a quote for the Centre for Health Journalism, Sheri Munsell- a black woman- shared her working experience at a retail store back in the day. Munsell described that “every day when I came home from work, I was already exhausted from gritting my teeth all day and not responding to people,” which prompted her to go remote. Adding to that stress was the racial bias she experienced at the hands of her employers, who admitted to “checking her cash box more often than her white colleagues,” underscoring the link between racial discrimination and mental health.
The mainstream working groups struggle with the pressure to meet (and outperform) employer expectations. But that’s only one concern for people suffering from mental conditions such as depression and anxiety. Alongside managing daily workload, they brave debilitating breakdowns. The link between gender, race, and mental health in the above testimonies underscores how the dominant discourse homogenizes a widely disparate work experience and privileges able minds when the lived reality is starkly different.
For individuals like Ridhi and Sheri, remote work is not a nice-to-have perk or benefit. Instead, it’s the bare minimum to be meaningfully employed. It acts as a shield against a toxic work environment and microaggressions from hostile colleagues. As someone with borderline personality disorder, Ishita (F 26), employed with India’s largest digital products company, agreed and lauded remote work for the freedom from:
putting my best face on before meeting people. On most days, it is as simple as having the option of not having to do that
The implicit expectation of leaving personal life at home when coming onsite seems outrageous, in the words of Patrice Le Goy – a licensed marriage and family therapist – when you “think about someone who might experience depression or anxiety, for example, you can imagine how difficult it is to put on the front of everything being OK for eight-plus hours a day.” But a lot also depends on the severity of the mental health disability.
While depression and anxiety can make normal day-to-day operations impossible, the impact of lesser-known conditions like premenstrual dysphoric disorder can allow individuals to go on with normal work schedules without worrying about losing their job continuously. Affected by a severe hormonal imbalance that causes infrequent bouts of depression, suicidal ideation, and emotional breakdowns before each cycle, women like me seek remote options for flexible timings so that we can manage our workload efficiently during hard times.
Like Sheril, Kim Kibby, a graphic designer, shared their experience working onsite in the same feature for the Centre for Health Journalism. After being remote for nearly a decade, she accepted an in-office role and underwent a “culture shock to find herself in a cubicle farm with constant interruptions, freezing temperatures, and noise.” On diagnosis, she found herself suffering from mild misophonia, a condition in which certain sounds, like people eating or typing, set off an intense emotional reaction.
To cope, Kim wore noise-canceling headphones with white noise or music until she didn’t.
Traditional setups with inflexible timings and excessive sensory stimulation don’t work for mentally disabled individuals. But for physically challenged and LGBTQIA+ folks, accessibility issues, single-gender washrooms, and rigid dress codes lead them on a search for inclusive spaces. For the Centre for Health Journalism feature, writer Adryan Corcione shared how they went through the stress of living an inauthentic life and felt pressured to wear their cis roommate’s hand-me-downs to fit in the office life.
In their words:
[b]efore I was ‘out’ at work as non-binary, I recall hearing microaggressive comments about the way I dressed … and was expected to wear dresses and heals as part of this unspoken dress code
They worked for three months in the role before calling it quits. But Adryan’s is hardly a one-off case. In an article titled “Being transgender at work” on McKinsey and Company, authors revealed that, in corporate America, more than half of transgender employees reported feeling uncomfortable being out at work and felt far less supported than their cis counterparts.
To quote, for these individuals:
it’s more difficult to understand workplace culture and benefits and harder to get promoted
The same’s the case in India.
And therein lies the true value of remote work. Not only does it make navigating the workplace easier for marginal groups, but allows them to take a break and seek support. Employers can be inclusive and alleviate some of the concerns by eliminating dress codes and fixed working hours. But the final decision as to whether or not to join their team onsite should rest with the employees.
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