how can companies be fair to people who can’t work from home?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

Good news: After observing that productivity hasn’t been substantially affected in the Now Time as compared to the Before Time, my organization is working on a set of policies to allow for remote work long-term.

Harder news: We’re a mix of people whose jobs wholly are, wholly aren’t, and sort-of-can-be amenable to working from home. There’ve been a lot of conversations around how to build in equity for those who can’t work from home.

One example is around commutes. If Prometheus’s commute is six seconds and Persephone’s is an hour each way, her workday is 10 hours long while his is eight. How do we compensate for that? I’m curious how other readers’ companies have dealt with this sort of thing as well as other solutions or wished-for solutions to other tricky remote work effort-to-productivity balancing acts.

Readers, have it at in the comment section.

{ 543 comments… read them below }

  1. Tibs*

    I work for a nonprofit and since March 2020, anyone who has to be on site for work gets time-and-a-half for those hours. It’s budget dependent and there are updates every few months about how much longer it can continue, but it’s still going so far.

    As for making that a post-COVID thing…I doubt it and am interested to see how they’ll make up the fairness at that time.

    1. Anonys*

      I think that’s a good thing to do during a pandemic – but I think outside of that it’s not sustainable or desirable.

      I think the question posed by the LW and this general emphasis on fairness relies too much on the assumption that WFH is generally preferrable to in-office. For me, while my job can be done fully remote, I would much prefer to be in office post Covid, both because it just suits my preferences better and because my wfh set-up (tiny desk in a tiny room in a shared flat in a noisy, badly insulated apartment building) is less than ideal. So, if any measures where taken to “build in equity for those who can’t work from home” – would someone who simply (post Covid) CHOOSES to go to the office every day be excluded from them? I don’t think that’s neccessarily fair either.

      I think both now and post Covid, companies should make working from the office as easy and nice as possible (good coffee, snacks, office fridge, nice and clean environment, space for breaks, flexible hours where possible, etc) AND make working from home easy too (providing good, ergonomic equipment, including things like laptop stands, allowing flexibiltiy, trusting employees to get their jobs done without invasive oversight, including remote employees in all events, meetings, etc).

      1. Anonys*

        In more explicit terms of how to make working in the office worthwhile even for those who might prefer to work from home if they could: I love the excellent cheap canteen about my office. I also love that we have a caffee and a gym, but of course those things are only really possible in a large workplace.

        Another think I used to appreciate was that once a week, we would have a “moving break” where someone would come to our department after lunch and everyone who wanted to could participate in some light stretching exercises (office clothes friendly ones). One perk I do enjoy about working from home is that I can alleviate some back pain by streching during my breaks or doing a yoga flow during lunch which can be awkward and impractical to do in an office.

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        Yeah, I seem to be the only person on my team that was pleased when my office sent the email that they were extending our WFH through at least this October. Everyone else is itching to get back into the office but I’ve gotten rather used to this remote thing and will probably ask if I can make it permanent.

        But there’s definitely pros and cons to both. For me getting to sleep a little later since I don’t have to drive in or do much to get ready in the morning, as well as being able to go for a run on my lunch break, makes working from home the best option. But it does mean missing out on a lot of face-time, bonding, and learning opportunities with my colleagues. Plus we used to get free breakfast every Friday during busy season and I definitely miss that! And I ate healthier when I could go to the cafeteria for lunch because I never want to deal with cooking during the work day.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I WFH because I’m a freelancer. I cook in the evening, and usually make sure of there being an extra portion to heat up for lunch the next day. I also freeze leftovers in individual portions to eat later. And then I make sure to buy only healthy stuff to snack on (OK I do get chocolate too)

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah, I agree. And companies should also try to make sure that WFH is as easy and nice as possible, by paying a decent wage so you can live in a decent house, and by paying part of your internet and electricity bills.

      4. Alice's Rabbit*

        Agreed that, whenever possible, companies should be open to and supportive of both options.
        I do not think employees should be compensated for their daily commute time, however. Where a person chooses to live relative to their office is a personal choice with numerous variables, and it’s not the company’s responsibility to pay extra to one employee just because they chose to live farther away than someone else.
        Many people are forgetting that companies already are paying more to have employees in the office. Renting/buying office space isn’t cheap. Not to mention the furniture, hardware, utilities, and other expenses that come with maintaining offices. Many companies in my area have been incentivizing working from home for years, because even paying a little extra to cover internet costs for each employee is still cheaper than having a huge office building.

  2. Goose*

    Would you compensate the hour long commute if someone lived next door to the office? I think it’s great that your company is looking to make things more equitable, but commutes are always something that aren’t “fair”. Maybe a gas/milage refund?

    1. Roscoe*

      Yeah, like I just don’t think that is a great example. Commutes are never “fair”. I’ve had jobs that I could walk to and others were commuting 40 minutes to. That isn’t exactly an equity thing IMO

      1. Joan Rivers*

        And where I live, a longer commute might, or might not, mean someone lives in a swankier area. Execs often live farther away in a nice big house, while lower-paid staff may live closer to the inner city. But it could also mean living in an old, non-trendy suburb.

        A free bus pass is kind.

        1. Anonys*

          Yes, came here to say that. I think because its based not on work but on personal choices people have made regardingt where to live, trying to compensate or give extra perks to people who have longer commutes is getting too much into people’s personal lives in a way.

          At my workplace its defo the case that many higher ups, including my bosses live further out in more suburban areas with large houses and their families. I (young and entry level) live close to the central train station in an area much less “nice” but technically closer to the office. However, most higher ups have a car while I rely on public transport, so we might have similar commute times.

          Also, I don’t if that is the case everywhere but in my country you can deduct your commute from your taxes (based on how many km you live from work). So there already is a way to offset some inequity / additional costs that come with a longer commute

          1. TL -*

            Yeah, where I live it’s the priciest houses with a car commute and cheapest apartments with a public transit commute usually end up being about the same commuting time.

            The apartments with a short commute are pricey, but not at at the level of buying a nice house. (you could theoretically buy a house/condo with a short commute, but that’s out of the price range of pretty much everyone we employ.)

            1. Hemingway*

              In my city, people can’t really afford to live close by so they end up having to live further away.

              However, I don’t think commute time should be a factor for people.

        2. Rachel in NYC*

          I ditto this. I don’t think you can.

          Depending on where you are located the person living close to the office is likely giving something else up to live close by or the person living an hour away might be doing that for family reasons. I don’t think it’s up to the office to try to equalize that.

          Unless, you are going to giving everyone housing vouchers so they can all have the same housing situation.

          But maybe you can up with alternatives. Like stocking the work fridges with a good variety of food and drinks. Same with snacks. Stuff like that…eliminating the cost of going out to eat lunch. Applies equally to everyone who works in the office.

          1. Amaranth*

            I think thats a great idea. My ex’s company catered lunch once a week and provided snacks and beverages in the office. It was a small group that also rotated on-call shifts. That might be a nice reward for people who have to go in to the office. Also providing PPE would be considerate, supporting time off for any COVID testing, etc.

      2. Richard*

        This is kind of missing the point. It isn’t equivalent to living next door to the office, it’s equivalent to everyone flipping a coin and saying “Heads, you don’t have to commute anymore and tails you still have to commute.” If you flip tails, are you really going to say “oh well, commutes are never fair” while half of your coworkers are saving substantial time and money?
        That said, I’d also wager that there are some broader equity differences in what kind of people have WFH jobs vs. commuting jobs based on what we’ve seen from every other area of the economy.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          But if in before times you chose to work an hour away and you have to resume that now, I don’t really see how it is any different than living next door.

          And saving time and money is going to vary. Resuming my commute saved me money, for example, because of my increase in utilities and dry goods that were being used in the last year. But I have a short commute.

          I just don’t think there is any one size fits all solution to something like a commute. It’s always going to feel unfair to someone.

          1. Eat My Squirrel*

            This is a very good point. People who work from home might save a commute, but what about electricity, internet usage, cell phone data, etc? Buying new furniture for an office you didn’t have? Buying a new HOUSE because your place is too small to sustain long term wfh without stressing the entire family?

            I think they might be over thinking this. The tradeoffs go both ways. I think I would focus on making sure the on site people have the same flexibility to adjust their schedules to deal with life stuff as wfh people do. For example, if wfh people can leave for an hour to go to a doctor appointment, so can on site people. Give them the flexibility to start and end at different times (within reason). Etc.

            1. Yorick*

              The difference in flexibility is very important, as is the difference in resources for those who wfh.

            2. Liz*

              I like this idea. I’ve been WFH for the last year, with no end in site, AND my boss telling me I can pretty much WFH as long as I want to, even after we go back, within reason of course. I spend less on gas and wear and tear on my car, than i did with my fairly short commute, but probalby more in electricity, groceries, and “stuff” to make my WFH better, like a laptop stand, butt pillow, and, because I use it every day, and mine was 5 years old, a new laptop.

              I think if all employees are essentially “treated equally” in terms of perks, flexibilty, etc. that’s the best solution

            3. Nanani*

              Depending where you live, you might be able to deduct the electricity, data, etc., costs imposed by working from home on your taxes. It works differently if you’re working from home as an employee of another place vs being self-employed in your home that includes an office (or other business use like a workshop for products you make), but it’s a thing.
              Employers could also subside it on their own but I don’t have experience with that.

              1. Liz*

                I wish! but sadly no. my BF is a CPA so I have my own personal tax expert on call :) I jokingly asked if I could deduct my dining room table aka my office, and he laughed.

              2. Project Manager here*

                The ability to deduct WFH expenses from your taxes was changed in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (or was it the Job Cuts and Tax Act?) . If you’re a regular employee you can no longer deduct them, but you can if you have your own business.

                Disclaimer: there are probably many nuances here that I’m not familiar with

            4. Joielle*

              I’m currently in the process of buying a new house to have enough space for my spouse and I to WFH more comfortably! It’s, uh, expensive. Also, our electricity, water, and gas bills have gone up dramatically since we’re both at home 24/7. And our commutes weren’t expensive before because my spouse drives an electric car and I take the bus (subsidized by employer).

              I’m happy to WFH and overall not mad about these new expenses, but it definitely is a tradeoff.

              I agree that one of the main benefits of WFH is the flexibility, so the company should do whatever it can to give in-office employees flexibility as well. Things like… let people flex their hours, don’t make people take PTO if a bad commute makes them late once in a while, etc. Don’t dock PTO for bad weather days when WFH people can still work.

              1. Kira*

                +1 this.

                I was originally thinking “Maybe the compensation for a job that has to be on-site should be higher. Not a commute-specific reimbursement, but just to reflect the added tradeoffs the employee has to make for that kind of work.”

                And then I remembered that I’ve been WFH for several years, and have just accepted/embraced the cost of having my lights always on and a computer whirring away, and I always get the fast internet plan, and I’ve made sure my apartments/homes have had at least one spare room to work from…

                If we’re talking about equity and wealth that those are all costs of working from home. I can personally afford to do without batting an eye, but they are costs. It’s a personal take and I think WFH is cheaper for me than commuting, but I wonder if anyone’s done more comprehensive research on which kind of work arrangement puts a higher “tax” on the employees.

                1. Alice's Rabbit*

                  Unless you have a very expensive commute, WFH is almost always more expensive.
                  Doing the math here, we spent about $60/month on gas for our commutes before the lockdown, plus wear and tear on the car. But we got free snacks and beverages, lunch once a week at least, and all work related costs (high-speed internet, electricity, etc.)
                  Working from home, we had to upgrade our internet service, which cost an additional $50/month right there. Add in the increased electric, water, and food bills, and we’re definitely spending more. If we were to move somewhere with dedicated office space, the additional cost would be huge.

          2. Not Australian*

            “you chose to work an hour away” …

            In what way is this a choice, in your book? The work is (most of the time) where it is. Yes, people have an element of choice, but if the choice is between having a job that pays a living wage but for which you have to travel, or a minimum wage job to which you can walk but which barely covers your rent, how can you possibly be said to be exercising free will between a pair of equally valid alternatives?

            Let me help you with that; you can’t.

            Please try to remember that not all work situations – nor all home situations, nor all financial situations – are the same. People often have to make bad choices for good reasons, and we need to try not to penalise them for it.

            1. Beth Jacobs*

              I don’t think it’s penalising, just a matter of fact that if you live farther away, it will take longer to get to work. Duh. That’s why housing in city centres is much more expensive. The people with a short commute didn’t win a lottery, they simply chose to prioritise one advantage over the corresponding disadvantage.

              1. Lisa*

                But you’re still saying it’s a choice. If I literally cannot afford to pay the rent/buy the house in the city centre, I’m not actually making a choice not to live there. The fact that you are framing this as “prioritising” indicates you’re missing the point. (Also, “duh” has never been a compelling argument.)

                1. English, not American*

                  Then you prioritised finding work in that high-cost city, maybe due to family ties or a preferred industry. There may not have been much choice GIVEN your set of priorities, but those priorities were still a choice, it’s not like there was only one job you could ever do and if they hadn’t hired you you’d be unemployed forever.

                2. Beth Jacobs*

                  I mean, there’s plenty of places in the world I can’t afford to live. That means in lots of places I can’t work at all, in others I could work but it would require great sacrifices of time. Noone’s doubting inequality of opportunity. But that doesn’t mean that all of London’s employers are *penalising* me.

                3. TL -*

                  I live in one of the highest COL cities in the USA and commute is DEFINITELY seen as a choice here.

                  It gets a little trickier once you have kids/dependents but the general attitude is that your commute will reflect your priorities. Want to live alone or have a spare bedroom? You’re going to have a long commute. Want to have a short commute? You’re going to have roommates and quality of apartment/landlord is going to depend on what you can afford. Want to own a house? Probably going to have a long commute.

                  You can find ‘affordable’ housing with 4+ roommates almost anywhere in the city if that’s what you prioritize above all else. You can’t find ‘affordable’ housing with no (or only 1 or 2) roommates near a major business area or public transit hub. You definitely can’t find “affordable” nice, modern, updated, spacious apartments with 1 or no roommates that allows pets near a subway stop. It really comes down to what you prioritize within the rental market.

                4. Alice's Rabbit*

                  It is a choice. There are dozens of variables that go into chosing where you live. Your commute is certainly one of them, as is affordability. Others might include family nearby, kids, schools, preferences in stores, churches or community centers, hobbies, house vs apartment, HOA, roommates vs single occupancy, amenities, and personal taste. And many other factors, too.
                  So yes, unless you are literally a slave and cannot get away from your quarters, where you live is a choice. You may not have terribly many options, and all the others might be unappealing. But the options are still there.

              2. Overeducated*

                Except when they did win a lottery, because they bought their houses 20-40 years ago when they cost 2-3x our annual salaries, and now they cost 10x that. Unless you can give me a time machine, this isn’t just about priorities.

            2. EH*

              Depending on what you do and where you live, a commute of an hour might be almost impossible to avoid. In Silicon Valley, even if you make six figures it can be hard to afford a house within an hour of your job. I currently work from home, but I’ve wound up with gigs that were 90 minutes from my home because no way in hell was I spending the money to move closer.

              I’m lucky enough to be able to work remotely full time, but there are a number of office perks I miss, starting with a well-stocked breakroom. I miss being able to catch our VP in the breakroom, too – dude is in back-to-back meetings 90% of the time, and if I just need five minutes that’s easier to do while he’s fixing himself coffee than trying to have a conversation over Slack. More time at home also means spending more on food and electricity.

              I’m with the folks saying flexible hours and other perks are better targets than commutes. Being able to start early and leave early, or take a long lunch running errands and then stay late, etc. can make a big difference.

              1. JM60*

                I think it’s also worth noting that people do choose (to a limited degree) what type of job they work, and different types of jobs have different perks. Being a programmer might allow for the perk of working from home, but it also means that you typically won’t be going on business trips (which some might see as perks). If you take away all job-dependent perks, you’re going to make people unhappy.

                This somewhat reminds of a letter writer who said their boss has required that people don’t leave until the busiest people at their workplace have finished for the day. That type of equalizing doesn’t do the busiest workers much good, especially since they might be in reverse position in other parts of the year then they’re less busy, and have to wait on others. However, it unnecessarily makes the less busy workers unhappy.

                I’m glad the OP is approaching this from a position of trying to make things better for those who can’t work from home, rather than “we shouldn’t let people work from home because not everyone can.”

              2. NotAnotherManager!*

                DC is very similar. I live 15 miles away, and it’s an hour to get to work in normal times. The choice is generally live in a shoebox close to the city or move to the burbs and have an hour-ish at best commute (or move to the exurbs for a much bigger/newer house and commute forever). The higher-ups tend to actually live closer in because they can afford the land cost plus renovation or tear-down/rebuild. We middle ranges typically go for the suburbs once we have kids or larger dogs.

