Most employers expected the abrupt shift from in-office to remote work in March 2020 to be temporary. Over 21 months into the pandemic, however, many people are still working from home. And those organizations that have reopened their offices have reconfigured their workplace flexibility policies.
In recent months, we’ve received many questions related to remote and hybrid work arrangements. And today, we’ve got your answers, straight from Kelby Zorgdrager, founder of DevelopIntelligence, a Pluralsight Company.
Are employers considering pay reductions for remote workers who moved to lower cost-of-living areas during the pandemic?
KZ: Frankly, I’d be surprised if any highly profitable tech company is debating this question.
Even before COVID, there was a tech talent shortage, and now that shortage has intensified. Leading companies are scrambling to retain their tech workforces with competitive salary and benefits, as well as continuous opportunities for learning and growth. Tech recruiting is so competitive at the moment that I can’t imagine why an employer would want to risk attrition to save dollars.
Reducing compensation is a fast way to deflate employee motivation. For those considering pay cuts, here are my questions:
- Is the value of an employee to the organization less if that person works remotely?
- Isn’t the ability to work from anywhere a perk for recruiting and retention?
- Instead of salary reductions for people leaving high-cost areas, what about equal salaries for remote workers who are doing the same job as their in-office counterparts?
Tech workers have a choice of employers—they can easily find a position elsewhere. In my opinion, the potential fallout (adding to the Great Resignation) is not worth whatever perceived financial gain you might see in the short-term.
Is in-office work more productive?
KZ: The reasons for good or subpar work productivity vary by employee. I think employers have lost sight of this as they debate whether working from home is more or less productive than working from an office. The answer to this question depends on the individual employee.
Theoretically, each employee has measurable goals. The salesperson has a sales quota. The controller must complete certain financial activities within specific timeframes and so forth. If employees are not meeting or exceeding these goals, then managers need to explore why.
For example, is it an environmental issue (the person can’t concentrate on their work), a training issue, a lack of effort on the employee’s part, a medical issue or something else?
Is the in-office vs. work-from-home vs. hybrid conversation really about productivity? What other factors are driving leaders’ views on this topic?
Where do you personally stand in this conversation?
KZ: Here’s my view: Productivity hinges on people’s individual circumstances and temperaments. Theoretically, an employee with a quiet home office has the opportunity to concentrate more effectively than a person with school-aged children who are asking for homework help in the middle of the workday.
That said, our employees have a wide range of circumstances at home, and yet they remain consistently productive. In some cases, being at home has allowed them to handle their family responsibilities in a more flexible manner, alleviating personal stress and enabling greater productivity.
Before the pandemic, DevelopIntelligence offered the option of working remotely a couple days a week. Some people find that it’s easier to do heads-down work in the quiet solitude of a home office. They can carve out uninterrupted blocks of time more easily and concentrate better without the distractions of other people’s phone conversations and office banter.
But we required people to be in the office three days a week, because we viewed this as essential for fostering collaboration, innovation and reinforcing company culture. Yes, people overhear conversations in an open office layout, but sometimes those overheard remarks spark new ideas.
My view is that time together provides better opportunities for information-sharing, brainstorming, and on a more personal level, it lets us understand each other’s challenges and celebrate wins together.
How has the pandemic changed your perspective?
KZ: The pandemic hasn’t necessarily changed my view on the benefits of in-office time. However, it has caused me to rethink the productivity question. I began to realize that I had been viewing this topic through a personal lens—what is most productive for me? What work arrangement do I personally prefer?
As I’ve observed our team over these past 21 months, I have seen enormous productivity and collaboration. Our company revenue grew 23 percent in 2020, despite the COVID challenges and work-from-home arrangements. That’s partly due to our industry and it’s also a testament to our team’s remote-work ethic.
I can envision certain scenarios where working onsite might yield better business outcomes. For example, a brand-new hire benefits from working alongside a more experienced employee. Being able to watch, ask questions and so forth may be easier in-person, in an office—rather than via Zoom.
But as the pandemic has dragged on, employers have found ways to promote collaboration, camaraderie and mentorship remotely.
Is it true that remote work arrangements are better for introverts?
KZ: People are more productive and engaged when their introvert or extravert needs are met. The introvert may not have adequate time to “go internal” in an office setting—which can negatively affect their productivity.
An extravert who is craving socialization may be less productive if cloistered away in a home office, working alone. Zoom can provide some sense of community, but it’s not the same as the energy an extravert gets from sitting around a conference table, brainstorming and collaborating with others.
This pandemic experience has really highlighted for me the need for flexibility in work arrangements. One size does not fit all.
In some sectors, such as tech, there is a talent shortage. Employers are not able to find the people they need to fill critical roles. So, rather than debating whether in-office or remote work is more productive, they are focused on providing maximum workplace flexibility as a job perk.
Some find that remote work is energizing and some experience it as discouraging, so why not accommodate both, along with the middle ground?
Any advice as you look ahead to 2022?
KZ: Before the pandemic, I would have said being in an office is better for collaboration. And I still think that’s true.
However, digital tools allow teams to collaborate effectively, even when they are not co-located. I’ve watched our team collaborate virtually over the past 21 months and they’ve done great, despite our inability to gather regularly for in-person meetings.
So, I don’t think remote work is a show-stopper. I do think it’s harder to build and foster corporate culture electronically, yet it is possible.
Since productivity is a highly individual question, organizations benefit from policies that embrace the diversity in employees’ preferences and circumstances.
In-office, remote and hybrid work models have also affected how organizations are upskilling and reskilling their teams. If you’re interested in hearing how other employers are approaching learning program design in 2022, sign up for L&D/HR content alerts.
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