Don’t Let Employees Pick Their WFH Days - HBR

The future of working from home (WFH) is hybrid.

But the following question is controversial: How much choice should workers have in the matter?


Since May 2020, 32% of employees in the U.S. say they never want to return to working in the office. These are often employees with young kids, who live in the suburbs, for whom the commute is painful and home can be rather pleasant. At the other extreme, 21% tell us they never want to spend another day working from home. These are often young single employees or empty nesters in city center apartments.


So, many managers are passionate that their employees should determine their own schedule : “I treat my team like adults. They get to decide when and where they work, as long as they get their jobs done.


But others raise two concerns which can lead to being against employees’ choosing their own WFH days.


One concern is managing a hybrid team, where some people are at home and others are at the office, generating an office in-group and a home out-group. For example, employees at home can see glances or whispering in the office conference room but can’t tell exactly what is going on. Even when firms try to avoid this by requiring office employees to take video calls from their desks, making home employees feel excluded.


The second concern is the risk to diversity. It turns out that who wants to work from home after the pandemic is not random. For example, among college graduates with young children, women want to work from home full-time almost 50% more than men. This is worrying given the evidence that working from home while your colleagues are in the office can be highly damaging to your career. Single young men could all choose to come into the office five days a week and rocket up the firm, while employees with young children, particularly women, who choose to WFH for several days each week are held back. This would be both a diversity loss and a legal time bomb for companies.


Of course, firms that want to efficiently use their office space will need to centrally manage which teams come in on which days. Otherwise, the building will be empty on Monday and Friday — when everyone wants to WFH — and overcrowded mid-week. To encourage coordination, companies should also make sure that teams that often work together have at least two days of overlap in the office.


The pandemic has started a revolution in how we work, and HBR research shows this can make firms more productive and employees happier. But like all revolutions this is difficult to navigate, and firms need leadership from the top to ensure their work force remains diverse and truly inclusive.


To read the full HBR article, please click here.


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