              3. Nora*

                Take my situation: I live in the middle of nowhere, so I have selected medical/dental practitioners and other service providers, like an auto mechanic, on the basis that they are close to my office and I can duck out during, prior, or following my work day. Now that I’ve been working from home getting to those places has been a lot more difficult and required longer travel than working at the office!

                I agree with many of the commenters that flexibility for life circumstances, whatever it is that they are, and to whatever degree a person has control or agency over them, is ultimately more helpful and fair.

                1. pagooey*

                  I chose a gym less than two blocks from my office, because being able to SEE IT FROM THE WINDOW made me much more likely to drag myself on in there. But have I darkened the doorstep of gym OR office in the last year? Reader, I have not.

                  Equitable flexibility is probably as fair as you can make things, especially in high-cost-of-living areas. I’m in Seattle and the boom shows no sign of slowing; I can’t afford a lateral move, at this point.

            3. Jane*

              My commute is around 1 hour 20 mins, which is very long for my part of the country (people are shocked when I tell them). Most of my colleagues have a commute of 20-40 mins, some live within walking distance of work.

              However, my house cost about 1/3 the price of a similar house in the city I work in, saving me thousands of dollars a year (even including travel) costs.

              It’s a choice we all make when we balance where to live and work. I could take a less desirable job closer to my home, or I could make a radical lifestyle choice for my family and move closer. However, I would never expect my work to compensate me for this personal decision.

              The only scenario where I think you could reasonably expect compensation would be jobs that required you to travel long distances e.g. to meetings hundreds of miles away, where you would be away 5am-midnight.

              1. Jane*

                Probably could have been clearer in my wording – the “radical lifestyle choice” of moving closer to work would involve going back to seriously struggling to make ends meet: when I previously lived in that city over ten years ago (when it was cheaper), I had to add up my shopping as I walked round the supermarket; I learnt how to do invisible repairs on work clothes; drank water instead of coffee, etc.

                I do not know how my colleagues afford to live close to work in one of the most desirable towns in the region on the wages we earn, but I assume some must have family money to subsidise their housing.

                I still wouldn’t expect work to compensate me for my longer commute, especially when this longer commute puts me in a better financial situation than some colleagues.

            4. Ann O'Nemity*

              I’m in a city with crisis-level housing shortages and few public transportation options. Where you live doesn’t really feel like a choice anymore; you have to take what you can get/what you can afford.

            5. Autistic AF*

              The location of my workplace has always been a choice for me – I chose to live close to downtown with decent public transit, and I’ve had the choice of office locations I don’t need to drive to or those not accessible without a car. Conversely, I worked with many people who chose to live in the suburbs and couldn’t commute without a car. Given the typical reader of this site, living wage/long drive vs. minimum wage/short walk seems like a false dilemma.

            6. hbc*

              Of course not all situations are the same. But it seems untenable to try to support employees in a way that is fair to the whole of their lived experience. Do I cover the commute of the person who chose to live her dream on a 40 acre ranch because the person supporting her six orphaned siblings can only afford to live in a run-down apartment on the outskirts, or do I differentiate? Do I need to provide two parking spots to the person who drives a beat up hand-me-down van but not to the person who bought a blinged-out humvee?

              You apply for a job where it is. If that’s because your choices are very limited, that isn’t an extra obligation for the employer.

          3. Green Tea for Me*

            But the point is that you had a choice. If actually going into the office saves you money and makes better sense for you then you should choose to do that. But someone who’s job can’t be done from home doesn’t get to make that decision. They have to go in.

            1. JM60*

              someone who’s job can’t be done from home

              But people choose (to a limited degree) what type of job they work, and different jobs come with different perks. It’s generally a bad idea to deny a perk to people working one type of job merely because others in the same organization are working a job that doesn’t get that perk.

              1. Dan*

                Not only that, but in the long run, it puts the company at a competitive disadvantage for attracting and retaining those types of employees. I’m a computer programmer, and I work at a company where almost all work can be done from home, and management is now permitting us to do so accordingly.

                If I were to consider leaving the company for a programmer job at a place where they wouldn’t let me WFH, for whatever reason, why would I want to work there? They either can’t attract me, or they would have to pay above market wages to compensate for what is becoming a much more accepted perk for this type of work.

                1. JM60*

                  I’m in the same position. If another software company wants me to leave my current WFH position to work in-office for them, they’ll need to give me a major pay increase to incentivize me.

                2. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

                  Before COVID, interestingly, one of the reasons for which I could not convince my friend to apply at my workplace, despite the shorter work day, the much better salary and excellent benefits (plus pension), was that there was no WFH option for administrative staff. And she cherished her freedom to WFH whenever she wanted.

                  Had to respect that.

              2. Marika*

                Let’s also recognise that lots of those ‘can’t be done from home’ jobs … their ‘perks’ are a salary, maybe decent healthcare, maybe some retirement money. Assuming there are ‘extras’ to all jobs isn’t reasonable or fair – one of the things we’re seeing is that the people who HAVE to be at work are, generally, those in fields where the risk is higher and the compensation is lower; paperwork can be done anywhere, hands on stuff not so much, and there IS a distinct hierarchy between hands-on and hands-off.

                I think we’re just chasing the ‘commute’ thing too much – there needs to be an examination of ‘costs’ to employees and ‘benefits’ to employees, and take a look at the relative lengths and ‘intensity’ of those categories. If the ‘working from home’ benefits list is 14 things long and the ‘working from office’ benefits list is 5, THAT’S the issue to be addressed.

                1. JM60*

                  Assuming there are ‘extras’ to all jobs isn’t reasonable or fair

                  To be clear, I’m not assuming that all jobs have equal, but different, perks. Each job has different pros and cons, and people need to weigh them when selecting a career path. Plus, people might weigh each pro and con differently. I greatly value WFH, but some people actually prefer working in-office! Maybe I care more about salary, but you care more about work-life balance. Maybe I care more about the type of work, but less about the salary and perks. Etc.

                  To the degree that people can choose their field (and many have limited opportunities due to not being able to afford college and other reasons), people are responsible for making their selection(s) from the menu of career fields. It’s fine to suggest, “position X is critical in our society, so maybe we should stop underpaying them.” However, to a certain extent, I don’t think you can complain too much if you get a hot dog instead of a burger if a hot dog is what you ordered from the menu.

              3. Green Tea for Me*

                “ It’s generally a bad idea to deny a perk to people working one type of job merely because others in the same organization are working a job that doesn’t get that perk.”

                Right, I agree. But that doesn’t mean only one job gets all the perks and the other jobs don’t. If people can and want to WFH they should be allowed to. That’s the perk of their job. Alternately, if someone can’t work from home, maybe their perk should be that part of their commute is counted as work hours, or the company gives them a monthly stipend to cover gas/transit/parking.

          4. Librarian of SHIELD*

            I’m going to push back a little on the “you chose to work an hour away” piece of this. I’m in a field where the number of jobs is outnumbered by the number of people qualified for said jobs, and in an area where housing costs are rising quickly. When there are a limited number of jobs to apply to and a limited number of places you can afford to live, your commute is very much out of your control. My current job is about an hour away from my home, and I didn’t choose that. It’s a job that was open when I needed to apply for one, and I can’t afford to move.

            I’m sure that there are situations where a person’s long commute to work is a result of choices they made, but it’s not universally true, and I feel that it would be a kindness for workplaces to consider that and to think about offering what perks they can to people with longer commutes.

            1. Mockingjay*

              And commutes change. Fifteen years ago I could sprint to work in 25 minutes or less. Over the last decade, development has nearly tripled the local population, choking every route. (We’re in the swampy Southeast coast, so there is limited buildable land for homes, businesses, and roads.) 45 minutes plus (one way) is now the rule; if there’s an accident on one of the two main routes, I’m not getting to work for an hour and a half at least (non-COVID).

              As to “choice,” where people live depends on a complex combination of factors: available jobs, housing affordability, housing availability, school quality, crime rates, medical facilities, local taxes…

            2. hbc*

              Maybe the better way to put it is that it’s more your choice (and problem) than the employer’s.

        2. KateM*

          Well, if the decision who gets to wfh and who not is done by flipping the coin, then yes. I imagined it goes with what the work actually needs. And then it’s no different from “why those salesmen get to travel and I don’t??”.

          1. Richard*

            There’s a big difference between traveling salesmen and this. Nobody was thinking in 2019, “If there’s a global pandemic and half of the office has to work from home for 18 months on short notice, I shouldn’t be surprised if I still have to come in.”

            1. JM60*

              Nonetheless, different jobs allow for different perks, and it’s a bad idea to disallow a perk (that a particular job would allow) merely because other people working in the same organization have jobs that don’t allow for the perk. It’s a bit like making everyone stay until 9pm because Jim from accounting has a workload that doesn’t allow him to leave before 9pm. I think there was a letter from someone whose boss required everyone to stay for the sake of “fairness” until the busiest person finished for the day.

              1. Richard*

                I removed a thread here that became a lengthy argument between just two people going back and forth and which I think is derailing from the discussion. – Alison

        3. A Genuine Scientician*

          I don’t think it’s like flipping a coin at all. Assuming it’s a reasonable organization, that is.

          Whether or not someone can work from depends first on the duties their job entails, mostly. There’s far more ability to work from home as, say, an accountant than as a physical therapist. Assuming that it’s even possible, then it depends on whether they have demonstrated the ability to perform the work at the desired level in the desired time at home. (And, outside of Pandemic Circumstances, things like if they have childcare coverage if they have a child at home, if they have a private working space, etc.) Whether people can work from home shouldn’t be random; it should be based on their ability to do that job that way.

          And, in general, I don’t think you should be particularly compensating someone for their commute to/from the office they work from most of the time. If you have to send them to other offices/locations during the work day, or they have to rotate among sites, there’s much more reason to do it. But that’s the tradeoff people make — often they decide a longer commute is worth the advantages they see in that housing (expense, size, amenities, family, etc.)

          1. Richard*

            It’s like flipping a coin because very few people who have found themselves working from home over the last year had factored it into their job selection pre-pandemic. Many, many people would have never considered their jobs (or their employers in particular) as being amenable to working from home are suddenly working from home. It’s very revisionist to think that all of these accountants who have never worked from home a day in their lives pre-pandemic somehow set up their careers with this perk in mind.

            1. A Genuine Scientician*

              That still in no way makes it like flipping a coin.

              Things change. This is a big change, yes, and one not many people expected, that suddenly a lot of jobs people always assumed would have to be done in the office turn out to not actually need to be in the office. But it’s not random which ones are no longer going to require being in an office; it’s based on what turns out to be necessary under the current and future environment.

              Entire industries go through major upheavals due to cultural and technological changes, and often ones that are difficult to see coming ahead of time. That doesn’t mean the process is random.

              1. Richard*

                True, it’s not exactly like flipping a coin, but it is an arbitrary and unanticipated change that you and many others think is obvious and justified only with the benefit of hindsight. It’s not great management giving some people massive new unearned benefits due to arbitrary and unanticipated circumstances and thinking it’s absurd that people who didn’t get those benefits (and got increased risk) might want something as well. But if you need to fixate on the imprecise coin flipping analogy to ignore the substance, you do you.

                1. A Genuine Scientician*

                  “massive unearned new benefits”

                  as opposed to forcing them to keep going to the office even when it turns out that they don’t actually need to in order to do the job?

                2. JM60*

                  I don’t see how it’s arbitrary to allow WFH for those working in jobs that can be effectively done from home.

                  As for the OP’s question of how to make things better for those who can’t work from home, maybe make the office somewhat of a more relaxed atmosphere can help. For instance, one of the perks of WFH is not having to worry about dress, so if I couldn’t WFH, I would prefer to work somewhere with a casual dress culture.

                3. Richard*

                  I wouldn’t (and didn’t) say it’s arbitrary to let people who can work from home work from home. It’s arbitrary that, in March 2020, nearly everyone who could conceivably work from home (and plenty who really couldn’t or shouldn’t have) did and many still are. That’s not a normal way for a global workforce to change, so retroactively considering it natural just because it happened isn’t a useful way to think about it. Thinking about a lot more flexibility (dress, schedule, etc.) in the workplace for people who do have to come in is a good start, along with a lot of other small, cheap fringe benefits (food, drink, snacks, etc.) could go a long way as well. The core equity problem is harder and probably depends more on the specific populations working there and what kinds of risks and needs the people coming into the office are facing.

            2. M. Albertine*

              I am anecdotal, but this possibility was a HUGE factor in my choosing to become an accountant. Granted, I thought I would have to start my own bookkeeping business or something like that, but it was a factor and I’m really happy for the silver lining of the pandemic.

        4. Just @ me next time*

          There are also broader equity differences in how long commutes affect different groups of people. Women, for example, are much more likely to have unpaid caretaking responsibilities around children or older relatives. A 1-hr commute is going to have a different impact on someone who is also expected to spend several hours of their free time performing unpaid work than someone who is able to use more of their free time for leisure and self-care. For one person, it’s “That’s one less episode of my show before bed,” while for another person it’s “Which of my fundamental self-care needs (eating, showering, exercise, sleep, etc.) do I need to neglect tonight?”
          There’s an extra layer with that one in that our transportation infrastructure has historically been designed to accommodate those whose commute is strictly home-work-back home rather than those who need to make stops related to unpaid responsibilities (picking up/dropping off kids, visiting older relatives, running errands). So what might be a straightforward 20 minutes for an individual with no caretaking responsibilities could take over an hour for someone who has to make multiple stops (especially if they are relying on public transport).
          Those living with certain disabilities may also be unfairly impacted by commute times. Not every form of transportation is available to or optimal for every body. Not everyone is able to ride a bike, walk, or drive a car. The design of public transportation often excludes people with disabilities, like bus stops that people using mobility aids can’t actually reach or buses that can only accommodate a limited number of wheelchairs/strollers/walkers and have to leave people behind when all the spaces are occupied.
          Finally, consider the difference a commute makes for someone living in poverty. With the housing crisis in many cities, lower income workers may only be able to afford housing far from the city centre. They may not be able to afford a vehicle, especially with the high costs of fuel and parking, making them reliant on slower forms of transport. And with longer commutes, people have less time to spend doing the things that will help them advance their career and lift them out of poverty (pursuing education, making social connections, updating their resumes, managing their physical and mental health, etc.).
          My point in saying all this is not to say that commuting is unequal, therefore it’s okay for the WFH/work in the office situation to be unequal. My point is this is just one more layer of systemic inequality we need to grapple with. There are absolutely going to be consequences to allowing some people to work from home and we need to start thinking about them yesterday.

          1. SW*

            Add onto the issues that Just @Me Next Time mentioned, in the area I live in we have the real issue that the town where my job is located deliberately shirked adding more affordable housing for the last 25 years, and before that they paid the Black-majority city nearby to take all their legally-required affordable housing. Add to that the general scarcity of apartments because it’s a college town. The result is that all of the administrators and higher-ups could already walk/bike/bus to work, but us hourly employees (most of whom have to be on site) have had to live 30+ minutes away. I imagine that many other places have also deliberately made policy to limit both the development of cheaper housing and public transportation.
            The question of whether the employer should compensate for commute times is incredibly dependent on their actual location, the availability of affordable housing near the place of employment, and the exact type of work that needs to be done on site. In my case I would say yes, workers who need to be on site should be additionally compensated, both because those people tend to be the least paid employees, and because they face the additional risk of exposure to COVID-19.

    2. Lurker*

      Yeah, and the commute isn’t part of the work day (it’s not paid)…unless maybe you’re doing work during your commute, or you are commuting from one work site/event to another.

      1. Selina Luna*

        I often work on my commute (my husband drives), but I’m salaried, and there’s no compensation for commuting. I would get compensated if I had to drive for a “company” reason, though.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        It’s not really part of the work day, but it is a subtraction from the amount of personal time you get in any given day. In the letter writer’s example, Prometheus essentially has two more hours of discretionary time in his day than Persephone has. Those two hours she spends commuting to and from work are two hours he might be spending on household chores or meal preparation or hobby activities, that Persephone would have to either fit in somewhere else or forego entirely.

        It’s not so much that Persephone works for two hours a day longer than Prometheus does, it’s that her job *costs* her an additional two hours of time that Prometheus isn’t having to spend.

        1. Autistic AF*

          Promotheus’ housing costs would typically, proportionally be higher than Persephone’s, though. Her job costs her more (time), but her residence costs her less (money, which is earned in time).

          1. Z*

            Maybe, but we don’t know that. Persephone could live in a big house in the suburbs that ends up with the same monthly cost (or more) as Prometheus’ apartment in the city. Or vice versa, we don’t know where the workplace is.

