COVID-19 showed us once and for all that yes, many workers can successfully work from home. In fact, in many cases, employee productivity has soared. Now some employers are considering allowing workers to permanently work from home once the pandemic is over — even if home is far away from where the business is located. Some, however, are also considering paying remote workers less than in-office workers.
But paying lower wages for remote employees could be a bad idea. People should be paid what the job is worth no matter where they do it. If employers approach compensation with the attitude that remote workers are less valuable than in-office employees, they will not attract the best talent.
Here are points to remember as you consider how you will pay your remote workers moving forward.
• The most important consideration for leaders is the question, “What makes sense for the job?” Figure out what you really need from your employees. If you truly need them to be in the office, then don’t allow remote work at all, unless it is a reasonable accommodation for a disability or other reason. But if a job can be performed from anywhere, and you allow workers to stay remote, pay them the same as you would pay an in-office employee doing the same work. Unless you want to open a legal and employee relations can of worms, keep their wages consistent.
• While compensation should stay the same, it may make sense to offer the two groups different perks. As long as you are not discriminating against any particular individual or group, in-office workers might be reimbursed for commuting expenses while remote workers might receive reimbursement for part of their internet bill, for example.
• Know that an employee who needs or expects to work remotely but takes the in-office job may not be successful or happy. Their productivity or quality of work could suffer, and you ultimately risk losing that employee (and the investment you made in hiring them). The same goes for remote workers who begrudgingly accept a lower salary than their colleagues who go into the office each day.
• Flexibility is key. Consider adopting a hybrid model that allows for both in-person and remote workers and offers equal pay for equal work. Have fewer employees in the office, allowing you to cut down on office space. Or use concepts like “hoteling” — where remote workers share on-site office space by reserving a desk — in cases where normally remote employees must be on-site.
It’s clear that some form of remote work is here to stay. Surveys suggest most employees want to go back to the office — but with flexibility to work from home periodically as needed. This is an example of the new work-life integration that many workers (especially Millennials) now crave.
The past year showed us that many employees make a valuable contribution even when they work from home. Employers must compensate workers for good work no matter where that work takes place. Remember — flexibility means happy employees because they feel in control of their workdays. That’s good for business.
Rick Grimaldi is a workplace trends expert and the author of FLEX: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace.