When speaking with clients and business leaders, one of the most common things I hear to avoid putting hybrid and remote work plans in place is, “we want to be fair to everyone”. What they mean is, they want to treat everyone the same in this regard. Some have even convinced themselves that this approach is some kind of equality measure. On the surface, many people agree with that. If one employee must be on-site to perform their job, but another employee gets to work remotely, that’s not fair right?
However, treating everyone the same is NOT equality nor is treating people differently an inherent inequality. Everyone IS different and to treat them as if they are the same is to take away their very identity. The things that collectively make them who they are and determine how they interact with the world around them. Everyone has their own needs, desires, talents, lifestyles, circumstances, and certainly their own ways of working. Equality in this sense, is about recognizing these differences and allowing employees an opportunity to use them to their advantage in relation to their job duties.
When it comes to these kind of remote/hybrid work conversations, I always ask, if it’s really about treating everyone fairly or “the same”, then why not give everyone the exact same salary regardless of position or title? I’m never surprised by how freely the reasons for different pay flow in the wake of that question. One-size fits all approaches to things like this are NEVER the best way to go and, if you can justify different pay, then you can justify different work arrangements. I’m sure Elon Musk would have no problem validating his absurdly high income, am I right? Yet, there he is forcing every remote worker back to the office as if there is no counterargument for them to work remotely at all. Don’t be that leader. Be on the right side of history here and accept the inevitable shift in work styles.
I’ve said this before, but I will say it again and again, get to know your people. Conduct survey’s, stay interviews, exit interviews, and lean on your people leaders to collect data on their teams in relation to the work arrangements that work best for them. Set the tone. craft some guidelines, and more importantly, empower your managers and employees to do what’s best for them while performing work. Focus on supporting and managing quality of work instead of time.