            1. Autistic AF*

              That’s where proportions come into play, though. If Prometheus has the same rent/mortgage for a 1000 sqft apartment as Persephone does for a 2600 sqft house, it’s still proportionally cheaper for Persephone.

          2. Joielle*

            Yeah. I guess if the office is located in a cheaper suburb then you could have people who choose to live in a farther away AND more expensive city because they prefer it (I probably would, tbh) but I wouldn’t expect a company to subsidize that choice.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      Yep, when I choose to work for a company, my commute is part of my decision. I wouldn’t want a company to not offer me a job because they would have to pay my a big stipend for a longer than average commute.
      The better option may be to offer one work-from-home day per week or month depending on what the job is. I worked at a company that arranged for cover one day a month so the front desk receptionist could have a WFH day. She managed some routine accounting and scheduling tasks that could be done from home.

      1. Sue*

        I’m on the Board of an arts nonprofit. We pay mileage for staff who come from 30+ miles away. It’s a significant expense and can be factored into staffing decisions. It’s a tricky issue.

        1. TL -*

          that would really annoy me, personally. I live close to my work (super close) but I also pay higher rent for the privilege. The different in rent is higher than a comparable (or nicer) place super far away, even including transit costs.

          I would feel financially penalized should others get their commute subsidized but I don’t get my rent subsidized.

          1. pancakes*

            If you’re keeping score that assiduously and it means that much to you, you could move further to get your commute subsidized.

    4. Threeve*

      That was my thought, too. Both of your employees have an 8 hour day, you really can’t start trying to take responsibility for Persephone’s commute.

      I like the idea of offering compensation for mileage or parking. Other perks I can think of:
      free snacks, free headphones, paid subscriptions to Spotify, comfier desk chairs, a casual dress code if you don’t already have one

      But you should focus on acknowledging that working your 8 hours in the office is extra stressful right now so you’re adding some benefits to help those folks–NOT that working the office inherently sucks more than working from home so you’re trying to level it out.

      1. Betta from daVille*

        Except some people make the decision to pay a higher rent to live closer to an office. Shouldn’t the company also reimburse them for the extra rent, if they are going to pay for milage?

        1. Threeve*

          No? Commuter benefits are extremely common, nobody is going to demand that they actually be “any expense related to distance from the office in some fashion” benefits unless they’re just trying to be a contrarian.

          1. Mimi Me*

            If the question is “what’s fair” then the point is valid. Persephone made a choice to live father away and the company really isn’t responsible for that. Another employee who has to work on site may not be able to get the perk of commuter rewards because they live walking distance from their workplace. What then?

            Frankly, I think work from home is not the cost saving measure that many people think it is. I’ve had to upgrade my internet service on top of the fact that my electricity bill has been the highest it’s ever been this past year. Expenses I’d never have had in the office. I’ve also needed to buy a desk, a chair, etc and because I don’t have a separate space, a corner of my bedroom was repurposed as an office.
            That being said, my employer is going to have to pry me out of here with a crow bar to get me to go back into the office. LOL!

            1. Dan*

              Not only that, but my apartment is electric-only for all utilities, and I have my own individually metered HVAC system.

              My utility bills in the winter (heat) and summer (air) are way higher with me WFH than when I go to the office and change the temp settings.

              I live ~20 minutes from my office, and my gas savings aren’t enough to make up for the increased utility usage.

              1. Dan*

                Forgot to mention, the office gym cost me $6/week to be a member, and it wasn’t bad. The gym nearest my apartment is costing me $50/mo.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            Commute benefits tend to be federal programs that employers get some benefit from offering, especially if they are used to support use of public transit. I get pre-tax commuter benefits, I don’t get freebies. I think the federal employees get some free metro money.

            What we’ve chosen to do is to provide free parking passes to our essential employees that must be onsite as many expressed discomfort with being on public transit right now. Parking in DC will run $200-300/month, and it there is no way we were going to ask the onsite folks who are already doing so much for the WFHs to bear that or take the risk of public transit.

        2. Manders*

          Yes, this is one of those areas where it would get very tricky trying to find a perfectly fair solution. Sometimes a person has a longer commute because they can’t pay as much in rent, or they live far away from the office because of a partner or family’s needs, or they bought a house in the past few years instead of 20 years ago, or they don’t plan on staying at a company long-term so they aren’t choosing housing to prioritize a short commute.

          If a group of workers at your company all have extremely long commutes because they can’t afford to live close to the office, maybe there’s an issue with salaries the company needs to look into. But the housing market is very, very weird in many cities and I’m not sure there’s a way a company can make that fair.

        3. KateM*

          Sounds right – if they pay some people for the gas they are using because they live far, they should pay others at least as much for NOT living far and therefore having to pay more rent.

        4. LTL*

          It’s not really a fair trade-off. Commuter benefits help commuters offset cost but don’t give them back their time which can play a significant role in quality of life. I don’t think it’s worth getting nit-picky about rent.

          1. TL -*

            Uh, my half of a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate and walking commute is $450/month more than my coworker’s 1-bedroom with an hour commute. I guarantee you that $450/month and having a roommate plays a significant role in my quality of life as much as her two-hour daily commute did. (she’s working from home now.)

        5. Aquawoman*

          If people choose to pay higher rent to live near the office, it is because they want to save time or live in an urban environment. They’re getting both of those. The money saved on commuting is a minor part of the differential in rent. Most importantly, they also can afford to make that decision, which many of the folks farther out cannot. I don’t think we need to subsidize the rich for matters of convenience.

          1. Beth Jacobs*

            Rich? What? If the employees are doing equal work, they should be getting equal pay. So why would you think that the people living in the city are richer than their suburban coworkers in the same positions?

          2. Mimi Me*

            If a person chooses to pay higher rent to live near the office it means that they have decided that their time and the desire to live in an urban environment is worth the money they’re spending.
            If a person chooses to work a job that requires a long commute it means that they have decided that the money and the desire to live in a less urban environment is worth the time for their commute.
            BOTH require an element of sacrifice regardless of the employees bank account.

            1. kathjnc*

              Exactly. Part of (not all!) why we have such a problem with sprawl and car-dependent suburbs in North America is that people separate out commuting and housing costs in their mind. In reality, cheap(er) house in the suburbs actually costs rent/mortage + time lost to commute + increased vehicle and fuel costs and the apartment closer to the city centre costs rent/mortgage + shorter commute time + bus pass/ bike maintenance. You might decide it’s worth it to you for the larger house to pay that cost, but it is ALL part of that cost. (putting aside for a moment that if we want to combat climate change in a meaningful way we REALLY need to live in denser, more walkable neighbourhoods…….there is so much beyond personal choice involved in making that doable for more people but an individual company subsidizing long commutes is kind of a step in the wrong direction on that front…..unless it’s bus passes they’re subsidizing).

          3. Autistic AF*

            It’s often more nuanced than that… An older, smaller house in the inner city can easily cost about the same as chooses something newer, bigger, and further out. Given costs for emergency services, schools, infrastucture, etc., the inner-city folk typically subsidize those in the suburbs.

      2. pbnj*

        What about offering an additional PTO day per year for folks that work in office? At my spouse’s company, they give an extra day to people who don’t participate in the 9/80 working schedule, due to being a shift worker or other reasons.

        1. HCW*

          Extra PTO sounds like a great idea – I would go further than 1 day per year, if possible. WFH reduces the need for incidental PTO for many people – if you’re feeling well enough to work, you don’t have to burn sick time due to being contagious, or needing things not accessible at work (frequent, private bathroom trips, heating pad…). You can also potentially do things like let the plumber in without having to miss work.

        2. Lady Meyneth*

          Also, flex time can be a life saver when you have a long commute (or a short commute, or no commute). I’ve worked exactly one job with rigid start times and it was a nightmare for me, so much I self selected out of any more.

          OP, if your company doesn’t have flex hours yet and it’s at all possible to include it, I guarantee your employees will thank you.

        3. A*

          As someone who can WFH but has colleagues that cannot due to the nature of their work – I think this is a wonderful compromise. Although I think bumping it to one extra PTO day per quarter would be more equitable.

        4. BPT*

          I really like this. One thing that kind of burned me when I worked at a place where some had work from home capabilities and some didn’t, was the disparity of vacation travel. For instance, around the holidays, people who could work from home would travel to their home state and stay with family, take 3-4 days off, and then spend the week between Christmas and New Years there, still with family, but working during the day. So they got more time away/with family, even if they had to work during the daytime, than those who had to be in the office, who had to come back to the officer earlier, cutting the holidays/spending time with family short. So being able to telework/work from anywhere is has an extra benefit from even the day-to-day not having a commute. So I think extra vacation time would help balance this out for those who are not teleworking.

        5. grumpbump*

          I can tell you I suggested this very thing at my office and it went over like a lead balloon. I was told that I am expected to come to work and my employer will not, beyond my salary and benefits, incentivize me to come to work. I stopped short of saying that by arbitrarily allowing some staff to WFH, while others have to come in daily, they are creating separate classes of employees. All of it has left me feeling bitter and pissed off.

          1. allathian*

            Would you be happier if nobody was allowed to WFH? What do you mean by arbitrary? Do employees who WFH have the same job description as those who need to come to the office? If that’s the case, then yes, it’s definitely unfair. But if some people’s job description truly prevents them from WFH (cutting paychecks in a company that still does it on paper, archiving documents if you haven’t gone fully electronic like my org has, front desk employees, etc.) that’s no reason to prevent others whose job description would permit them to WFH from doing so. During the pandemic, making sure that everyone who can WFH actually does so will also make the office safer for people whose job description requires them to be at the office.

      3. Yorick*

        “free snacks, free headphones, paid subscriptions to Spotify, comfier desk chairs, a casual dress code if you don’t already have one”

        These are great suggestions

      4. Midwest Manager*

        A point on the compensation for mileage to get to work -> IRS regulations state “Travel expenses are the ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for your business, profession, or job. You can’t deduct expenses that are lavish or extravagant, or that are for personal purposes.

        You’re traveling away from home if your duties require you to be away from the general area of your tax home for a period substantially longer than an ordinary day’s work, and you need to get sleep or rest to meet the demands of your work while away.”

        We had someone who lived 55 miles away from our work location who attempted to request mileage for coming into the office every day. This was shut down-HARD. They were traveling to the primary work location for the purpose of performing the ordinary day’s work, thus the mileage was not reimbursable. If they were sent to another location for a business reason, that constitutes “travel” and can be reimbursed. For context, I work for a state agency – so we are required to follow state or IRS regulations related to this.

        1. merula*

          Everyone’s required to follow the IRS guidelines in the US, or else those payments are taxable as wages. It’s not up for negotiation.

        2. Freya*

          Much the same thing here in Australia – working further than a certain distance away from cities and towns with facilities nets you some claimable expenses that are not claimable if you’re working *in* that town. Most employment Awards and Enterprise Bargaining Agreements where remote work like that can be normal include an Allowance that employers can give their employees if that’s the case (my husband’s workplace gives it to everyone, as it’s a 45 minute drive from the closest side of the city and commutes longer than 20 minutes are considered long commutes in this city (my commute is 11 minutes))

          (driving from one workplace to another is claimable, driving from home to work is not)

    5. Cascadia*

      Yea, I agree about the not paying someone for the commute time. One thing to consider is that some people maybe used to take public transportation to work, but no longer feel safe doing that in the pandemic. For instance, my husband’s office is downtown, in our large west-coast city. In the before-times he took the bus every day. Now, when he rarely goes in to the office, he has to drive and pay something like $20-$30/day for parking. Though I’ve noticed parking rates have decreased in the downtown area, likely because no one is there any more. Perhaps your company could offer to pay for people’s parking, or give them mileage as a perk.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I used to take the DC Metro and after one too many trips where it was ON FIRE, I started driving to one of our client sites. I opted to pay for the really expensive on site parking (vs walkable but farther away lots). It was my choice, but I would have been really happy if I got any kind of credit for whatever transportation I chose.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Does your employer offer a qualified transportation pre-tax account or something similar? Ours has an arrangement with the parking lots under our buildings for a reduced bulk rate and then a certain amount of that can be paid pre-tax.

          I’m a 20-year veteran of WMATA, so I feel you (but you couldn’t pay me enough to drive in every day). The twitter accounts MetroHero and IsMetroOnFire? are a better resource than the official WMATA feed.

        2. Z*

          I feel like traveling to client sites should be different than commuting to your base office.

      2. PrgrmMngr*

        This is what I came to say. If there are multiple modes of transportation to the office and using public transportation has been subsidized in some way, it would be really nice to have parking subsidized for now. For the few times I’ve been into my office (adjacent to a major train station for our city), I’ve driven and paid a lot for parking. I’m glad I haven’t had to decide if I’m comfortable with the extended amount of time I’d need to wear a mask if I took the train, and I’d if my employer recognized that driving into work limits exposure for everyone and found that worth encouraging right now.

    6. BottleBlonde*

      Yeah, I think the commute consideration is a slippery slope. There are always going to be variations in where people are commuting from. I’ve had both the longest commute as well as one of the shortest commutes in respective offices in the past, and both had tradeoffs. (The long commute was draining but I was able to enjoy a much lower COL than I would living near the office.) There are extenuating circumstances, but in large part, where you live in relation to work is a personal decision.

      1. Caroline*

        This is not comparing two different actual commutes. This is comparing someone “commuting” from their bed to their desk because their position is allowed to work from home to someone who has to drive to the office. When everyone is working in the office, of course commutes won’t be taken into consideration, but when some employees at the same place now essentially don’t have a commute and others do, it should be taken into account. This isn’t about where someone chooses to live, it’s about where your employer tells you to work.

    7. TurkeyLurkey*

      My previous company was in a very expensive suburb of a major city. Execs often lived close to the office, everyone else had an hour+ commute. I don’t envy folks working on solutions to commuting compensation, but I do think it’s something companies should keep in mind from a pay and equity standpoint.

    8. I'm just here for the cats*

      Perhaps offering discount on bus/train pass. Or something for transportation cost? My company has bus passes that are heavily discounted ($75 for a year instead of $35 per month) and I think they also have some sort of transportation fund thing that the employee can determine X amount of money to be taken out of their check pre tax to be put in a fund. I don’t know how it works since I don’t drive.

      Do your employees live somewhere where there are tolls. Perhaps a discount on toll passes would help? Or if they have to pay to park have free parking or reimburse them for parking?

      1. Anonym*

        Yes, transit benefits can be helpful. My company has a program where you can pay for some $250 or so a month pre-tax for transit or parking costs (office is in big city downtown). I think this is tied to some sort of federal tax program, but don’t know the details. It definitely takes the edge off commuting costs, though.

        1. pancakes*

          Yes – this sounds a lot like transportation benefits I’ve often had over the years. It looks like it’s now a max of $270/month.

    9. Rebecca1*

      I’ve lived in several places where there were government programs (municipal/ county/ state) for commuting benefits that employers could opt into. This was both in the UK and in different US states. You’d have to look up what is relevant for your area.

    10. Lucky*

      I think there are ways to compensate the in-office workers in other ways for their commute, like being super flexible about late buses, bad traffic and snow/weather delays, or closing the office early the day before a 3-day weekend.

    11. Person from the Resume*

      I don’t think companies can and should factor in individual commutes. The reasons people choose to live where they live are just too varied. And you don’t want hiring decisions to favor the employees who live nearest because they get less of a commute payment.

      In major cities where it makes sense companies should offer some kind of public transportation voucher and parking passes.

    12. joss*

      No, where people live is a personal choice and should not be part of the conversation. At my company many people have (or rather had prior to the pandemic) multiple hours commutes each way because they wanted larger houses/different school districts/lower prices/other reasons every day. Their options are either deal with the commute or move closer by. There is no reason that these people should be given additional compensation over others who live in smaller houses, at higher prices, and whatever other reasons others have. If you start going down this road should there also be a rent stipend for those living close by but in more expensive housing? Where would this end?
      Sorry to sound unsympathetic but I really don’t see this

      1. Caroline*

        This is about people who work from home and have essentially no commute- 6 seconds in the post is referring to someone walking from their bed to their desk, etc. It’s not about where people actually live. It’s about where an employer is telling each employee to work (at home vs in the office). It doesn’t sound like the employees have a choice about where they work, so this would be something the employer should take into consideration.

        A lot of these comments have totally missed the point.

    13. Nanani*

      This was what I was thinking.
      I’ve lived and worked in places where this is standard practice, though that part of the world has excellent public transit so its less about gas and more about handing everyone a transit pass that covers their commute.
      When I had an arrangement like this, additional commute time imposed by the job (like going to another site or having overnight business trips) were covered similarly, but they didn’t offer adjustments for non-business modifications to your commute unless you moved house completely.

