It’s hard to believe that back in March, we thought we’d be working from home for just a couple of weeks. At this point, many of us are seeing the real possibility of a permanent or longer-term work-from-home situation. The reality is, employees need to be able to do their jobs in a reliable workspace with proper communication tools, which most often, today’s technology readily supplies.
To take the example of a key corporation in our digital platform economy, last summer Facebook began making plans to accommodate employees who wanted to work remotely more permanently. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that, for those who “live in a location where the cost of living is dramatically lower, or the cost of labour is lower, then salaries do tend to be somewhat lower in those places,” referring to a policy to lower salaries for such employees who choose to move.
One can imagine such an announcement would receive some backlash. There are good points to be made for and against this kind of move.
Working from home means people are saving time and money on commuting. Some studies show transportation costs can be between $2,600 and $6,125 per year in the United States. Otherwise, those who take public transportation often have longer commutes and more stressful schedules. Indeed working from home has been a benefit in this regard.
“If you think of someone who commutes one hour each way on top of an eight hour a day, then really their salary is divided into ten hours daily,” explains George Scorsis. “Working from home means your time just got more valuable per hour of work.” Scorsis is a serial entrepreneur and business leader who has worked in the energy drinks and cannabis sectors, among others.
Then there are the seeming out-of-pocket expenses for the remote worker. At a workplace, the employer typically provides all the supplies, equipment, and furniture. Moreover, agencies like OSHA in the US and CCOHS in Canada mandate that employers provide for the health and safety of their employees in the workplace.
Many don’t consider their own homes to be hazardous to health and safety.
But that pre-COVID home office might not be adequately ergonomic if you’re there all day. Likewise, laptops are less optimal for continued work than a proper desktop. Eye strain, back pain, and nerve damage like carpal tunnel can result from a sub-optimal work setup. Not to mention the added costs due to wear and tear to your equipment, extra utility use, and office supplies.
To counter this, many companies are helping their employees foot the bill.
Companies like Shopify and Twitter are giving remote employees $1,000 to help with the transition.
“What this means is if you need a new desk or a computer chair, you can ask your employer to help pay for this,” George Scorsis explains. “Further, cash allowances tell an employee that their company is willing to go the extra mile to ensure they have all the tools they need to get the job done at home. It also ensures employees are comfortable and productive.”
Another factor to consider in the post-Covid world is rent. One may assume companies are saving money by not having to pay rent on an office space, but that’s far from the truth. Many companies are locked into rental contracts that they haven’t been able to break.
In exceptional circumstances, like during a forced lockdown, one would also assume there is legal recourse to break or suspend a lease, and that’s just not the case. Arthur Kats, director of the Microenterprise Project at Volunteers of Legal Service in New York, says that “[t]he vast majority of our clients that we’re seeing have no automatic right to suspend their rent obligations during this crisis.” Kats adds that for those hoping the lease would have a solution, “the answers in the lease, particularly in these commercial leases, are probably not going to be very favorable to the commercial tenants.”
In the end, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. For instance, salary adjustments will affect small-business employees differently from those who work in corporate offices. “Employers will have to keep flexibility in mind as they continue to navigate the working requirements for employees now, and when the pandemic is finally over and readjustments need to be made,” says George Scorsis.
Which brings us back to the question of Facebook’s decision: As these employees are not what we now deem “essential,” and they have the flexibility to work from home, the argument goes that they could be flexible with salary as well.