Partial WFH – All Downsides, No Benefits
As most of the west is emerging from the grips of a pandemic, we see many changes made at the start of the pandemic being reversed.
One of them is the widely adopted work-from-home policy as more and more companies ask their employees to come back to the office.
Many employees are reluctant to do this as they prefer the flexibility that working from home (or somewhere else) offers. As a compromise, companies are now offering a hybrid alternative; partial work from home.
The Problem with Partial WFH
Although that sounds like a reasonable alternative, it's a terrible compromise that does not benefit the employee or the company.
Remote-only organizations function very differently from more traditional organizations where everyone works in the same office, and both ways of working have their pros and cons. To fully take advantage of that, you also need to adjust the way your organization works. The hybrid approach means you can't make these adjustments, so you're stuck in-between.
A remote company can hire talent from anywhere in the world and therefore has a much larger and diverse group of people to choose from when they want to fill a position. A traditional company is limited to hiring people that live within commuting distance from their office or are willing to relocate there.
A company that offers partial remote work is limited to the exact same hiring pool as a traditional company, negating the benefits of letting employees work from anywhere that a remote-only gets.
If your employees are only partially working remotely, you'll also need to keep your office space. A fully remote company has no office space and can give its employees a generous allowance to set up a home office or get a membership at a coworking space. A traditional company has an office, but since all employees work there, there's no additional allowance for employees.
A partially remote company still has to keep the office space, which is now sitting empty for multiple days a week, and make sure their employees have a proper workspace away from the office as well. So they end up shouldering both the fixed office costs as well as an allowance for each employee.
Paying for both increases the companies cost, but partial WFH also raises costs for employees.
Employees who are free to move to another area with a cheaper cost of living can more easily afford a larger home with a dedicated workspace. Moving away is not an option when you also have to stay close enough to the office to commute. Since most companies are located in bigger cities with a higher cost of living, since that's where it's been traditionally easier to hire, the employee now needs to live in a more expensive place AND has to dedicate part of their living space for working.
Apart from these financial downsides, there are also downsides to the efficiency of the organization.
Remote work and in-office work require two completely different styles of working. If everyone is in the office, you can easily get away with not documenting everything, quickly asking a question to a coworker to clear something up, or have a social chat over lunch or when you run into each other. Workers in the office will likely default to that way of working when only a part of the team is out of the office. That means that the people working from home that day might miss important discussions and decisions or feel more socially isolated from the rest of the team. A remote organization doesn't have this risk as their default way of communication is usually written and async, and they are more deliberate about social interactions with the team.
Although I'm a strong proponent of remote work, I'm not trying to champion it here as a superior way of working.
There are pros and cons for each approach, but one thing is for sure, you miss out on most pros by going with the hybrid approach.
Working from home a few days a week means you will have all the downsides of the traditional way of working and removing most of the benefits you get from working remotely. The hybrid arrangement is a poor choice that doesn't benefit any employee.