      For a car-centric location, paying people for their commute gas is probably a good idea. Make it a flat amount based on distance to their address and don’t worry about whether someone is running errands on the way or anything like that. If someone lives next door and doesn’t need a commute, great, but it doesn’t affect everyone else.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        It doesn’t fit well with environmental goals to subsidize long single-car gas-burning commutes.

        1. kathjnc*

          Agreed. Free parking, subsidizing commuter mileage – that all goes contrary to everything most urban planners advise when it comes to those behavioural nudges to try to make the “good” thing also the “cheapest/ most convenient” thing.

        2. jojo*

          Most of the US does not have public transportation. Those areas that do, the bus does not go anywhere near the daycare or school. So those gas guzzling car are going to continue to be the major mode of transport for anyone that has a kid.

      2. Mr. Shark*

        I think it can be a set amount equal to the cost of a metro/bus pass, regardless of whether you are getting a metro/bus pass or driving and parking. But that should be the extent of it.
        That still doesn’t reflect the issue of those who are WFH, who would have no commute. For those people, they would not get any commute cost offset.

        1. Ponytail*

          Ahh, the lovely days of being an au-pair, when I got money for a monthly transport pass but was obviously working from home ! I think in 2 years, I bought maybe two monthly passes, and just walked everywhere instead. That extra money was so helpful.

    14. Des*

      Agreed, this is not a great example. We have had people commuting 2h into our office because they prefer to live further out. This makes their workday 12h long to someone’s 8h workday, but you make the choices you make.

      Plus, the people working from home may have to deal with interruptions during the day that they wouldn’t have in the office, thus making their workday longer. How to account for that?

      There’s no absolute fairness. We need to use common sense and adapt.

    15. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Right, if the office is in an inaccessible office park or in a hard-to-get-to exclusive suburb, there’s an equity issue no matter what; if it’s in a location that’s easy to get to, well, some people’s jobs can be done from home and some can’t.

    16. JSPA*

      1. For those who can use them, and if the climate allows, and if they can be had where you are, and if budget allows, offer to pay for e-bikes (and helmets and even –possibly company branded–jerseys and a windbreaker). And put in secure bike parking.

      Especially useful if you’re in one of the many places where straight-line distance is less a determinant of commute time than traffic and parking and distance on foot from parking to the worksite. I’ve lived places where even a non-e-bike was a shorter commute (at least, in the more downhill direction) than driving or transit.

      I biked a lot, and would have done so even more if the trip home were not an uphill grind on 100% leg power while tired and hungry and often in the dark. Battery, motor and built in lights make a huge difference.

      2. if people have space to eat safely at work (with the unmasking that requires), are employees’ food options “takeout or a money-making candy and junk food machine”? If so, consider stocking actual fridges with something healthier and free. An endless supply of apples, oranges, bananas, individual packs of nuts [depending on allergy issues] and determinedly not caring if someone eats “more than their share” says, “we notice and care that you’re here in person.”

      3. Depending on climate, (company branded?) rain ponchos that anyone can take if they’re caught unprepared on the way out the door.

      4. If you don’t already allow this, give people the right to take breaks as and when needed, unless scheduled for a meeting or other duty that precludes free-form taking of breaks (assembly line, etc). People working from home are taking the occasional 5 minute stretch; the world isn’t ending as a result.

      5. If you can swing it, and if people are on scheduled shifts / not already free to leave when done: the right either to leave 2 hours early one afternoon per week. Or non-expiring PTO for time spent in the office during covid / before full vaccination coverage. (Not sure about that last, as it should not be so generous as to create a perverse incentive for people to come in sick, or to work from the office when they could work from home…discuss?)

      Basically, if they must be at work, make sure there’s some benefit to being at work, beyond “not getting fired.”

  3. grogu*

    i think commuting benefits should be standard everywhere! i live in nyc & my company pays (or used to pay since i’m wfh) for my monthly $121 metro card. a stipend for parking/gas or something else equivalent could equalize things a little.

    1. bribri*

      Agreed on commuting benefits – however, in most major cities, companies that provide commuting benefits provide transit specifically to discourage their employees from driving! I know this is the case for the federal government (I live in DC.) I would be curious to know how this affects employees’ decisions on where to live in the long term. Some people really don’t mind the long commute (as long as it’s paid for), and other people can’t stand the idea of wasting more than 10 minutes in transit to the office.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. Mine offers a limited rebate, basically, on bus passes but it’s mostly to free up limited parking because we’re in a highly congested part of town.

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          See my company has limited parking and you have to walk 3-4 blocks before street parking is not metered. We have heavily reduced bus passes but it’s not advertised at all. When I started it was not told to me at all. I happened to be on the HR website looking for something else when I found the information. I don’t know why it’s not encouraged more

      2. Nicki Name*

        In my city, it’s becoming standard to cover either the equivalent of an annual transit pass or just part of the cost of parking. But that’s because parking downtown is far more expensive than transit.

        My company is about to look for a new office location for reasons unrelated to the pandemic, and they’ve said that one of considerations will be how much free parking matters to the people who still have to come into the office. If it’s a big deal, the new office will be somewhere that the company doesn’t have to spend so much to subsidize it.

      3. Sleepy*

        Yeah, these are usually mandated or incentivized by the city government. I doubt most companies would want to pay the cost of city parking for their employees. It could easily be $15-$30 per day to park where I work. That’s a lot more than a transit pass.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          When I worked in “the City”, our lot fees were covered by our company. $15 a day. I know that they offered some form of subsidized mass transit in cities that actually had mass transit (sadly, the city in which I lived offered half of bupkuss for mass transit).

          I work for a different company out in the ‘burbs now, and there’s no subsidized anything for commuting. We also don’t pay for parking because we’re essentially in a mall parking lot.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        Also DC, and we just get pre-tax for qualified transportation costs (metro, bus, vanpool/carpool, parking). My spouse is a fed and could get metro money, but his metro commute would take over 90 minutes (when metro is not on fire) and involve at least one transfer versus driving taking 30-45 minutes. He also does half of the drop-offs/all of the pick-ups for the kids, so he can’t afford he metro delays.

        I’m a metro person. I like my 30 minutes of alone time (the other 30 are driving/parking, which are not relaxing) and am woefully behind in all my podcasts since I no longer commute. It’d be awesome if my employer paid for the pass. (I know someone whose spouse is a fed and they commute on their spouse’s subsidized card, but that was way outside our comfort zone in terms of the intent of the program/beneficiary.)

    2. Smithy*

      While I support the commuting benefits, I’ve always seemed to find they manage to benefit more senior staff members.

      That being said, in a post COVID world where some staff are close to 100% remote work and other roles require more regular if not full time presence in the office – then commuting benefits tied to how often you’re in the office would make a lot of sense.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I am curious how you see this happening? Are you referring to 100% employer paid commuter benefits, or to employee paid pre-tax deduction commuter benefits?

        I would imagine employer paid commuter benefits would be open to everyone?

        1. Esmerelda*

          I’ve seen this happen, too. I used to work in a downtown area where parking was limited and expensive. Employees at the director level and above got free on-site parking (worth $23 a day!), while the rest of us got a free bus pass (worth $35/month). I admit the bus pass was super helpful, but looked pretty measly compared to what they spent on higher level employees. Plus, it created weird office politics, because the higher level employees who had free parking were just flabbergasted about why everyone else didn’t want to pay for parking every day out of pocket (most of them didn’t even know how expensive it was to pay out of pocket) and would get frustrated if someone couldn’t stay in the office until 8 pm when the last bus of the day left at 5:30 pm. “Why can’t you just drive in every day like I do!” Extra privilege often creates confusion and frustration towards those without.

          1. pancakes*

            The problem in this scenario isn’t uneven commuting benefits; it’s poor public transportation and obtuse management.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I agree I wouldn’t consider free parking for director level and above a “commuter benefit” but rather a rank/privilege/director benefit along the lines of higher salary. Yes it is a benefit that allows those people to commute to work, but it is not a specific benefit meant to apply to all commuters but rather to those that have achieved a certain rank. It is along the same lines of having reserved parking for the president/CEO/VPs at the front of the building.

              1. pancakes*

                I’m not sure we do agree – my point was more that the problems you described would be less problematic in a place where public transportation doesn’t shut down so early and managers are less insensitive about terribly inconveniencing employees.

        2. PrgrmMngr*

          I live in an area where homes with the best access to reliable public transportation are in expensive neighborhoods. I’ve also known plenty of people who’ve stopped using public transportation due to childcare obligations; these are unlikely to be your senior staff. The benefit may be available to all, but not practical to use for many.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            But then those people that are not able to use public transit end up having to use a car that might still be eligible for commuter benefits if they have to pay for parking near the site?

            Maybe we are thinking/defining commuter benefits differently? I am using commuter benefits to general commuting via different forms, car, bike, mass transit. My understanding is federal tax law allows you to deduct pre-tax for monthly parking costs, bike expenses, transit pass.

            But yes if a company is only offering a public transit pass as the ONLY commuter benefit than I can see how it would only allow senior staff to actually use it.

            1. Autistic AF*

              They would not be eligible for parking costs any place I’ve worked – those were explicitly reserved for senior staff, or those who needed a vehicle (again, typically more senior). Walking or biking also isn’t feasible with kids much of the time (although I know people who make it work).

        3. KAZ2Y5*

          My workplace will subsidize public transportation for it’s employees based on pay. It starts with the company subsidizing 75% of the cost for the lowest paid employees. Employees gradually have to pay a larger amount for transportation until you reach a certain point (maybe $100,000? I’m not sure) and the employee will have to pay 100% of their costs.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        Out of genuine curiosity, how do commuting benefits help senior staff more than others?

        1. Laura*

          I wonder if senior staff are more likely to live farther away and/or are more likely to drive to work. I.e. live in the suburbs and drive in. And therefore benefit from a policy that is based in distance travelled.
          Junior staff may be more likely to live within transit access and/or not own a car?
          I have no idea if that’s the case. Just what came to mind.
          I would love it if my job paid for my transit pass! That would be an amazing perk!

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            If the company reimburses all commuting costs then I think you might be right. Maybe the company pays for mileage and parking for people commuting via car, or pay for monthly transit pass for others who commute via mass transit. Lower paid people can’t afford a car so they can’t use the mileage/parking reimbursement, and have to take the transit pass.

            But I will say in my city it is actually cheaper to live in the suburbs, than to live in the city, to live close to work/CBD you have to be pretty high up.

            But even if senior/car staff get a bigger dollar amount help IE $250 a month in parking/mileage, and lower/transit users only get $125 monthly pass they still end up at the same level.

      3. grogu*

        why? i’m a low level admin and it’s awesome to not have to buy a metro card each month

      4. A*

        Interesting, this has been the opposite of my experience although I assume it’s regionally dependent. The majority of my employers have been in the heart of high COL metropolitan cities, and senior staff members are the only ones that can afford to live close to the office. Anyone making less than ~$150k/year was out in the ‘boondocks’ 1+ hour away by public transit (with a boat load of roommates).

        Only employer I had outside major cities was in an expensive suburb (average house cost of ~$2M) so it was the same deal.

        1. Slipping The Leash*

          Exactly. My office is in midtown Manhattan. I live in the boonies of southern Brooklyn. It’s an hour each way on the express bus at $6.25 per ride. Upper management are all a reasonable walk from the office, unless they choose to live in the high-end suburbs. They miss being in the office. I relish having my 2 hours back each day.

        2. Overeducated*

          This is my experience as well, at least for employees who have dependents and/or own homes. Younger renters without kids can often live closer because they are able to bring together multiple adults’ incomes to pay the rent, whether with a partner or roommates. (Whereas if you’re supporting 4 people on one average income or paying $2000/mo for childcare per kid while you both work, then you probably can’t afford to be close in regardless of whether you rent or buy.)

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      I agree commuter benefits should be standard! I’m in a major city and my company pays (or used to pay before we were all made remote) a good chunk of our monthly commuter pass and handled all the logistics with it so the new card showed up on your desk at the end of the month, it was a great benefit. If it isn’t standard, helping with the commute would be a great thing to offer people who have to come in.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        My company has 4 offices, 2 of them are in driving cities with free parking and no real public transit, the other two are commuter cities. We have asked for years for employee funded pre-tax commuter benefits (not even asking the company to pay, but to let us pay with pre-tax money) but have been denied. The main office has our CEO, and the other office has our second in command they are both in driving cities with free parking.

        I would at least offer employee funded commuter benefits.

    4. Lizy*

      eeeehhhhhh I disagree that everyone/everywhere should have commuting benefits. I live in the middle of nowhere, and literally everyone commutes. Finding a job in my small town of 700 was just not possible. I am VERY lucky in that my job is one town over, so just 10 miles away, but it’s still a “commute”.

      That being said, yes, I do agree that in major cities where parking is limited, and many people literally don’t even own a car, having a transportation benefit would be a good idea – like your company paying for the metrocard. I do think if that’s done, it needs to be equitable and not based on how long someone’s commute is. For example, offer everyone the metrocard, regardless of if they live in the city or not. It’s not the company’s decision where someone lives.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          @pancakes I think people are defining “commuter benefits” differently, I think some people think of commuter benefits as only providing a transit pass, rather a more general/broad definition of a benefit to help with driving/parking, public transit, or biking to work.

          1. pancakes*

            I don’t see how exactly that pertains to Lizy’s comment about not wanting to be offered any benefits toward her commute, nor to my question about why not.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              The reason is that it seems to me that Lizy may be thinking that commuter benefits means some kind of employer paid public transit pass and nothing else.

              “That being said, yes, I do agree that in major cities where parking is limited, and many people literally don’t even own a car, having a transportation benefit would be a good idea – like your company paying for the metrocard. ”

              If that is your definition of commuter benefits than I can understand why someone in a region that has no strong public transit system or where everyone drives can see it as a waste to offer a benefit that no one can use in this case a “metrocard.”

              I have seen places that offer pretax parking reimbursement, or bicycle maintenance reimbursement for people who do not use public transit.

              Putting it another way you offer Lizy a drink. In your mind a drink means water, juice, beer, wine, etc… But Lizy replies “no I don’t drink alcohol” because in her mind a drink means something alcoholic.

              That is what I was trying to explain, the reason Lizy may not want any commuter benefits is because she does not think of mileage reimbursement as an option.

              1. pancakes*

                This is a bit muddled, and it seems rude to assume that Lizy or anyone else can’t follow a straightforward question.

        2. Gumby*

          Do we really want to introduce “distance from the office since I’ll have to reimburse mileage” as a factor in hiring decisions? Will employers fire you if you move while working there and it is further away? Do you reimburse the same amount to employees with hybrid or electric cars? The idea sounds nice, but I can foresee all sorts of unintended downsides.

          1. pancakes*

            I’d think an employer as penny-pinching as that is unlikely to offer transit benefits to begin with. I’ve lived and worked in NYC for 24 years alongside people with all sorts of commutes, from people who walk a few blocks to people who take a combination of trains, buses, and ferries, sometimes from other states, and have not encountered these problems. The same TransitChek card I use to buy unlimited monthly metrocards can also be used to park a gas, diesel, or electric car, or buy a LIRR train ticket.

            1. Gumby*

              I was answering how mileage reimbursement might introduce some negatives. I’m not sure why we are now talking about parking and public transit passes. I think it is great when employers offer transit benefits – passes, parking, etc. But I don’t think anyone should be surprised if, at an employer that offered reimbursement specifically, there were some sub-optimal consequences. If Tabitha lives 5 miles from the office and Liz lives 20 miles away, that is almost $17 per day more that Liz would cost the company (using the current IRS mileage reimbursement of $0.56/mile). In deciding who gets the job offer, Tabitha has a sizable advantage (>$4000/year cheaper).

    5. it_guy*

      I contracted for a company several years ago that gave me a parking stipend since parking wasn’t free in the area I was working.

  4. Pink Sticky Note*

    I would not consider commute times in this–people accept jobs know where the job is located and where they live.

    That said, look at the function of the job and analyze if the job can be done from home without loss of productivity or service to your client(s). I have been working from home for a major engineering firm since 2014. There are times I am required to travel to the office (probably…10 times in the past few years?)

    My boss did not take into account my personal commute or preferences–I do not need to be in the office as all of the people I work with are in other time zones and we have been WebExing since long before the Before Times.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I don’t think commute times are relevant either – what if Prometheus’ commute was six seconds long because he lived next door? Unless the employer had some say in the locations of their housing (company provided or some such, which I assume is rarely a thing these days), the commute being an additional length of time out of the house is not the employer’s problem to accommodate. Persephone accepted the job knowing she had an hour-long commute; the fact that someone else in the company can work from home and therefore forego a commute at all isn’t even remotely relevant and the idea that she should somehow be compensated for choosing to live an hour away is weird.

