There is a lot of noise around remote work, and it’s hard to figure out where the signal is. The Nay-Sayers say the COVID-level amount of working from home is unsustainable over the long haul, and people who do it are focusing on their lives but not their careers. They’ll find out eventually. Meanwhile, supporters of remote work insist it’s the future, and those who don’t agree are like the dinosaurs looking down at the mammals saying, “Aren’t they cute? They’ll never last.”
As with most seemingly binary arguments, the truth sits somewhere in the middle. Recently, six experts in remote work were asked about their thoughts about remote work. Even these very smart people can’t agree on everything. Some of that disagreement stems from the fact we’re still hip-deep in the change.
Here were some of the disagreements and what they mean:
What percentage of people are working from home now, and what will the future hold?
Of all the questions asked of the panel, this one had some of the widest ranging answers. Estimates range from 10% to no more than 30% of the population working full-time remote, and the peak is likely to be somewhere around that higher number. About 60 percent of workers will have some degree of flexibility, working at home occasionally.
This is important to remember when we say things like “Everyone is working from home.” No, they’re not. Most work is done on location and always will be. As long as remote workers support or serve those on location, nothing will be one hundred percent remote.
Workers who want to work from home or not go into the office every day will have to decide what job they want and who they want to work for. The important thing for employers to remember is that they will.
Will remote workers suffer discrimination or career disadvantages?
Most of the panel agreed that there will always be some advantage for those working in the office, plant or headquarters. What they disagree on is whether there’s anything to be done about it. Just as we find with our clients, responses range from, “It’s how it is, what are you going to do?” to “We’ll need to overhaul our performance management systems and train our leaders better.”
How will remote work impact pay and benefits?
There are two schools of thought, and both believe they are correct and that the other side will learn the hard way.
Belief One is that working from home is a perk. Those who make the sacrifice every day (and absorb the expense of commuting) should be paid more. If you choose to work from home, it’s your decision and you have to weigh the costs and benefits to yourself. In fact, if you work remotely, expect to be paid less than those who literally go to work every day. This may cost the company in terms of talent and competitive advantage over their competitors, but it might also be a valid choice, depending on the circumstances.
Belief Two is that the work has a precise value, and wherever you live, you will be paid accordingly. If you live in a high-tax, high cost of living area, that’s your choice (even though that’s likely where the office is) and if you live somewhere else, it works to your advantage. This is the future pro- remote work advocates promote, but things like travel time for essential meetings, servicing customers, tax laws, and work regulations that vary state to state make this tricky at the moment. This argument also opens the door for things like more off-shoring or hiring workers who live in low-cost, low-wage locales. Be careful what you ask for.
Do we have to pick a side?
When choosing sides in this discussion, remember we are talking about no more than a third of the actual workforce. Whatever decisions are reached about these and other issues, remember that the final answers must support what the business is, how it makes money, and who its customers are.
Ultimately, that’s why the final answer for most companies will be to create a hybrid which allows the advantages of remote work (cost savings on things like facilities, recruiting and retaining people) while addressing practical issues and having an eye on the workplace of the future.
Those of us contemplating our own futures should be aware of these dynamics, as it will put more pressure on us to guide our own futures and careers.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.