Work-from-home employees have proven to be surprisingly productive during the pandemic. Now some employers are considering making remote work permanent and paying remote workers less than in-office workers. Workplace trends expert Rick Grimaldi explains why paying lower wages for remote employees could be a bad idea—and shares insights around this important decision.
COVID-19 showed us once and for all that yes, many employees can successfully work from home. In fact, in many cases, employee productivity has soared under remote work policies. Now some employers are considering allowing employees to permanently work from home once the pandemic is over—even if home is far away from where the business is located. But this raises a big question: Should remote employees be paid less than their in-office counterparts?
“People should be paid what the job is worth no matter where they do it,” says Grimaldi, attorney at the forefront of COVID-19 workplace issues and author of the new book FLEX: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace. “If employers approach compensation with the attitude that remote employees are less valuable than in-office employees, they will not attract the best talent.”
How to compensate remote employees
Read on for some important points to remember as you consider how you will pay your remote employees 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, advises Grimaldi. If you truly need them to be in the office, then don’t allow remote work at all, unless it as 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. “If you allowed employees to work virtually during COVID-19, it’s hard to justify lowering their wages if they want to continue working from home once the pandemic is over,” says Grimaldi. “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 their internet bill, for example.
Know that an employee that needs to work remotely but takes the in-office job won’t be successful or happy. Instead, they will feel resentment, their productivity or quality of work could suffer, and you will 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 that go into the office each day.
Above all, flexibility is key
“Consider adopting a hybrid model which allows for both in-person and remote workers and offers equal pay for equal work,” says Grimaldi. “Having fewer employees in the office could allow employers to cut down on office space, or use concepts like ‘hoteling’—where remote employees share on-site office space by reserving a desk—in cases where normally remote employees must be on-site.”
While the future is still unfolding, 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 the flexibility to be able 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 shows us that many employees make a valuable contribution even when they work from home,” concludes Grimaldi. “Employers must compensate workers for good work no matter where that work takes place. And remember, being flexible so that your employees feel happy and more in control of their workdays is good for business too.”
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. Rick’s unique perspective comes from his diverse career in high-ranking public service positions, as a human resources and labor relations professional for an international hi-tech company, and presently in private practice as a partner with Fisher Phillips, LLP, one of America’s preeminent management side labor and employment law firms. Day to day, Rick works with companies to help them adapt to the ever-changing business environment, achieve their workplace goals, and become better employers. Rick is an internationally recognized writer and keynote speaker, and has been selected through a peer review process as one of The Best Lawyers in America© in three of the last four years.
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