      1. KHB*

        Not everyone is perfectly free to choose where they live and work to have an ideal commute – and how free you are may vary by demographic category.

        For example, what if Persephone and her partner Wakeen moved to the area for Wakeen’s (higher paying, higher stress) job, chose to get a home near Wakeen’s workplace for that reason, and left Persephone to get a job for herself wherever she could, which turned out to be an hour away?

        Or what if the office is located in an expensive, majority-white part of town, so that non-white and lower-paid employees are more likely to live farther away and have longer commutes?

        A long, stressful commute is one of the biggest drains on your mental well-being (and also one of the most underestimated, meaning it drains you more than you think it does). So while I don’t know what the answer is, I think it’s good that they’re looking into this.

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          How is this the employer’s responsibility? They have a job that needs to be done at a specific location. The employee can choose whether or not that location will work for them in their specific circumstances. As long as the employer is offering fair wages and good benefits, it is absolutely not their responsibility whether an employee has to commute because they moved for their partner’s work.

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            agree that it s not the employer’s responsibility. Also, What if Persephone has a longer commute because she chooses public transit. For example, I take the bus to work most days. It is about a 35 minute trip by bus but only 5 minutes by car (not including time to find a parking spot). I choose to take the bus for multiple reasons. The Employer shouldn’t factor in the choices of how the employees commute. Plus maybe they have a longer commute because they pick up their kids from school or daycare, or pick up their partner etc.

            1. Dan*

              Two things from me on this:

              1. On the transit side, we had one of our senior people extol the virtues of mass transit because “he gets lots of work stuff done sitting on the train.” Well ok, but at the time, only senior people got company issued phones, and our IT department wouldn’t let company email on personal phones. I would have happily checked my email and followed up on what I could sitting on the train. But as a grunt? No company phone = no company email. And no, I’m not busting out my laptop and writing code on the train.

              2. I actually have lots of flexibility in where I live. And given where our office is located, short commute = higher real estate prices, either renting or owning. Having a short commute but with the increased rent is my personal choice. I get commuting benefits aren’t unusual, but them peeps that live far out either have lower mortgages/cheaper rent or more space with a yard. It’s a choice.

              1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

                Exactly. People make choices about where to live because of their own personal calculation on the benefits and drawbacks. I chose to live 45 minutes from work because of many personal reasons (cost/lifestyle/space) and I don’t expect my employer to pay me more or give me an additional benefit because of that choice. On the other hand, my coworker chose to live 10 minutes from work and has what I consider drawbacks (cost/lifestyle/space) but to him the benefits outweigh those drawbacks and he wouldn’t expect additional compensation OR that I be awarded additional compensation based on our living choices.

                Of course, this is all said with the caveat that the employees are earning a living wage and have a real choice about their living and working environments. This doesn’t necessarily apply to those working in Manhattan making the minimum wage.

              2. KHB*

                But what if it’s not just your choice? Suppose that you and your partner have jobs on opposite sides of town – only one of you (at most) can have a short commute, but which one? Or suppose that you’re responsible for keeping an eye on elderly family members, so you need to live close to them.

                I’m actually in a situation similar to yours, and I made a similar choice: I chose a place to live with only myself to please, so I chose one with a short commute. But being in that situation is a privilege, and I wouldn’t especially mind if an employer wanted to be aware of that fact.

                1. I'm just here for the cats*

                  But it’s still not the employer’s fault that because of various reasons you live further away. They can be accommodating in other ways such as flexible with time for bad weather, etc.

                2. KHB*

                  @I’m just here: I’m afraid I don’t understand this argument. Many problems in the world aren’t the employer’s fault – but the employer might still reasonably want to counteract their effects. Systemic racism and sexism, for example, aren’t any one employer’s fault. But many employers nevertheless have diversity and inclusion initiatives.

                  Just to be clear, I’m not saying that employees with longer commutes should necessarily be compensated dollar-for-dollar or hour-for-hour for the money and time they spend commuting. As I said above, I don’t know what the solution is, and this does seem like a really tricky thing to handle fairly. But I also don’t think that sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling “not our fault, la la la” is automatically a fair solution either – especially if it turns out that the people with longer commutes tend to be the same ones who are also facing other barriers to career success.

                3. Equality fairy*

                  Actually you do still have a choice of a short commute. You can both choose to have short commutes by choosing to not live together.

          2. KHB*

            It’s not their “responsibility,” per se. But if women and people of color are underrepresented in the company’s ranks, the company may want to remedy that. And so it might be worth it for them to dig beneath the surface to identify factors that make it easier for white men to excel in their jobs and harder for everyone else.

          3. pancakes*

            Many jobs in very high cost of living locations don’t need to be done from those specific locations, though. There’s no good reason someone who works remotely as a copywriter for a tech company in San Francisco or magazine in NYC, for example, should have to live in either of those cities. If their own employer can’t be bothered to put some thought into the wisdom of requiring them to who should? Or will?

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Ha! In my last two jobs the COMPANY moved after I accepted the job (didn’t tell me that it was even a consideration during the interview processes). In both cases this resulted in a considerably longer commute and in one case a large additional personal expense to park.

        I would never had taken the job if I’d know of these locations. But the employers just shrug and say Nope, not our responsibility.

        1. allathian*

          Ouch, that’s just bad luck… How long did you stay at these jobs? Did you tell them when you left that the inconvenient commute was one reason for leaving?

      3. Esmeralda*

        Agreed. When we bought our house, we had a choice. For the same money, we could live close to work in a small old house, or we could commute 45 or more minutes and live in a new house two or three times that size.
        We picked a small house within walking distance of work.

        Not everyone has that choice, I do recognize that, but often people do have some choice about commute times, size of housing, cost of housing, and so on.

      4. GEE*

        I agree, work from home existed before COVID, it’s not some brand new perk people didn’t know about. I think many people are thinking of areas like CA or NYC where people are forced to live far away from where they work, but that isn’t the norm. Companies should be paying wages that reflect the cost of living around them so people don’t have to live 1.5 hrs away, not adding complex commuting perks. I have lived and worked both in and out of the largest city in my state and there are comparable rents in and out of the city (it actually seemed more expensive in the rural areas because there are less options). I can see different wages for WFH vs in-office, but I don’t think companies need to factor in commute.

    2. Retro*

      I agree with Pink Sticky Note that you should look at the job function and decide whether the jobs can be done from home. Where people decide to live can depend on a lot of factors and it’s impossible to quantify their burden on an employee.

      It’s important to be very cognizant to not overburden an employee who lives close by putting them on more on-call duties or expecting them to always open the office. If two employees have equal duties, they should be coming (or not coming) into the office an equal amount of time and have equal expectation of coming into the office. Though in reality, this might differ a little. The Closer To Work Employee may volunteer to go into the office to promptly respond to an emergency because she can practically get to the office sooner. In turn, Farther From Work Employee would volunteer to get started on the emergency paperwork/documentation, alerting other employees, other things that she can do virtually to share the burden with Close to Work Employee.

  5. WellRed*

    Eh, there will always be people with longer commutes. That’s not the employer’s job to fix.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Several years back my job was a minimum 45 minute drive. The only accommodations I expected were a little flexibility on arrival time and the ability to leave early and WFH if there was snow/bad weather coming, and that was pretty standard for all employees. As long as a workplace is flexible about those sorts of things in general, I don’t think they owe anything extra for a long commute.

      1. Buffalo Gal*

        “Snow Days” or other weather days that don’t count against PTO for employees who can’t work from home (or who can’t regularly work from home) as well as the ability to leave early or come in late in response to developing weather issues seems to me to be a good post-COVID benefit. As well as, as much as possible, flexible start & end times and grace in a few minutes early/late. Those are the kinds of things that will grate a lot on employees who have to be in the office when others don’t.

        1. TiffIf*

          The don’t punish people who have to work in the office for not being able to get to the office in inclement weather I think is the best suggestion I have heard so far.

          1. A Genuine Scientician*


            It’s not only just eminently sensible, it’s also something that isn’t just a convoluted way of giving extra money to some but only some people based on their life circumstances. A whole lot of these suggestions — particularly the ones about paying people for their regular transit — seem like they could be even more fairly dealt with via “instead, spend that money just raising people’s pay and let them figure out how they want to spend it”.

    2. kittymommy*

      I think this is where I land as well. I don’t really see how this issue is any different during Covid as it was pre-Covid. If not community equity was offered then, why do it now?

    3. Antilles*

      Agreed. It’s not really the employer’s job to fix commutes.
      That said, it’s worth taking a long look at whether the on-site employees really need to be on-site, whether tasks can be coordinated so on-site work is only required a couple days per week, etc.
      Also, as much as possible, you should be a little more flexible for the employees who are in the office in terms of leaving early/arriving late, modifying hours on occasion for a dentist appointment or whatever, and things of that nature.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Hell, if we’re looking at real estate, do these companies need to be where THEY are? People talk about the cost and availability of property in high COL cities, but why should a magazine be paying $$$$$ for their office in NYC or San Francisco, when they could just as easily relocate to Iowa or Kentucky for a fraction of that cost? Companies get invested (literally) in their brand and image of being located in a certain place, but is it genuinely necessary in the 21st century? Maybe in 1990, it made sense to put all the investment banks near Wall Street because that’s where the exchanges are, but that’s no longer a requirement. Why not put them in Omaha with Warren Buffett?

        If we’re reimagining what office work looks like post-2020, then we should be willing to think even farther outside the box than just “employees do/don’t have to be on-site”.

    4. hbc*

      Yeah, there are only two ways I’ve ever seen commute time taken into account:

      1) More (but informal) flexibility around things like punctuality and not having to drive back to the office for the last hour of the day after an offsite for the people who have long commutes.

      2) The people who live closest deal with the random little annoyances at work during off hours. “Need a weight on the skid so customer can arrange shipping tonight and have it out the door in time, can anyone help?” I’ve been the distant person and the close person and never seen anyone have to do the 1.5hr round trip when someone else can do it in 10 minutes.

  6. Boof*

    I’m not sure you can/should try to compensate for commute, there’s so many messy variables there and I think it’s going to be impossible to come up with a system everyone feels is “fair”. The closest I can think of is having some kind of employee pool for in person shifts that can be used/donated – and if it’s hard to get people to sign up for the in person shifts, start adding incentives (some kind of extra pay, maybe) until they are all filled.

    1. Postdoc*

      Yes. There has always been inequality in commute times. I say this as someone who has both working within walking distance to work and 1.5 hours away. In both cases it way my choice and not my employer’s problem to solve. Also, working from home isn’t inherently superior for everyone. It can mean having to give up some personal space for office space, higher electrical bills and a harder time switching between work mode and home mode.

      The best thing you can do is make sure you are focused on actual job requirements (so someone whose boss is a buts in seat type of person isn’t forcing people into the office when they don’t have to be) and make sure that you are holding everyone to the same standard. Don’t allow more flexible hours from home than in the office, don’t expect people working from home to be constantly on call because they only have a 6 second commute, ect. It will never be equal. Try to be fair.

    1. Roscoe*

      So my company used to do this. They’d have team lunches every Friday. So in order to make up for that, they just started giving everyone a lunch stipend each week which you’d get reimbursed for. So the people in the office can still do their team lunches, but the people who work from home get to spend that on their own lunch. Seems to work well.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        That’s nice but as long as it was come pick up your food at noon type of thing and not a let’s all sit down together and have lunch and talk about ourselves. I’m an introvert and I like to take my lunches by myself to recharge. I like to read or take a walk things like that. If you made me eat every week with my coworkers during my lunchtime (which is my off-the-clock time) I would not find this appreciative at all.

    2. TooTiredToThink*

      Oh, I like this (to a degree). I’m with the others that are saying that subsidizing commutes isn’t helpful for a host of reasons. I can think of some cons for paying for lunch too, but it would be worth investigating.

    3. Harper the Other One*

      I like this idea! Some sort of lunch allowance would be a real treat/perk for me.

    4. Bluesboy*

      I have luncheon vouchers, worth €6.50 per day, as long as I’m not working from home.

      They can be used in about 25% of the restaurants in my city, and also in supermarkets. I can’t get lunch for €6.50 (except McDonalds), but I can for around €7.50 so they probably make the cost of lunch comparable to someone who works from home eating supermarket food.

      I actually tend to bring in a packed lunch and just use them at the supermarket so they’re very handy. The only real disadvantage I can think of in this specific period is that it actually encourages me to come into the office to qualify to get them…in a pandemic…but that isn’t really the fault of the company. They are legally obliged to provide them to full-time workers, and already provided them before the pandemic started.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I think that only encourages a few kinds of people to go into work if they don’t have to during the pandemic:

        1) people who already might not be taking this so seriously and are not really careful at all, in their case they might have gone into the office anyway

        2) people who can work from home, but might not make enough money that this extra food stipend is a way to help pay for food,

        I think most people who are taking the pandemic seriously, make enough to support themselves and are being cautious are not going to be convinced by 6.50 to go into the office.

        1. Bluesboy*

          To be clear, I don’t go into the office for the vouchers. But €6.50 a day for 22 days a month is €143, tax free. I am aware of lower level employees for whom that makes a HUGE difference. These obviously fit into your second option, but I think it’s important.

          The voucher is the same for all levels, so the CEO gets the same €6.50 as the intern. The only people who don’t get them are those who work 20 hours a week or less (the assumption being that they will eat either before or after work at home).

      2. AnonToday*

        I’ve never heard of that but am intrigued! How exactly does it work for supermarkets? Can you only use one per day or can you save them up and use them to pay your supermarket bill in bulk? Can you spend it on anything or can you only use it on premade stuff like sandwiches, sushi, salad bar, etc.?

        I ask because, as a celiac, eating out/catering and risking cross contamination isn’t worth it. So lunch perks usually aren’t a benefit for me, but this seems like a better system!

        1. raktajino*

          not the poster but my employer does “turkey vouchers” at Thanksgiving: they’re just a gift certificate for a certain amount, valid at any grocery store on their long list. You can spend it on any food, not just turkeys, and I’ve never run into issues of “eligible purchases” like I would for food stamps. I suspect luncheon vouchers are similar: the gift certificate program partners with popular chains.

        2. Bluesboy*

          You can use them in supermarkets for anything that might be appropriate for lunch – so no cleaning products or spirits (I found that out when I tried to use them to buy a bottle of whisky!). But you can use them for anything that you could use also to MAKE lunch, so a 1kg bag of rice for example is fine. To be honest, any food product at all.

          Maximum of €40 per transaction. So what I tend to do (I get them on the first of the month) is have lunch however I want (sometimes using them, sometimes having a packed lunch, whatever) and whatever I have left at the end of the month (normally about €80 or so) I use the next two times I go to the supermarket to cut my bill. Sometimes when we fancy a takeaway I go to the pizzeria down the road which takes them and pick up a few pizzas with them.

          I think it’s the best way to pay for lunch, given that it avoids any issues with allergies or intolerances etc, but of course it depends on your city being set up for it (or your employer being big enough to negotiate its own deals with local shops and restaurants).

        3. Ponytail*

          Luncheon vouchers in the UK were a thing but I never got to receive them. They could be used in any shop that had the sign in the window. I mean, it’s possible that they’re still in use now, but I’ve never seen them offered as a perk.
          The ones in France were a bit more flexible and as far as I remember, were able to be used in supermarkets, and yes, you could use more than one at a time, IIRC.

          Both had a value, so presumably you got that value taken off your bill and paid any extra. The UK ones didn’t allow for change being given back.

        1. Bluesboy*

          Italy! We have so many benefits here that it actually makes me worry about the poor companies that employ us…

    5. Emilitron*

      Or if not specifically lunch, some other perk to being onsite (coffee, stash of sodas/snacks) to offset the extra burden of having to put on shoes and sit in the car for N minutes. But not trying to specifically compensate for the commute, just making sure there are plusses as well as minuses when you do come into the office.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        My household coffee budget had definitely increased. Work provides/provided coffee when we were in person, I would make a cup of coffee everyday from the work stash. Even when it ran out there was always another bag. Now I go through a bag of coffee a week at home.

        I would be curious to analyze my utility bills for the past year March 20 to March 21 and compare them to March 19 to March 20 and see how they differ, I think it would be hard to have a true comparison, because besides working from home, we are also home more generally at night so that also adds to the expense. But compared to the $1,260 I saved on a transit pass I wonder how much my other household expenses went up due to work.

        1. Esmeralda*

          Yes, our electric bill is up, gas bill too (have to keep the house warmer during the day).

    6. I edit everything*

      I was thinking something similar–if not lunch, then freely available snacks & beverages. Fresh fruit, coffee better than the been-sitting-in-the-pot-for-an-hour-and-no-one-makes-new variety, a decent variety of teas, energy bars, bagels, etc.

