how can companies be fair to people who can’t work from home? — Ask a Manager

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This answer is somewhat location specific, because I fully understand that in parts of the U.S. there are areas where this is very difficult because of housing inequities.

But an employees commute is something that you can and should be sympathetic to and understanding of (if they always arrive within a 15 minute window but never at the exact same time every day, if there’s no concern for coverage then let that go, long commutes can be so variable there’s little anybody can do to plan for it, as an example). But it is also not your business, your problem, or your responsibility.

Yes, whether they can work from home or not is determined by their job and the company, and thus that FEELS like you’re creating an inequity. But they chose the job and housing location that they have and their commute time should have factored into those decisions and therefore was THEIR choice to make.

Again, I would not be saying this if you’re in San Francisco (for example) but where I live there are people who very intentionally commute from other states, or other major cities two, three, or even four hours away from their offices. When asked why they would be willing to do that the answer is almost inevitably “I could get so much more house for my money out there” and not “I need to live near my family” or “I literally couldn’t afford a closet within an hour of work.” I have rarely talked to anybody with these monster commutes where it was anything other than their own choice, but I have talked to dozens of people who willingly drive for hours or sit on trains for two hours each way every single day for whatever personal reason they have. Honestly I couldn’t do it, my hour on the train feels bad enough sometimes, but we live where we do because we weighed a lot of pros and cons and settled on this spot as an outside-of-work personal choice for us.

Again, that doesn’t mean you should just say “too bad, so sad” and pretend it’s not a thing, it’s a thing, but it’s a thing the same way your employees might have a kid who is having trouble in school, or a parent who needs additional care. It’s something that is part of their lives and affects them as a person, but is outside of you relationship to them as employer/employee. If you’re in a place with usable public transit, by all means please do provide a transit benefit to your in-office employees. That’s saving the environment AND a nice touch.

The main thing I think you can do for equity is to make sure that people are treated fairly in the things that ARE part of your employer/employee relationship. PTO, off hours availability, performance management metrics and reviews, one on one meetings (if you have them regularly with people in office, have them regularly with people not in office). Don’t have an in-office party and forget to invite your remote workers.

And honestly one thing you could do just for the optics of it to show that you mean it when you say you want to be more equitable: just take a small hit and if you give inclement weather days to in-office employees, let remote workers have them too if they want it. I get it, I get it, I know all the reasons why it’s good for the company for remote workers to still be working when the weather is bad. I understand that entirely, but it can come across as a real “profits over people, bottom lines are most important” way of thinking of things. None of us outgrew the sheer joy of having school unexpectedly canceled, let grown ups have it too sometimes even if they work from home. Maybe not every snow day, but I mean, just some of them or something. In the beforetimes the main reason employees who had managers that would let them remote DIDN’T try to do it was because they wanted to keep their snow days.

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