Three Simple Answers to Remote Work's Most Important Questions for 2022
Despite all the benefits of remote work, there remains plenty of debate on how we choose to implement it. Some stick by their experience working from home during the pandemic and say they need to go back to the office (essentially, emergency only).
Others have adopted remote-first mindsets and have made coworking locations available for employees who choose. Communication is still done as if everyone was remote.
Something such as the future of work shouldn't be so controversial.
We write consistently about the unforeseen implications of remote work and interview experts on the strategies being adopted by the most forward-thinking companies.
We decided to bring some of that research in answering some of remote work's most important questions of 2021.
Should you use remote surveillance software or "Tattleware" to keep tabs on your remote employees?
In another instance of Black Mirror, mirroring reality, some employees now have to worry about their bosses watching them work remotely.
One story came out in the Guardian of a recent college graduate named David that had to work remotely while his camera took photos of him every ninety seconds with an employee tracking software called Sneek.
The photos were then sent to a digital conference room for the whole team to see when they pulled up the app. People could then message the images in a "Sneek" Slack channel for the managers to see if they caught him "slacking."
Not surprisingly, David quit two weeks after the company implemented the software.
The lack of trust on the employer's side created an uncomfortable working experience. David began to question his commitment to the organization.
But what are the arguments for using remote monitoring software?
For Remote Surveillance Software
- For operations that require handling sensitive information, monitoring employee screens is a requirement to stay in business.
- There are obvious benefits to taking control over an employee's laptop for IT issues or tracking employees' hours for certain projects.
- A study conducted by an associate professor of management at the University of California San Diego found that people doing data collection work out of the office were more productive when they were made aware they were being monitored. Compare to the work efficiency of their colleagues who weren't told they were being tracked.
- Sneek is just an extreme on a broad spectrum of employee tracking software. Other options like TimeCamp and Hubstaff just monitor employee app/general laptop use.
Against Remote Surveillance Software
- Trust is a hot commodity in a remote work world. Companies risk further alienating their employees by creating stressful and disingenuous environments.
- In other studies by associate professor of management at the University of California San Diego, the workers were essentially saying, "If the manager is going to watch everything I do, then I'm not going to do anything above and beyond what they expect of me."
- If an employee uses a spy-enabled, work-sponsored computer outside of hours, their employer could easily access their personal data, from internet banking passwords to Facebook messages.
- It is a slippery slope once you start actively tracking every moment of your employee's workday. It becomes an ethical question of how much a company can interfere in the lives of its employees.
The Simple Answer
Trust your employees.
It's ridiculous to think that employees need to be babysat while at home after a year and a half of remote work.
If you want to invest in time tracking software to keep a tight watch on productivity because you have limited resources, that is justifiable. If you need to access employees' laptops for IT issues or managing confidential information, then that totally makes sense.
However, companies need to be careful with the limits of trust they give their employees. Too little, and they are setting them up for a toxic work environment. Employees are also trusting their employer doesn't abuse access to their personal information.
Plenty of remote teams have thrived because their employer measures their output, not how much time they spent trying to look busy on the company laptop.
You can't replicate the flawed work practices of the office in a distributed environment.
Should you cut your remote worker's pay if they relocate?
"Facebook pay cut (for relocating to the lower-cost areas): Is it right or wrong?"
This was the question posted a couple of months ago in Blind, an anonymous professional network, and had over 12,000 responses from people at Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Zillow, and other tech giants.
59% of professionals answered a company is right to cut pay if the employee moves to a lower-cost area.
Now, this debate has raged since the question was initially posted in the forum in June. Google jumped on the pay-cut train while Zillow has decided to pay remote workers the same salary regardless of location.
In a recent study by Business Insider, 1 in 10 technologists now say they have been asked to take a pay cut if they don't plan to return to the office. That same survey found that only 3% would be willing to take a 15% salary cut to be allowed to work remotely, while just 1% would take a 25% cut for such an arrangement.
On the other side of the pond, in a survey in the UK, 80% of respondents said they don't believe fully remote workers should be paid less than in-office workers. 85% of employers also said the salary for remote employees would remain the same as those based in the office.
So who is right?
For Remote Worker Pay Cut
- VMware and ServiceNow both recently have implemented pay adjustment programs. Stripe gives you a $20,000 bonus and takes 10% off your yearly salary to work remotely from an area with a lower average income.
- It was common practice for distributed organizations to pay based on average income. Suppose you are a remote worker in Latin America. In that case, it is hard to justify why a company based in Israel should pay you US wages.
- Even with a pay cut, working remotely can eliminate the commute costs, child care costs, or food costs of returning to the office for most people.
- Most remote workers make far above the average salary regardless. Here is a quote from a Facebook manager: "This is 100% a voluntary option. If you want, you don't need to take a pay cut, and you can have your old life back when we go back to the office. If you want, you can choose to move somewhere new and work remotely and still get paid shitloads relative to where you live. For reference, the relative pay cuts are significantly less than the cost of living changes, so – not sure why people are complaining."
- If a company's main objective is to make a profit, they aren't obligated to be ethical and should save on operating expenses as much as possible.