    7. Rayray*

      My company was doing this over the summer. I got a new job and just happened to be the one department that needed to work in person. They had food trucks here three times a week and three comped our meals, it was a wonderful perk.

      They’ve phased some people back in so that perk stopped, but I do wish we had some sort of benefit since we really can’t WFH. We have flexible scheduling but still have to work M-F. I’m working up the courage to ask if we can have more flexibility so that we have the option to work longer four days a week and have one half day.

    8. Orange You Glad*

      I like this. It could be a well-stocked employee kitchen with snacks/drinks available all day.
      A few years ago when my company started allowing for more flexible schedules and remote work they started offering breakfast every Friday as a perk for those that came into the office that day since Fridays were most likely to be used for work from home.

    9. OP here*

      This is great. Thank you. Our kitchen areas were minimally stocked before and we had a pretty solid “I made too many cookies/empanadas/etc, please eat them!” culture before so expanding the matter of course offerings sounds like a good idea.

      1. A*

        My office has kept this going throughout the pandemic by making the vending machines free to employees – so they don’t have to worry about keeping it stocked, and everything is pre-packaged / COVID friendly.

      2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        My husband’s work has done this – they got rid of the vending services to cut down on the number of non-essential people in the building, but instead they go to Costco and get a whole array of snacks and drinks that is left in multiple common areas.

      3. Glitsy Gus*

        Yeah, I agree that this kind of thing is what makes coming into the office appealing, rather than focusing on things like commute.

        If the office is a pleasant place to be, and there are ‘treats’ like lunch on occasion that really does make people feel good. If you can have a quiet room with comfy seats, or if you could put a massage chair in an empty office, something like that so people can have a place to be alone and quiet for 10 minutes if they need it, little things like that. Basically, not trying to compensate, really, but more of a “thanks for making the effort to come in, let’s try to make your time here productive AND comfortable” that can really go a long way.

    10. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I don’t understand what issue this is alleviating. Remote employees need to eat lunch too, and just because they can cook doesn’t make groceries suddenly free. I think the employer should make sure to have a reasonably equipped kitchen (fridge, microwave, possibly dishes) so staff can bring leftovers from home but it is absolutely not reasonable to provide an additional financial benefit to working in the office, unless they are actively trying to recruit people to work in the office (in which case just make the decision that certain roles are onsite!)

      1. iliketoknit*

        For many people I’ve spoken with, being able to make lunch out of their stocked pantry with access to their own kitchen for cooking is a huge perk of WFH that you don’t get in-office. There’s also nothing in the original letter that suggest people are going to be forbidden from working in the office if they prefer to do that (just that some jobs can’t be done freom home), so people could work from the office to get the free lunch if that’s more motivating to them. In any case, free lunch is no more of a financial benefit than extra PTO, which others have suggested as well.

        1. Autistic AF*

          Yep, I meal prep hardcore and it’s much easier to pull something out of the fridge than it is to pack a lunch bag and haul it to work on the bus.

      2. Cascadia*

        It’s also a money thing! My husband getting lunch downtown every day costs about $10/meal, so about $200 or so a month. We’re definitely NOT paying that much in lunch costs for him to eat at home. It’s not nothing but it’s significantly cheaper.

      3. KAZ2Y5*

        OP’s letter was about what benefits they could give to employees having to go in to work to compensate (in some way) for the fact that they don’t get the benefit of working from home. As someone who does have to go in to work, I love it everytime my employer provides a lunch, snacks, etc. Although I would love to work from home, my position is not one that would allow it, so it’s nice to get perks just for us sometimes.

    11. Anonys*

      Lunch in my office isn’t free but we have a really great subsidized canteen with proper, freshly prepared meals and many options and great prizes – It’s one of the main reasons I’m looking forward to FINALLY going back to the office (hopefully sometimes this summer) as feeding myself while working from home while not spending 100s on takeout is a real struggle

    12. Lizy*

      Yep. People love food.

      OldJob at a CPA firm would have heavy snacks (bordering on the “actual meal” type of snacks) in the office for the entirety of tax season, specifically because they knew people couldn’t get away from the office for lunch, or even dinner sometimes. They also had monthly lunches. It may have been weekly during tax season – I can’t remember. People were not required to stay and mingle – it was presented as “grab and go” and was very relaxed in that way.

      I’d take that over a commute stipend any day.

    13. Rach*

      My work (very large company) has a cafe and is providing everyone 2 meals a day for free. Contractors get 2 meals for $1 each meal. We have always gotten free fruit and unlimited drinks (soda, tea, coffee, flavored water) but food was market rate cafeteria food. Anyway, it is a nice perk for endangering our safety every week and has the added benefit of people not leaving site for lunch.

  7. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Fair doesn’t mean the same. It means that everyone has access to whatever they need. Some people prefer working from home. Some prefer working on site. Some cannot work from home. Some people live close to work. Some live further away. Everyone makes choices and I don’t think it’s on an employer to make decisions based on those things.

    1. Name Required*

      Agree with this. I think looking at this with a perspective of “fairness” isn’t very helpful, since that seems to come with a context of what is “just” versus “injust.” Most companies, unless justice is part of their mission statement, aren’t offering perks to resolve for what’s unjust. They are offering perks to retain talent. Looking purely at the question of, “What would make our in-office employees recommend us a place to work?” instead of saying, “What can we do to make in-office employees resent work-from-home employees less?” might be a more productive lens.

      1. Dan*

        Yeah. I posted this above, but as someone with a job function (computer programmer) that can generally be done from home, an employer who says “all staff must work on site due to equity considerations” is going to be at a competitive disadvantage for my skill set. I mean, I don’t care *why* you want me to work on site, but you’ll either have to pay extra for the inconvenience, or I’ll find a job that lets me WFH.

        1. Name Required*

          For sure. It’s weird to me that this conversation often sounds like people expect employers to apologize for needing to meet their business needs when those business needs require some employees to work in office. The CEO’s executive assistant probably needs to be in office. The engineer who makes the company’s product probably doesn’t have to be. Good engineers and good executive assistants know the realities of their positions, so make them competitive through equitable pay, good management, a pleasant and fair work environment. If that already exists in the company and in the company’s competitors, then introduce competitive perks based on feedback from employees. But trying to tit for tat the difference between work from home and in office position is going to get you no where, and leave the real problems unresolved.

          1. Rach*

            It is odd to me people think it is odd employers should be grateful to their employees and want to thank them for being in person during these trying times. As an engineer who is now back on site to help the techs who were never able to WFH like almost all of the engineers, my employer is doing a lot to thank their on-site employees (and even contractors) in particular. Because we are in a pandemic and these are unprecedented times. If OP wants to add commuter benefits, that’s great and doesn’t take from WFH people at all.

            1. Name Required*

              OP asks about “a set of policies to allow for remote work long-term”. I don’t find it odd at all that employers are thanking those who are risking their health right now.

              Working on-site right now totally sucks. When this pandemic is over, if you’ve only looked at how to make on-site employees lives better and make your entire policy based off of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, you’ll lose good employees who have jobs suitable to working from home when they are excluded. You’re right, if OP’s company wants to add commuter benefits, it doesn’t take away from WFH employees. But we shouldn’t be talking about “taking away” from WFH at all. OP’s company can and should ask about how to make their workspace competitive and supportive for all employees long-term, AND can be appreciative and thankful of the extra burden for on-site employees right now.

            2. Pescadero*

              It is odd to me people think either side should be grateful.

              This is a business transaction, not a personal reflection session.

              Be grateful, ungrateful, whatever – just COMPENSATE ME appropriately.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      Exactly! I was trying to get to this in a post down below but my words weren’t coming outright. The only time it would be unfair would be if say you had Prometheus and Persophene doing the same exact job, both great workers with no PIP or productivity problems. It’s only not fair if you allowed Prometheus to work from home but refused to allow Persophoney.

    3. Anonys*

      Yes, I agree.

      I think the main thing the employer should do it be really open with their employees and any new hires about how much they will be expected to be in the office for their particular job, so that everyone has all the information.

      I mean, jobs are just different. That’s why different people do them. For example, when I started my current role, I knew that it would involve working late nights semi frequently. My manager was upfront about that from the get go and there are other elements I really like about this work – so I’m not resentful of the people who can leave at 6pm every day.

    4. DrSalty*

      Yeah agreed. Not to mention the logistics and expense of commuting varies wildly geographically to the point where most of the advice in this thread about it is not generalizable.

  8. Also Amy Santiago*

    Here are a few other things to add to the mix. Workers who commute will also need to pay for parking, which can be quite expensive. It’s also more difficult to come in to work when allergies are acting up. There’s a lot of sensitivity around possibly covid symptoms, but those really minor symptoms can easily be dealt with when working remotely, not so much at home.

    1. Thursdaysgeek*

      And people who work from home need to pay for reliable internet, have a decent chair, etc.

      There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and they vary depending on the person.

      1. Rach*

        And companies should pay for those things, mine did when we became WFH because of the pandemic.

  9. PromotionalKittenBasket*

    It’s really about making sure each situation has perks that generally add up to a good thing. It’s smart for a company to provide paid parking or commuter benefits to those who work in-office, as well as quality snacks and beverages that meet most dietary needs. It’s also important to provide social activities that enhance working at the office–treats on a birthday or anniversary, face-time with hire ups, onsite happy hours and lunches, fitness classes, dry cleaning pickup and dropoff, etc at whatever frequency makes sense for the company. Also making sure that there’s access to things you would have at home, like safety pins, an eyeglass kit, hair ties, tide pens, stamps… That makes things like a commute, not being able to do laundry, wearing pants, etc, feel less burdensome. You do have to be thoughtful about creating social activities that include all employees (remote and on-site) at regular intervals, but thinking about what makes life a little easier and providing it is really helpful for creating parity.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      With social activities, you really need to make sure you have those for the offsite people as well, or else they start to exclude anyone who works from home. (Note this was in an office that had ~25% WFH before the pandemic) the remote people started to feel like they didn’t exist.

      1. pbnj*

        My company only gave a lunch for meeting safety targets and a holiday lunch to folks who work on site. I know money is tight at the company, but a token gift card to starbucks or something would have been nice to show appreciation.

      2. A*

        Agreed. My employer has a lot of remote employees scattered across the US, and (pre-COVID) when we would have catered meals at the headquarters they would authorize all remote employees to expense $X amount of food that they could order for delivery. So everyone got something!

    2. OP here*

      We’d implemented some of these before in a general employee benefit sense and presumably will resume them in the After. I’m adding the ones we didn’t have to my list! Thanks!

    3. BSS*

      Face time with the higher-ups is a huge benefit to working on site, in my experience.

      If I were working remotely, my interactions with the owner/president would be limited to a few brief messages per week. But since we work on site together, I get to enjoy regular watercooler conversations with him (both work related and not). If I’m at a workbench with a piece of equipment disassembled, he’ll almost always stop by to check it out. It’s hard to quantify, but I’m sure that’s had a positive effect on my career advancement.

    4. RussianInTexas*

      Why should my company provide me with hair ties, safety pins, or tide pens, or stamps, unless they are directly required for my work? Or dry clean my clothes? My clothes being clean is my problem, not my employer.
      Also, ability to do laundry or not wearing pants are perks for WFH, not a baseline expectation of employment.
      Also, I know this is my personality, and not everyone is like me, but I 100% do not want or need onsite or online happy hours or fitness classes. But I know people do like them, so whatever, as long as you don’t make me join.

      1. PromotionalKittenBasket*

        That’s the idea! These are all things are opt-in, and should be on top of competitive compensation, excellent benefits, ample vacation and sick time, and a healthy company culture. Certainly the little things like hair ties or safety pins aren’t necessary or the company’s problem, but they make the day go a little more smoothly. They’re available for those in need, and not in the way for those who aren’t.

        And definitely not everyone wants social company activities, but those who do really appreciate them. Truly, life is a rich tapestry.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          I still don’t understand why my employer should be supplying my personal items like hair ties. What is next? Deodorant? Makeup? Shampoo? Hair brush? Why??? Those all are not things that employer needs/should supply, unless you work in say, hair tie factory.
          If you work from home, you use your own hair tie, you can use your own hair tie when you work from the office. It isn’t some kind of unfairness for WFH vs work in the office.
          Employer needs to supply things that are work-related, like office supplies, equipment, furniture, etc. May be some snacks or something, coffee. Personal items? Whatever for?

          1. Rach*

            My work provides a sanitary products in the bathrooms and has an on-site clinic that provides OTC medication and bandaids. I’m actually kind of surprised they don’t provide hair ties for when you go in the clean room. Anyway, she was just offering suggestions, not saying employers *have* to provide those.

          2. Jennie*

            And the point is that one of the ‘perks’ of working from home is that you’re always close to your own stash of stamps, pins, etc. if you need them. You don’t need to plan ahead.

            I’m speaking as someone with a ‘normal office job’ that I was surprised to learn can 100% be done from home (the ‘flipping the coin’ thing some people have talked about, it’s just luck my job is wfh friendly when some of my colleagues with similar roles do have to go in). The idea of going back to an office where I have to keep all my personal items in a tiny locker including any stamps, tide pens, hair ties, etc. because we don’t have assigned desks, and where I can’t keep my go-t0 snack of string cheese around because they clean out the fridge at the end of every week….. sounds WAY worse than working from home.

            Especially if the economy’s recovering, it might lead me to look for another job where I didn’t have to come in. I wouldn’t blame my colleagues for doing so. On the other hand, if my office took care of those little comfort items? Literally, if I knew they’d always have stamps and string cheese, if the good coffee was free instead of $3? I’d feel differently! It’s relatively cheap (I do not even use 1 stamp/day on average) and would make a big impact on my day to day happiness as a worker.

  10. CmdrShepard4ever*

    I don’t have any good suggestions, but on the commute issue I don’t think there is any good solution. Commutes have always varied. In my office when we were working in the office peoples commutes were from 25 minutes, to 1.5 hours. For people that have to work in the office, if you can provide a flexible schedule to allow them to avoid major traffic/transit times that would be good.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I like the flexible schedule idea for those who have to come in. I’d also suggest maybe getting some good food and drink (safely!) in for them too.

    2. Nunya*

      I was going to suggest something similar. If the work cannot be done at home and can only be performed in-person, could the company consider adjusting shift hours to off-peak/off-rush hour times? It doesn’t change the distance of the commute, but it can save a lot of travel time.

      1. Nonny*

        I came here to say the exact same thing. In my last job, my commute ended up doubling once we moved to a different/nearby city that was more of a halfway point for mine and my spouse’s job. One of the best things that my boss did for me was to let me adjust my start/end times to accommodate for rush hour traffic. Being able to come in at 7 and leave at 4 to avoid the worst of it made a HUGE impact on the time it took me to get home in the evenings.

  11. Hmm*

    As someone who’s working from home when much of my team is not, I think there are already many, many benefits to working in person. You’re more likely to be included in informal discussions, which makes it easier to learn about the organization, pick up skills and useful knowledge, and be given more interesting projects. I would gladly commute to a nearby office to have those benefits. Working in-person is also a big boost to motivation, because bouncing ideas off of someone is so much easier, so that you don’t spend too much time going down a dead end. Focusing on elements like commute time, which can make a huge difference to personal health but which also depend on individual employee’s decisions, seems much shallower than the discussions about how to have knowledge and team spirit work properly with a team that’s partly remote and partly not.

    1. Threeve*

      I think it’s hard because a lot of it is apples and oranges, and you describe it really well.

      A lot of the benefits of telework go to your personal life; benefits of working in the office are usually more professional.

      Grass-is-greener thinking is inevitable. At some point, I think management has to land on “we do our best to give everyone a successful working environment, but ultimately it is what it is.”

  12. juliebulie*

    For people who work full time at home (no office to go to), my employer made a one-time offer of some very good ergonomic office furniture.

    However, we supply our own printers, ink/toner, paper, office supplies, high-speed internet, and heat. (And coffee.) It’s probably still cheaper than the cost of gas, but I really miss the printer we had in the office.

    1. OP here*

      We did something similar at the beginning with supplies but also have a utility stipend. I don’t know what the status of that will be for the long-term strategy.

    2. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      Lucky you. We’ve had zero offers of anything from our employer, not even one single inquiry im the past year as to “do you have what you need to do your job successfully? Computer, internet, a space to work?” Not one word, which has really shown the true colors of people.

      1. Equality fairy*

        My workplace used to have a destroyed safety audit e we had to do to do any work from home. The moment Covid lockdowns came I was required to do the new audit – all requirements were removed.

