The Great Post-Pandemic Returning To The Office Debate About Salaries

Work From Home and Relocating Is Smart, But What About An (Un)Avoidable Pay Cut?

The Great Post-Pandemic Returning To The Office Debate About Salaries

So, how do you feel about going back to your old office in our new post-pandemic world? Yeah, it’s complicated.

I already wrote about it: Hybrid Working Models and Post-Pandemic Returning To The Office Problems. I did my very best to dissect the problems, cover all angles, and hear both sides of the remote work story (employers and employees). I honestly thought that summing up the available options (choices) would do the trick:

  • Those who want to get back to the offices and do their work the same way before the pandemic should be allowed to do it so - freely.
  • Those who prefer to stay at home or somewhere else and work remotely should be given the same unlimited freedom to choose without any pay cuts or be “punished” in any other way.
  • Finally, those who would like to take the advantage of both worlds old and new (hybrid) should be allowed to choose how many days they want to work remotely and which days to work from the office (pre-pandemic “traditional” way).

It turned out that I haven’t been the only one who missed the elephant in the remote room that has been hiding in plain sight. What about the salaries? Here’s the catch.

You can negotiate whether or not you want to stay at home and work from home. But, you also have to negotiate your new salary. I stumbled upon an article that perfectly describes the next big debate (dilemma) with this line: Employees insisting on working from home can be given a choice: Work at a reduced salary or return to the office.

When you put it like this, it doesn’t seem like much of a choice, does it? If you want to stay and work at home, you have to swallow a bitter pill called - a pay cut.

Here’s an eye-opening section I took from the article I mentioned a few lines earlier:

“If an employee resists returning to the physical workplace and insists on working remotely, provide the employee with an option: either accept a reduced salary and continue working remotely or receive full salary if the employee returns to the office. The employer has the right to force employees back to the office on the same terms, but letting them continue working from home, but at a reduced rate, can be an attractive option for both.”

It gets even more interesting and complicated. Why? Work from home and relocating go hand-in-hand.

Now, if we want to be fair and unbiased, we have to hear what the employers have to say. So far, the new and rapidly growing remote working class has been pretty vocal about what they want and don’t want to do in the future. They want to stay at home, but at what price?

Work From Home and Relocating Is Smart, But What About An (Un)Avoidable Pay Cut?

Facebook Inc. said it will let all employees work remotely even after the pandemic if their jobs can be done out of an office, but may reduce their pay if they move to a less-expensive area. Of course, the very next thing you’d do is to move to a smaller and cheaper city once you made up your mind about not going back to your office. According to Bloomberg: “The work-from-home rate has fallen a bit since and will drop further as vaccines are distributed.”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking (writing)? Yup, don’t be afraid to say that word out loud - the exodus. The mass migration “to second cities and exurbs” is already happening with a tendency of becoming a permanent one.

There are doubters, of course. Jamie Dimon, Larry Fink, and Reed Hastings—the bosses of JPMorgan Chase, BlackRock, and Netflix, respectively—have all argued against the shift, suggesting, in various ways, that remote employees aren’t as productive, that corporate cultures will be eroded, and that workers’ mental health could suffer.

Needless to say that these “doubters” are also the “pay-cutters.” Who would have thought that pay cuts might be the price of freedom for those who are determined to work from home? You can’t put a price tag on freedom?! Well, it turns out that not only that you actually can, but also you can negotiate it.

According to one Forbes article: “And now 44% of us would take a 10% pay cut to get the same privilege. Interestingly, however, not everyone agrees. Almost as many, if forced into that option, would seek a new job.”

We’re negotiating alright. No, we’re bargaining.

In survey after survey, roughly 3 percent have said they’d be willing to take a 15 percent salary cut, while only 1 percent would take a 25 percent cut. Around 76 percent, meanwhile, have said they wouldn’t take any kind of cut in exchange for remote work.

We have a new category of remote workers - the “WFH employees.” We live and work in the new world. You know how it goes, don’t you? New world means new rules.

The new rules may see employers save 20-25% of the cost per small town WFH employee, if and when they formalise.

What a difference one pandemic year makes. We started with a 10% pay cut, and now, we’re seriously considering 25%.

You know how they say, where there’s a “Will” there’s a way. So, let’s see how a Tokyo-based company Disco Corp. approached the problem of salaries in quite a unique way.

Shiny Disco Corp Balls

I’ve always admired Japanese history, tradition, and above all, their corporate culture and discipline. Here’s their solution in a nutshell: those who choose to stay home pay the colleagues who brave the commute to show up in the office. And, that’s not all remote folks.

This company introduced the “Will,” which is an internal currency. How it is used? Well, the company’s sales teams pay factory workers to produce goods, who in turn pay engineers to design products. These coins circulate through the company’s production and supply chain. Leftover balances are paid in yen at the end of each quarter as bonuses.

There’s a big and invaluable lesson to be learned from this company. The pandemic was brutal and unfair. It sucker-punched us in the face and showed us how fragile our economy and lifestyles were. We can’t all stay at home working. Someone has to show up at the factory. Someone has to deliver the goods. Some people have no choice but to expose themselves to the risks on a daily basis for our economy to function and for us to be able to work from home, in the first place.

We have to be fair. We have to show that our “Will” is strong to overcome the pandemic in a just way.

“Ordering some people to go in while others stay home is unfair,” Disco’s Chief Executive Officer Kazuma Sekiya said in an interview. “The company currency offers behavioral incentives and the choice is up to you. That’s the power of Will.”

The “Will” coin system works in Japan just fine, but what about the rest of the world?

Cost of Living vs. Quality of Working

Talking about being fair about your decision to work from home or relocate to do the same, but far away from your company. Who wouldn’t want to live and work in a small city or in the countryside and still get Silicon Valley paychecks? The difference in the cost of living goes straight into WFH employees’ wallets. It’s understandable that we all want the best of both worlds - the old (pre-pandemic) and the new (post-pandemic) one. Let’s have old salaries and new freedoms. Let’s be real.

You have to give something to get something. Right?

Let’s be fair as well. OK? People should be paid based on what they can do, not where they live. With all due respect, small cities and the countryside can save you a lot of money, but when it comes to the advantages of living in the big cities, you can forget about it. Netflix will follow you wherever you go, but can you say the same for Starbucks?

You know, you can rhyme “mental health” and “personal wealth.” Unfortunately, the nice rhymes don’t pay the bills and they don’t make you happy.

You’re also free to play a game of counterarguments for as long as you want. In your “defense,” while trying to question the pay cuts, you can bring up new costs, such as the bills for quality Internet connection, you’re using your own computers, office “equipment” in your home, and this list goes on and on with or without coffee and snacks. You also have every right to ask a legit question about all the money your company is going to save by closing all those empty offices. But, what’s the point? Are you looking for a win-win solution that’s supposed to make both parties happy or are you creating so much bad blood between you and your employer that you’d eventually have to look for a new job?

Let’s change the terminology. Let employers become clients and employees freelancers. Let’s make both parties happy on goLance. No office and commute expenses. Freedom should be free.

Don’t cut salaries, cut your old business models and GO remote!