Against Remote Worker Pay Cut
- Geography-based pay is an outdated concept from the industrial revolution. With global access to knowledge and talent, location shouldn't be a deciding salary factor. You should be compensated for your skill alone.
- Why should workers have to choose a pay cut when they are actually saving the company money? On average, a remote worker saves a company $2,000 a year on operating expenses than the standard office worker.
- The main companies announcing the pay adjustments are worth billions of dollars; they should invest their savings with salary increases for their remote workers.
- In an incredibly scarce talent market, employers who are flexible with salary and open-minded about where their talent is located, will have a better chance at closing the skills gap.
- By cutting pay, you are alienating some of your best talent, and they will quickly go somewhere else that is willing to pay them the same regardless of where they are.
The Simple Answer
Don't cut your remote worker's pay if they are just moving from an expensive city to a rural area in the same country.
Real wages overall across the US and Europe haven't gone up since the 1980s while the cost of living has skyrocketed.
Cutting pay could set a dangerous precedent for remote workers to make less than in-office employees at the same companies. Wage growth will continue to stagnate in "lower-cost areas."
Skilled individuals are too few and far between right now to risk upsetting them and having a competitor scoop them up.
However, when they decide to move abroad to a lower-income country, it might make sense to adjust their pay scale so that it is relative to the top-earning locals of that country.
By keeping the same pay scale for remote developers in Bali while paying Indian engineers half of that, you set a standard for a two-tiered workforce. The cycle of geography and opportunity continues.
When hiring international workers, it is not always economically feasible to pay San Francisco wages. See Buffer's pay scale for reference to have a happy and equitable distributed workforce.
Back to the office, hybrid, or remote-first?
This entire debate can be summarized by the title of a recent article that came out in the Washington Post: "Workers are putting on pants to return to the office only to be on zoom all day."
It shares the bewilderment of some people as they return to their offices only to find no one there or still having to take team calls over zoom.
One guy even traveled across the country to meet with a client only to find an empty conference room with a laptop. The client canceled the in-person meet last second as delta variant cases rose in his state.
Excuse us while we play the world's tiniest fiddle for those realizing that they can't just wish remote work away.
Those who want things back to before the pandemic with cubicles and crowded conference rooms are in for the same rude awakening as the people in the article.
The debate here isn't about "should we go back to the office?" because nobody is directly arguing against that. The disagreement really falls on "should we go back to the way things were, try hybrid or go full-remote?"
So what are the genuine arguments for "returning to normal" and moving forward?
For Returning to Normal
- Shifts in consumption and the emptying of commercial real estate are hurting the service sector.
- Many managers believe there is no way to create an engaging company culture while remote.
- Some employees feel less attached to their companies while working from home and are more likely to switch to an organization that prioritizes in-person interactions.
- Some workers are experiencing burnout at record rates and can't achieve a good work-life balance.
- A recent study by Microsoft found that half of their employees wanted to go back to the office for at least some of the time.
For Moving Forward
- The millennial workforce prioritizes flexibility and remote work. Another third of all workers want to go into the office 3 days out of the week.
- Studies have shown that women are among those most likely to apply for remote jobs. Black and Latinx workers are more likely than white workers and men to say they prefer remote work.
- On the flip side, you have 40% of workers saying they will quit if remote work isn't offered. One-third of global knowledge workers are expected to be remote by 2022.
- 56% of 300,000 interviewed employees worldwide voted for a hybrid option in LinkedIn's Glint unit survey.
- Another 31% wanted a purely remote setting; only 13% chose what amounts to all-office, all the time. So let's not make it seem like a 50-50 fight of going back to the office full-time.
- The economic productivity gains of "work anywhere" may be as significant as 5%.
The Simple Answer
Let the employees choose what is best for them. Take a poll and have everyone pick their preference.
If some want to go back to the office full-time, no one is stopping them. If they prefer only a couple of times a week or a month for purely collaborative reasons, it is also good.
If they want to stay remote forever, don't punish them for it or exclude them.
Flexibility is everyone's top priority. Some remote experts say that hybrid work will inevitably cause problems. Still, it is up to the employees to experience it and decide to go one direction or the other.
Most workers who said they would quit their jobs if there is no remote work say the control it gives over their lives is the main deciding factor.
They don't want to relinquish that control to an office or hybrid working mandate, as is the case in the current struggles with Apple and its workforce.
So, if you decide to keep your office, use it to advance collaboration. Don't get upset if you can't recreate the same water cooler experience as before.
Remote work is not the "new normal" just because we've had to do a lot of it lately. Its continued role in our working lives is a choice we either will or won't make.
Those deciding to forego remote were trying to work as if they were in the office while at home. They got none of the flexibility and did more work.
They aren't wrong, just misguided.
But the best way to mess up this shift to the future of work is to assume companies will allow it to happen on its own. It is in their interests to return to the office to regain the control they think they have lost over their workforce.
How about they just handle the technical infrastructure and let their employees lead?
Remote work will be a vital part of a post-pandemic world only because entire groups of employees are effectively forcing the issue.
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