        I encouraged colleagues to take home office equipment using a better to seek forgiveness approach because many were risking injuries working without proper desks / monitors etc. eventually work caught up and sanctioned such things. When it came to having to work half and half though – that was no longer practical (low covid region)

  13. Also Amy Santiago*

    It’s particularly difficult in our case, because there are workers in the same job classification who may have entirely different requirements for working on site. Some may be able to do their jobs completely remotely, while others can only do their jobs on site.

  14. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Situations during plague time have to have a different degree of flexibility than otherwise. Ordinarily I wouldn’t factor in someone’s commute to work in decisions like that.

    But…travel at the moment has risks. Risks of catching and/or spreading a deadly virus. So I’m more inclined to try and do everything to keep people from doing long commutes to work if it’s at all possible for their work to be done at home or partly from home.

    I’d say those who have to be at the workplace to do their jobs: make every effort to keep the workplace as safe from infection as possible (masks, distance, sanitation etc). Those who can do their jobs from home should.

    The in between types? I’d do that on a case by case basis. Factor in things like exactly how much of their job can be done remotely and for how long? Are they doing a long risky commute? Do they have high risk people to look after? Would they be happier coming into the office if you made safety improvements?

    Basically during these times there are few hard and fast rules and there’s no way to make everyone happy or for it to feel fair across the board. Do your best is all I can advise.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      However, I do think that paying people for their commute time is…not a good solution. That’s really a personal choice. And I say this as a high risk person with a long drive for the days I absolutely have to be in the office (on site IT can’t always be done remotely).

  15. Rox*

    You can’t really compensate based on distance or time in a commute since the company does not control where people chose to live. But you can buy lunch occasionally for those that do come into the office. You could simply allow them to expense a meal up to a certain dollar value every 2 weeks.

    1. KateM*

      It would not be fair to punish people who decided to buy/rent a more expensive home so as to have shorter commute.

      1. Aquawoman*

        How are they being punished? If someone decided to rent a more expensive home to get a shorter commute, they got a shorter commute. They got what they paid for.

        There are plenty of people who can’t afford a short commute because the housing prices are too high. Their higher commuting costs are a poverty tax.

      2. Lisa*

        So your thinking here is that you have an expensive home and a short commute, which you decided you wanted, but if someone else gets a commuter subsidy that harms you? So much that you are being “punished”, as if for bad behavior?

        If you wanted the commuter benefit, you could make the decision to move farther away to get it, so you still have the choice to get the outcome you want.

        Other people getting things doesn’t hurt you. And using the word “punish” is absurd. What you seem to mean is, “I would be jealous,” and instead of assessing the appropriateness of that reaction, you ran with it.

        1. HR Exec Popping In*

          But the logic applies to people working from home vs. people working in the office. This whole post is about giving something to people who come into the office because people work from home get something they don’t – no commuting.

  16. Roscoe*

    I work for a company that has always been distributed. We had 3 offices that accounted for maybe half the staff, and the other staff worked from home.

    I’m in one of the offices (at least in normal times). I never thought there needed to be an “equity” piece, because there are just natural differences. For example, I have lunch with the CEO often, which is something people in other states don’t. But, I have to commute. I get free coffee and snacks in the office, but they can work in their PJs and do laundry during the day. People in the office may end up having more camrederie with each other that people who choose to work from home miss out on, but those people get to play with their dog all day.

    I think equity is great, but I think sometimes people go a bit too far in trying to achieve it. Because there are just going to be differences in how these things work.

    1. Isabel Archer*

      I agree that there’s no way to make this equal in an apples-to-apples way. I also agree with the other commenters about people knowing the commute when they take the job. (Sidebar for pet peeve: people who, when reviewing an employer on Indeed or Glassdoor, list “the commute” as a “Con.” YOUR COMMUTE IS AN INDIVIDUAL CONCERN THAT IS IRRELEVANT TO WHAT WORKING FOR THE EMPLOYER IS LIKE. OK, thanks for letting me get that off my chest.)

      I do think that those who work from home will always have the better deal. Play with the dog for a few minutes after a stressful conference call. Do a yoga video at lunch. Put in a load of laundry. Take an important call from your doctor. This is work-life balance in action. The people who must work at the employer’s location and commute an hour or more each day can’t do anything else with that precious time except sit in their cars. OK, sure, you can listen to music or podcasts, or call a friend. But you can’t play with your pet, exercise, or get ahead of any household chores. And you sure as heck aren’t getting paid by your employer for that time, but this is also part of the apples-to-apples shortcoming. If my employer gave me the choice of coming into the office and being paid my hourly rate for my commuting time, or working from home, I’d pick WFH all day, hands down, no contest. It’s not about money. It’s about time and freedom, neither of which you can put a price on.

    2. Lizy*


      My coworker has a much longer commute than I do, but she’s around lots of other higher-ups and decision-makers and thus has more ear-time than I do. She also gets to partake in food perks like if there’s a meeting and donuts or lunch or whatever. I’d probably be really jealous if I knew how often she gets free lunch.

      But – my commute is probably at least half of hers, if not more, and most of the time I get to sit around by myself and can have the office temp be whatever I want and play music from my computer so… there’s perks, there, too.

  17. Littorally*

    One of the things my firm has been doing during the pandemic, which I will profoundly miss once we’re back to normal, is that the skeleton crew working in the office gets catered breakfast and lunch. They’re brought in from a nearby restaurant so it’s supporting a local business, and even if it isn’t pricey stuff it’s a boon for us still in the office. Breakfast is omlettes, lunch is salads and sandwiches.

    Perks like that can’t financially offset the cost of commuting for everyone. I think it might be better to think that working from home and working from the office — in the After times once working in the office no longer has potentially life-threatening consequences — can have different perks and benefits for different people. They don’t need to necessarily square out financially, but people can choose what matters more to them.

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        Except people can’t choose. If your job must be done in house, it must be done in house–and it’s not like you can say “Hey, I want WFH.” It’s not like the person stocking shelves or doing reception can do it from home. So pay them well, give them more PTO than the WFH people, and see what perks they can get like lunches/snacks, etc.

  18. Excel Jedi*

    The one place where I would be conscious of equity re: commute is in regards to commuting in bad weather.

    It’s not fair to let some people work from home in bad weather, but not compensate those who can’t make it in if their job requires being in the office. Be generous with inclement weather days for those who do need to come in. (Within reason – if your office is located in a city with good road cleanup services, but some of your employees are coming in from homes up in the rural mountains outside of the city, some of that is on them, too.)

    1. OceanDiva*

      I’ve also had this experience before, where the decision makers (who also happen to be significantly better paid) on bad weather office closings all lived on the transit line ($$) while others lived much further. After being stranded with my colleague once, at our train stop in a blizzard, bc the busses couldn’t run any more (we both lived a few miles off the transit line), I asked to make my own decisions when to go home.

    2. Aims*

      This was a big issue in my workplace last year. Those working from home never had to use sick days, vacation days for bad snow, and many worked from cabins/semi-local vacay spots at different times. Those in office were very upset at this and it was not handled well by management.

      I’m with a new employer now who has given additional sick days to those working in office which can be used for bad weather as well, and has a policy that work from home must be from your primary residence within our region (VPN access tied to location can be used to verify) unless explicit permission from senior management has been given for an exception. In my 2 months at this employer no one has had any complain about the arrangement in tis regard.

      1. A Genuine Scientician*

        I have to be honest, this sounds like sour grapes to me.

        If Jane can work from home, and happens to be working from a cabin today? Well, if her job can be done remotely, she’s able to get it done there, and she’s reachable by colleagues, why on Earth should I care that she’s at a cabin rather than her primary residence? Mandating that she only ever work from one particular location if she’s able to work remotely would make me concerned that the organization was focused on the wrong things. I likely wouldn’t complain about it to my coworkers — the fact that you haven’t heard anyone complain in no way means no one is upset by something — but it would absolutely bother me, and make me think about job hunting to find a place that cared more about results than where someone was physically.

  19. DoubleE*

    Something else to consider: working from home sounds like a perk to many people, but it’s not better for everyone. There are people who don’t like working at home or don’t work as well from home for a variety of reasons, and some of those reasons may fall into legally protected categories. For example, a person with ADHD who struggles to stay focused in a virtual meeting, but does better with an in person one.

    1. Not Me*

      This is a very good point I think a lot of employers are missing when considering WFH policies. It’s not a benefit to everyone.

      1. pancakes*

        To many of us it is, though. People who prefer to work in the office should ask their employers if they can do so rather than try to discourage working from home in general.

        1. Not Me*

          I’m really not sure what in my comment made you think I’m suggesting people who enjoy working in the office are making things harder for those who prefer working remotely. The onus should be on the employer to ensure equity among their ranks, not the employees.

          My point is that assuming one work location (home) is considered a benefit to everyone is most likely wrong. Better to recognize there are benefits to both, depending on each person’s situation and needs.

          1. Not Me*

            To clarify, I meant the onus is on the employer to ensure equity among their employees. It is not the employee who prefers the office over home who has a responsibility to shift the culture.

          2. pancakes*

            I didn’t say people who prefer working in the office make things harder for people who don’t. My point was that both your comment and DoubleE’s are negative about working from home, and I think it would be fairer and more sensible for both of you to speak up on behalf of your own preferences to work in an office than it is to be broadly negative about working from home.

            1. MCMonkeybean*

              No, they are just correctly pointing out that many of the threads in this discussion seems to be incorrectly assuming that WFH is always preferable to working in the office. I prefer it, and clearly many others do too, but not everyone does so people should keep that in mind.

            2. Not Me*

              I don’t prefer to work in the office, you’re assuming that, and wrongly. I’m just open-minded enough to recognize not everyone is the same as I am.

              “People who prefer to work in the office should ask their employers if they can do so rather than try to discourage working from home in general.” You literally said that people who prefer the office should not try to discourage working from home, so yes, I do think your comment is suggesting they’re making it harder.

    2. Exhausted Frontline Worker*

      While what you’re saying is 100% true, it’s missing the point of the question. The big difference between work from home and working onsite during plague times is that people who have to work onsite are potentially risking their health for the sake of their jobs. So it makes sense for companies to try to provide some extra benefits or compensation to people who have to work onsite. That doesn’t mean wfh is without its challenges, but that also doesn’t mean companies need to provide wfh and onsite employees with equal benefits.

    3. Pretzelgirl*

      Agreed, also people who are natural extroverts like working in offices (at least the ones I have encountered). My husband who is a big extrovert hates WFH. He looks like a sad puppy at the end of the day and doesn’t have anyone but his family to bounce his energy off of. He cannot wait to start going back to the office.

    4. BatGirl*

      I haaaaaaate working from home. I live by myself in a one bedroom apartment without a dedicated workspace. I have neighbors with a dog that barks constantly and another one who is always screaming at her kids. I can’t focus when I work at home and then get mad at myself for not being productive. Luckily, my office is still allowing people to go in if they want to, so I usually do 2 or 3 times a week.

      This really isnt helpful to the original post but I just needed to vent about how much I hate wfh haha.

      1. Liz*

        Same except while I COULD go into the office, we’re technically not supposed to if we can work from home, which my job can. my office, as i also live in a 1BR apt, is my dining room table. so unless i’m on vacation or its the weekend, my laptop, etc. is there in full view. And I have neighbors below who like to listen to music and watch tv JSUT loud enough so that I can hear it, or faint bass thumping. but its not loud enough to complain about, but it annoys me

        I also struggle a LOT with staying focused. I’ve finally come to the realization that some days I simply am more productive than others. so on those days I am, i try and get as much done as i can, and don’t beat myself up about the other days when i barely get anything done.

        1. Schmitt*

          I am using an ASMR “office sounds” track on Spotify. Covers up incidental sounds, doesn’t distract me.

    5. OP here*

      This is definitely being considered as part of the long-term strategy but I really appreciate you bringing it up. It’s really important.

    6. Sled dog mama*

      So much this, I like the idea of WFH but in practice it just doesn’t work for me. At home I have my company provided laptop and a second monitor but it’s not nearly as good or as fast as my company provided setup at the office. Also my kid is ok at leaving me alone to work for most of the day, she has trouble for about the last 30 minutes of my workday. My husband cannot seem to grasp that WFH does not mean I’m at home doing nothing.

      1. pancakes*

        This sounds more like a hardware and husband problem than a problem intrinsic to working from home.

    7. Fushi*

      Yeah, this. So many comments are assuming that WFH is intrinsically a perk that gives better work-life balance and we’ve all opted in to it. But if you’re not neurotypical this system can easily make both your work productivity and your ability to function outside of work worse, and it’s miserable. And not all of us do get the choice to just return to the office if we want to, because downsizing the office is now considered better for business as well.

      Personally I like the comments emphasizing really scrutinizing what constitutes a true business need in terms of categorizing jobs as on-site, WFH, or a mix, and trying to be as flexible as possible. Equity is dependent on personal needs, so if that’s important to you, you should to try and make space for all types of people as much as possible. Beyond that, it’s really a matter of considering how you can improve the lives of your on-site employees and your WFH employees, by considering what they might be missing sure, but also just what would benefit them in general.

  20. CatCat*

    My org offers heavily subsidized mass transit passes and pre-tax parking benefit. Those are both appreciated (obviously in Now Times, many folks are not able to use mass transit, but I am thinking for after).

    Other orgs in my area offer a bike commuting benefit so if all or part of your commute is by bike, you get a small cash payment that helps with costs of bike wear and tear. Offering a secure bike locking space also is important. (I used to bike to work a few times per week and never would have done it if they hadn’t offered bike lockers.)

    Another is that if parking costs a fee where the workplace is, free or heavily discounted parking is always highly sought after by car commuters.

    And then the ability to have flexible hours is helpful. If someone wants to start their workday earlier or later to avoid the worst rush hour times, offer that!

    1. Peep*

      Flexible work time has been a godsend for me, even though I only go on site about once a week / once every two weeks. Our meetings can vary slightly but for my department are 11, 12, or 1. Nothing except meetings are literal time-bound/time sensitive, so we’re free to work when we want, within reason. It’s probably not super healthy in the long run, but I hate waking up early (which is obviously personal) so I try to work between 10 and 6:30, but inevitably take longer breaks during the middle and work on weird projects at night when I’m actually focused. As long as we’re conscious of getting materials to other teams to support their needs, my boss has been super generous. I live in SoCal and find that there’s still traffic even with less people on the road, so when I go into the office, I do my 2 hours of meetings in the morning, then work on site from about 2-8 pm. And nobody cares! It’s great! I really hope that we will be allowed to split our tasks and do on site days, home days, or split days as we judge for ourselves.

  21. StressedButOkay*

    Trying to balance what’s fair for commutes is, I think, going to be difficult. However, things around the commute can be made to be even out. Those who commute in, regardless of the length of the commute, can be given certain benefits that those who work from home don’t get – paid parking (or covering the cost of public transit), a stipend to cover travel expenses.

    Offer flexible schedules – when I had a horrendous commute of 2 hours if I left early in the morning, my work let me come in at 10, allowing me to drop the time I was driving by 30-45 minutes. Offer in-house perks like lunches, that everyone who happens to be there can take advantage of.

    Don’t look at the commute itself, really, but what the company can do to ease the burden on those coming into the office, especially for those who have no choice.

  22. SBH*

    Compensating people for their commute is likely a wash vs compensating people for their internet/electricity/essentially renting office space for the company. This changes if it’s out of the ordinary ; on-call issues and must-come-to-site (as a one-off) for non-exempt staff should be compensated for their travel time. If the expectation is that your BAU is in-office then you’re already being compensated for that BAU expectation.

  23. A Simple Narwhal*

    I’m curious about this one! Because in the past commutes were your own business and it was on you to make sure you were there on time, but now it truly does change things up if someone is able to have a perk that someone else isn’t able to take advantage of.

    Maybe they can offer some flexibility to those who have to come in? Like for me if I had to go into the office, it’s 30-45 minutes on a train, and I could definitely tether my laptop and work remotely for that time, it would be great to build that into my day. Like rather than taking the 7:30 train to make sure I’m at my desk for 8:30 and then the 5:15 train home, could I take the 8:30 train, work on the train, get into the office for 9:30, then take the 4:15 train, and work on the train home. This would involve someone having a job (or at least part of a job) that could be done remotely, plus it requires taking seated public transportation, so it wouldn’t be applicable to everyone, but I’m open to hearing other flexibility suggestions.

  24. S*

    Working from home requires having a larger home with office space, which also costs more for the employee. Is that also being considered?

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      As well as extra cost for internet/electricity that I wouldn’t normally be using if I weren’t working from home. I have different internet service because I’m working from that I wouldn’t generally pay for if it were just “leisure” internet. And I’m not being compensated for any sort of difference there.

    2. BSS*

      If I had to move to an apartment with enough space for a home office (and access to fast internet), it would easily increase my rent by $600/month. That’s way more than I spend on my 45 minute commute.

