You remember two years ago, right? For a while it seemed that everyone working from home was gliding through their workday while either baking bread, meditating or baking bread while meditating. But Corporate Natalie knew this was never the reality for most.
So Natalie decided to show TikTok her day working from home: She rolls out of bed, throws on a sweater, eats a slice of cheese for breakfast, then brushes her teeth just before her first meeting begins. “During this time I’ll pretend to be engaged with people on Zoom, respond to emails saying ‘please fix,’ and contemplate my overall purpose in life,” she said in the video.
The video is a slight exaggeration of what it’s like to work from home, but it resonated with her followers. It was one of the first to go viral on Natalie’s platform, which over 370,000 people now follow. She’s not necessarily catering to a more niche audience of HR professionals and new workers, and she’s not creating for everyone like Charli D’Amelio, but her sizable following makes her what the influencer biz calls a “macro-influencer.”
Natalie, who doesn’t reveal her last name or the company she works for on social media, told Protocol “I think that was a very realistic depiction of, ‘We're all going through this really terrifying cycle — and then we do it all over again,” she said.
Corporate Natalie is one of several creators who have emerged on TikTok over the past couple of years to show the realities of the working world, from anxiety as a young employee to awkward interactions over Zoom. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, creators said the videos gave people content to bond over. But they’ve since evolved as a way to explain how the workplace has changed since the onset of remote work and bring up workplace topics seldom discussed at work, like microaggressions and mental health.
“I was in a super traditional work setting before my current job," Natalie said. "And I'm trying to hold on to elements of that. I think what really plays is the super uptight coworker who was utterly unprepared when thrown into this new work-from-home world.”
Ekow Sanni-Thomas runs the TikTok account for the company he founded, inside voices, an online platform that helps job seekers understand how companies treat people of color. Sanni-Thomas started the account a few months ago to make people aware of inside voices, but it’s grown into a platform where he can help workers of color understand that their experiences with discrimination or bias at work aren’t uncommon. Sanni-Thomas said users also take to the comment sections of his videos to educate themselves on racism at work.
“It's really common for professionals of color to stray away from discussing anything to do with race,” he told Protocol. “Sensitive issues are pretty hard to bring up in the workplace as it is — race is obviously a really difficult one — and when it comes to microaggressions, I think people are often surprised to see some of the things in my videos that speak so closely to their experience.”
Sanni-Thomas said TikTok lends itself to these conversations in a way platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter can’t because users can use comical trends to speak to nuanced topics. He pointed to one video about his reaction to companies hiring a white head of diversity. He mouthed the viral sound, “That’ll do it. You don’t have to worry about me, you do not have to worry about me.” Sanni-Thomas picked up his briefcase and walked away from his desk in the TikTok.
“That was a very on-the-nose way to describe my reaction to that without having to go into the multilayered explanation of why I feel that way,” he said. “If I were to tweet randomly, if the company announced the white head of diversity, it would feel like an attack. But in the form of this comical trend, it's palatable and it's acceptable.”
Creator Jazmyn W. agreed that TikTok is a more comfortable medium to express frustrations in the workplace around racism. While her platform is not solely based on workplace issues, she creates videos around her previous experience as a Black woman working in HR. She’s created a whole series around “things white women say that just don’t make sense,” which has prompted conversations in the comment section of those videos.
“Black women are like, ‘Yes, I've had this said to me.’ Then women of color are like ‘Absolutely,’” she said. “Then white women who follow me are like, ‘I've said this, I didn't even know I shouldn't say this.’ And then the rest of the white women are like, ‘I didn't even know I shouldn't say that.’”
Jazmyn, who does not share her last name anywhere on social media, added that companies like Google have reached out in response to her videos to talk about her experiences while working a corporate job. “I talk about my experience and I do it in a funny way,” she said. “And then employees ask questions about my experience.”
DeAndre Brown, who refers to himself as “The Corporate Baddie” on TikTok, taps into Gen Z humor to explain what it’s like to work in a corporate job through his TikTok account. Over 240,000 people now follow Brown’s account, which includes a mix of advice and humor about the working world.
Brown said his videos are a slight exaggeration of what it’s like to work as a member of Gen Z. Younger workers aren’t necessarily emailing HR in an instant when a co-worker breaks a boundary, and they’re not always asking for more money the minute someone asks them to take on a new project. But Brown said younger workers are starting to discuss setting boundaries and ensuring they’re paid fairly, and his videos are a reflection of that.
“It's a joke, but honestly, it's also serious,” Brown said.