As working from home looks set to continue following the coronavirus pandemic, a U.K. research institute has warned that this could lead to increased prejudice. 

The Woolf Institute found in its study of diversity in England and Wales that friendships in the workplace were key to breaking down prejudices. 

The study, published Monday, surveyed 11,701 adults in England and Wales. It was undertaken by market research agency Survation on behalf of the Woolf Institute, which is a research center.

Although the research was mostly conducted before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Woolf Institute stressed that the results highlighted the importance of the workplace in offering people opportunities to mix with people from different backgrounds. 

For instance, people who were “economically inactive” were 37% more likely than those in work to only have friends within their own ethic group. They were also a third more likely to feel negatively towards local ethnic diversity. 

In contrast, the workplace offered opportunities for people to mix outside of their ethnic group. The study found that more than three quarters of people in England and Wales worked in places that were ethnically, nationally or religiously diverse.

After analyzing this research and previous data, the report’s author, Julian Hargreaves, concluded that: “having diverse friendship groups impacts more forcefully on our prejudices than our prejudice does on our choice of friends.” 

“In other words, when it comes to tackling prejudice, friendship matters and works,” he added in a statement. 

With more people likely to continue working remotely in the future, “the workplace as a meeting point for those of different backgrounds is set to be significantly diminished,” the Woolf Institute warned. 

“Without the creation of alternative opportunities for social mixing, this … will lead directly to an increase in prejudice,” it concluded. 

Ed Kessler, founder of the Woolf Institute, said that as people are forced to work from home amid the pandemic, there was a “risk that they could go back into isolated silos.” 

He therefore suggested that creating new opportunities for friendships should be a “key ingredient of public policy.”

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