Anti-Remote Work Stances Are a PR Nightmare and a Step Back For DEIB

The Kyte Baby story is not unique when it comes to the stigma around remote workers

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Kyte Baby, an upscale clothing line for babies and toddlers, found itself in a full-blown crisis last week when its CEO denied an employee’s request to work remotely. The employee’s adopted baby, who was born prematurely, was in the NICU hundreds of miles away from her home and office. And yet she was told to return to the office or lose her job. The story went viral on social media and has attracted widespread media attention, both of which could very well affect the company’s bottom line.

That this decision was made by a company with mothers as its primary customers is just the icing on the proverbial cake of a PR disaster. The story hit home with me both as a mother and as the founder of a company built on flexible work as a means of inclusion.

When I founded We Are Rosie in 2018, I had recently left a senior-level advertising sales job with a tech start-up. I had just given birth to my second daughter and there was no flexibility offered to offset the expected 65-hour work weeks and frequent travel. It was nearly impossible to sustain with a newborn and a toddler at home. And more importantly, I didn’t want to sustain it.

My idea in starting We Are Rosie was to build a company that would allow people to work in a freelance (aka flexible) capacity and still have amazing marketing careers with top brands. And one thing I knew for sure: flexible and remote work equals inclusion.

Hiring remote, flexible talent opens up a company’s talent pool exponentially. When looking to hire the best person for the job, why not hire an incredibly talented copywriter who is working out of Des Moines, Iowa while caring for her aging parents? Or an award-winning Memphis-based creative director who wants to stay in a city where he has a sense of community and belonging? Why not offer positions in your company to people from different parts of the country so you get a range of viewpoints and life experiences—just like the consumers who are buying your products? And why not give a new mom with a newborn baby in crisis the ability to work remotely so she can be by his side?

Flexibility has the bonus of creating loyalty with employees. Deloitte’s Women @ Work 2023: A Global Outlook report recently surveyed 5,000 women and found that a lack of flexibility in working hours is one of the top three reasons cited by women who left a job in the past year. On the flip side, almost two-thirds of women with flexible work arrangements said they would likely stay with their company for more than three years. Only 19% of women without flexibility said the same.

Having flexibility at work is not just for new moms. Take a marketer who works with We Are Rosie, Catherine Traffis. Traffis was in a horrific car accident that left her lucky to be alive and contending with neurological conditions that affect the way she can work. But her health challenges do not change the fact that she is a brilliant writer and editor. She is currently contributing her talents to one of the biggest companies in the world while working from home and managing all facets of her life.

The future of work has been a hot topic since Covid-19 changed so many people’s day-to-day work lives. Most agreed that it would look different; more flexible, more human-centered and more focused on getting the work done rather than on where, when and how it gets done.

And yet, the Kyte Baby story is not unique. According to a recent piece in Inc., remote workers are 35% more likely to be laid off than those who work hybrid or in-office. And, when Wayfair announced layoffs earlier this month, executives said remote workers were more likely to be let go.

In last year’s Rosie Report study, 54% of marketers said they weren’t consulted before their company decided to return to the office. Perhaps there is a reason for that: 77% of survey respondents said they prefer to work remotely. Another recent poll found that 55% of fully remote U.S. workers said they’re willing to take a pay cut to work from home.

My colleague, We Are Rosie CEO Jeff Levick, likes to say, “Some business leaders value office space more than people. Successful businesses double down on their people.” I couldn’t agree more.

The future of work isn’t AI and it isn’t office buildings with free lunch and butts in seats. The future of work is people. It always has been and it always will be.