  25. Stl76*

    Will you also pay for WFH workers’s added utility bills, internet, cell phone, coffee, additional space for an office, etc all things typically provided by the office? If you are in the office, your situation did not change from what you agreed to when you accepted employment and decided to live an hour away from the office. Commute is not the only difference between the 2. In my opinion, WFH is definitely a lot more convenient, i love it. But if you start looking at trying to even things out, you need to consider the above costs for WFH. To me these are worth it but i know not everyone that WFH feel the same.

    1. twocents*

      Excellent point. Working from home has been noticeably more expensive for me as I save maybe $20 in gas for my car a month, but I’ve had to replace a broken chair, buy a printer, purchase office supplies, noticeable increases in my utility bills…

      1. Cindy*

        For me as well. We had to significantly upgrade our internet/wi-fi, buy our own printer and toner, etc. Also, I am now working much longer hours from home. Previously, my day generally ended when I left the office. Now all bets are off. However, I am very grateful to be able to WFH.

    2. pbnj*

      Also WFH people are dedicating a portion of their home as a WFH space, which means employees aren’t using it for what they originally intended.

      For me, the cost savings haven’t been that much since I’m spending more on utilities and supplies. It has definitely been a huge time saver and improved my job satisfaction. But like others mentioned, commute lengths are highly variable so some people might just be saving 10 minutes.

    3. Cascadia*

      This is a great point! What we’ve made up for in commute time/bus passes has been evened-out with increased power and internet usage, drinking my own tea (instead of work’s – I drink a lot of tea), buying a new desk, a second monitor, using my personal phone for all phone calls, etc. Plus, I have found that I work more hours at home then I do at the office – it was much easier to be done for the day when I physically left the building – now I dabble in occasional emails and such long into the evenings…

    4. A Simple Narwhal*

      This is a great point! There are a lot of perks to working from home, but they definitely require an investment in a home office, and other expenses you might not think about. Like how in the before times, we’d set the thermostat to be cooler during when we weren’t home and now we have to pay to keep the house warm all day. We’ve also paid to upgrade our wifi system so our zoom calls can be made anywhere in the house without losing access.

      On the flipside, we don’t have to pay for a dog walker anymore and we’re not buying commuter passes (even if they were subsidized by our companies, it still was a non-zero expense), we’re also eating out less, so who knows, maybe it’s all a wash?


    5. Cat Tree*

      Even toilet paper and hand soap. At the beginning of the plague there were shortages and I was going through it much faster because I could never use the office bathroom.

  26. Lifelong student*

    It seems to me that tying compensation to where one choses to live is not equitable. Would compensation change if an employee chose to move nearer or further away? Or if the nature of the commute changed? The train line closes- now the person must drive in heavy traffic so it takes longer and requires use of a personal vehicle. It is close to saying that one person should have more compensation because they have dependents.
    Compensation should be based on market rates and value to the company- which can be driven by function, education, experience, etc. If there is more value to the company to have an employee on site, that could drive increased compensation and perhaps affect the pool of those willing to be in the office.

  27. WantonSeedStitch*

    I live in a major city where whether you use a car or public transit can impact your commute time as much as where you actually live. If I drove into the office, I could have a half-hour commute. It’s over an hour taking public transit, with having to walk to the subway station, take the subway, and take a shuttle from the station nearest the office. People who drive have to pay for a parking pass, while EVERYONE gets a free transit pass for subway and bus (though they have to pay for commuter train passes if they need them, that is subsidized, as is parking at transit stations). I chose to live in a location where I knew it would take me a bit longer to get to the office, with the benefit that I pay less to live in a larger house with more land. People who live closer to the office have a shorter commute, but are often paying the same that I pay per month for a modest apartment. In cities, the costs and benefits of where you live and how you commute seem to work themselves out that way for the most part.

    1. Sleepy*

      Exactly, and people should make that calculation without their employer subsiding one or the other.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        I would say that subsidizing public transit in general has some overall benefits, as it’s encouraging people to avoid increasing traffic and emissions by driving. Subsidizing the commuter train passes and parking at stations means that people who might otherwise drive in and park at work are more likely to take the trains. It means that even if you choose to live in a place where you can’t just walk or hop on a bus to work, you have more of an incentive to avoid making choices that are environmentally unfriendly.

  28. twocents*

    I don’t think it makes sense to look at where people live to decide on job function and/or pay. People take jobs knowing where they live, knowing if a commute is required, and knowing what that costs (time, gas, mental exhaustion, etc).

    It’s been my experience at my job that the people who have to go into the office are able to work a standard 8 hour day and the people who can work from home often have extremely long days or very disruptive days. For example they have to be on from 7 to noon, have an hour or two, and then they have meetings from 2 to 6.

    There are pros and cons to working from home and there are pros and cons from having to drive into an office. I would be looking at what does this job specifically need, what is the market rate to pay for that job, and allow people to make the decisions that they need for their life. If they choose to live 2 hours away and drive in every single day, then that’s their choice. Are you going to pay them more if they decide to live three hours away instead? Are you going to demote someone just because they live within walking distance to work and promote someone to a role they’re unqualified for to save them from the commute? Getting into triangulating where people live opens up these unnecessary headaches.

  29. Elliot*

    I definitely don’t think commute time should be paid, unless it’s completely a socioeconomic factor – for instance, if you didn’t pay certain employees enough to feasibly live near your office.

    As far as a commute stipend – it just depends I guess. Both working from home and working in office have financial benefits and costs. Since working from home, I spend a lot more on food and beverage (my office provided grab-and-go breakfasts and coffee all day) and I have upgraded to pricier wifi. I also spend much more on heating and cooling my home and other home office essentials. However, I know I am saving time and saving on gas/transportation costs.

    I think the best practice is 1) add in-office perks, such as small grab and go food items free of charge, coffee and water for free, and comfortable break/relaxing areas, and 2) be flexible with people’s time and availability in office as much as is feasible – so someone who lives an hour away in rush hour traffic can flex their hours to avoid the worst highway delays.

  30. LibraryLand*

    I have an employee who wants to have their commute taken from their workday time. They live two hours away, so this would mean a four hour day. Allowing this would not be fair to my other staff, who don’t get to sit and listen to audiobooks or music for four hours a day. It also means that in a collaborative environment, there’s only a half day where this person would be available. I am willing to mix WFH or 4 day workweeks, etc, but fundamentally, if someone chose to take this job with this commute, the burden is going to be largely on them.
    This is a college town in the midwest, so I understand that some people would not want to live here, and would prefer the urban area two hours away. But-that can’t really allow me to give this person “credit” for their long commute.
    I agree that in other circumstances, transit passes/paid parking/other perks that don’t apply to everyone are great!

    1. Cascadia*

      Yes that’s totally ridiculous! They want to work half time, for full-time pay, because they chose to live 2 hours away from their job? We’ve interviewed people for jobs before that had addresses pretty far out there and it’s always a question that comes up in the interview – are you sure you want this long of a commute? One person said yes, took the job, and then left 9 months later because they couldn’t handle the commute. Not surprised at all. You absolutely can’t allow a person to subtract commute time from their work time, unless they can work (on a laptop, on wi-fi) while they commute – like if they took a train or something.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        I agree that unless they can work on that commute (which might be a possibility!), it’s an unreasonable ask.

    2. onco fonco*

      That’s absurd. I used to have a 2 hour commute. It SUCKED. But the idea that it should come out of my 8 hour day? And be paid? I would never in a million years have dreamed of asking for that. That’s…not how work works!

    3. Laura H.*

      Two hours… I just can’t wrap my head around two hours in a car for 5 days a week both ways regularly. That and the request to count it towards the time worked seem equally bonkers to me.

      Even if the employee were taking public transit and COULD in theory telework locally on a laptop, that’s not even reasonable.

      I would definitely take the offer for mixing some WFH and shorter workweeks.

      I know not all folks have the opportunity to change things but I feel that the asking the commute to be counted as work time is SUPER out of touch with the reasonable.

    4. A*

      Jeez, if anyone knows of an employer that would go for this banana crackers proposal – please let me know! Sounds nice lol.

      I’m in a somewhat similar area in that it’s remote and ~2 hours from the closest major metropolitan cities. Definitely not everyone’s jam – so we have several employees that live 2-3 hours away but are required to come on site one day a week.

    5. Project Manager here*

      Is this person working on their commute?

      Back in the before times, I took the bus to the office. My bus ride was long enough that I was able to read all of my email, and start to prioritize my work before I go to the office. I’d definitely consider that working time.

      But if they’re not working during the commute, then no.

  31. AVP*

    I have a friend who has been working in-office this whole time while part of her team has not – essentially, they needed SOME people on site but not all, so there were some thorny issues in terms of figuring out who would be where, and it didn’t make sense to have everyone do a certain set of days and switch around. They did a couple of things to make it more equitable that my friend is pretty happy with –

    – they split the group into three subgroups. 1/3 at home, 1/3 at their normal downtown office, 1/3 at a suburban satellite that they’d not been allowed to work from previously (which drastically cut commute time for the people who volunteered to go in there because they live near it).

    – breakfast and lunch are now either free or heavily subsidized.

    – dress code went from formal business and suits to a mix of jeans and business casual.

    – generally good Covid policies in the office, so the people who are there don’t feel like they’re taking on a huge amount of risk just for showing up.

    – they asked certain people to volunteer for office duty on the basis of who would find it easier (ie., they’re not making anyone balance home-schooling and commuting) but didn’t force anyone and my friend said it truly felt voluntary and like she could have said no.

    1. AVP*

      Oh – and if there’s a ~specific~ perk that you would have gotten in the office pre-Covid, consider how it can extend to your WFH people. IE., a different friend used to get catered lunch in their office a few times per week and an expense account for client lunches, and now the people who don’t come back to the office get a $100/month stipend for work lunches.

      Frankly I think the commuting thing is a red herring because it’s balanced by the literal and opportunity costs of having to front an office in your home. Real estate is expensive, and your WFH employees are giving it to you for free!

    2. Llama face!*

      “dress code went from formal business and suits to a mix of jeans and business casual.”

      I was going to mention this: Consider whether the current dress code is really necessary or if it can be relaxed. More formal dress clothing is both expensive and comparatively uncomfortable. Let the in-office workers wear clothing that is comfrotable and clean and don’t stubbornly stick to outdated white culture dress codes just because that’s how it has always been done.

      1. AVP*

        Also, people are meeting face to face with clients and higher-ups so much less now that the clients are also wfh! Kind of takes the pressure off in terms of wardrobe.

  32. Keener*

    Within a company, different roles have different requirements in terms of education, level of responsibility, fixed hours/flexible hours, etc. Nothing is perfectly equal. Different pay scales address these differences. I don’t think your company should be compensating for commutes. Where you choose to live relative to the office is your personal choice. Two people in exactly the same role may make different decisions about home location for a variety of personal factors but that doesn’t mean there is anything different about their job. I feel compensating for personal decisions regarding home location (and resulting commute) is a kin to paying someone less since they have no kids and therefore theoretically lower expenses.

    Those people who have jobs that require them to be physically present are essentially status quo to what they agreed to when they accepted the job. While the pandemic is on-going giving them a bump in wages as “danger pay” could be a reasonable approach. For employees who can choose to work remotely that is a nice outcome of the pandemic, but doesn’t actually change anything about the jobs of people who need to be physically present.

    1. Keener*

      ****Hit submit too quickly***
      I feel compensating for personal decisions regarding home location (and resulting commute) is a kin to tying compensation to personal expenses. I.e. paying someone less since they have no kids and therefore theoretically lower expenses.

      For the employees who live closer their housing costs are likely higher. It is not reasonable to compensate one employee more since they have higher transportation costs, but not another employee because their housing costs are higher. Having employees live closer has a wide range of benefits including: more reliable attendance in poor weather, less commute equals more time for exercise/rest/family, better for the environment, etc. Providing compensation for commutes is rewarding the opposite and may encourage employees to move further away.

    2. Ampersand*

      Agreed! I think sometimes people forget equitable does not mean equal. Even within one department, different positions have different requirements. If your hiring practices are fair and transparent with a focus on diversity and inclusion then I don’t see a need to attempt to intice people to do the job they were hired to do.

    3. Tamer of Dragonflies*

      My employer did this.We’re considered essential and our jobs can’t be done from home, so out among the public we go. Can’t remember what the exact amount was, but they called it hazard pay and it was a bump per hour for every hour actually worked, so PTO didn’t count.

  33. Dave*

    If you are trying to make things more fair between WFH and those in office, my focus wouldn’t be on the commute. There are times as a WFH person I can be left out of communications because people ran into each other in the hallway, or my co-workers have been still been having company provided lunch occasionally and office birthday parties. On the other hand, I have no commute and my wardrobe is much more comfortable. I also have a lot more job flexibility but do occasionally get trapped into working more because the office is right there so my days can be longer and work on weekends becomes more of a thing. Then again while I am waiting on someone to provide info to keep going, my breaks are much more relaxing since I am home or I can get some house chores done.

    I would consider within reason try to let people that prefer to work in the office work in the office and those that prefer WFH do that. There are pluses and minuses for both, but try to share the when possible some of the nice things about one side with the other. Like giving off people more flexibility for butts in the seat rules (that honestly most people should have had prepandimic) and if you do an office birthday celebration don’t forget the person’s birthday just because they are WFH.

    1. onco fonco*

      This is how I feel about it. It’s not clear cut that WFH is an equal perk for everyone – there are positives and negatives both to being at home and being in the office. I wouldn’t approach it as trying to make it ‘fair’ because there are just too many factors to take into account, and everyone’s circumstances are slightly different. I’d just focus on trying to make sure everyone’s OK and not unnecessarily burdened by their working situation. So offer commuters flexibility where you can to allow for traffic, bad weather and the like, offer parking, make sure there’s coffee and what not – and make sure your remote workers are included in team communications, office celebrations and the life. You could consider offering a stipend for commutes above a certain distance AND for additional expenses related to setting up a home office. The closest you can get to ‘fair’ is ‘everyone’s needs are reasonably well met’.

  34. TooTiredToThink*

    I don’t think you can make reimbursing for commutes equitable and a number of commenters have said why…. but one thing you might consider is letting those employees (if possible) to choose their schedules – let them work 7:00 – 4:00 instead of 8:00-5:00; and if possible; maybe let them do something like the Fed Govt’s AWS – in that they work 9 ish hours for 9 days and get a Monday or Friday off every other week.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Yeah, the 9/80 workweek (every other Friday off) is popular with Feds & their contractors. I’ve also seen “core hours” where everyone has to be in from 9-1, but my friend worked 7:30 to 2:30 or something like that. (He biked to work and liked getting up early in the morning). Obviously that doesn’t work if you’re public-facing.

    2. KateM*

      Why only those employees and not everyone whose job would allow for flexible schedule? Say you must be working those core hours and the rest whenever you feel suits you better, no matter whether you are working from home, living far away, or living nearby.

    3. Waffle Cone*

      We moved to ‘core hours’ – everyone who is in the office should be here between 10-3. Otherwise, you do what works for you. We have a blend of everything here: manufacturing and QC (in office only), admin/projects/software (can be done anywhere) and fully remote employees. I am customer facing, but virtually, so my in-office hours are 6:30am-3pm by choice with the understanding I might need to take some calls until 5pm. On the 2 days a week I commute, it makes my 45 min drive far less taxing and allows me to pick my son up from school. By giving people the ability to be flexible whenever possible, my employer has seen retention go up and an overall increase in satisfaction. The nice thing about flex scheduling is it benefits everyone equally – not just working parents, or commuters – but also early birds, people who can’t wake up on time to save their lives, etc.

  35. Trillian*

    If your company cannot offer flexibility of place for these people, can it offer flexibility of time? A compressed work week? An early start and early finish, or a late start and late finish? Maybe a few days extra time off. That might help them, for instance, avoid peak shopping or errand running (and the attendant risks of crowds), or take part of the home-schooling shift from a home-working partner.

    1. OP here*

      Yes. Temporal flexibility is a tool we’re using for everyone, not just the ones who have to commute in all the time or some of the time. It’s not codified but I don’t know a manager who isn’t currently allowing adjusted-but-predictable start, end, and break times to accommodate commutes and family care and hot water heater replacements now and most of us did before.

    2. cncx*

      yeah that’s what my employer did with me. as a tradeoff for butt in chair i have some scheduling flexibility otherwise (two days a week i get to shift my schedule four hours) and my team members who wfh run interference for me during my commute/off times.

  36. Admin 4 life*

    Commutes are considered a choice but we try to provide flexibility for the 10% of our staff who must be onsite. We all have a floating half day each week—staff work four 8 hour shifts and one 4 hour shift. The four hour shift is paid as an eight hour day.

    We also have free hotel accommodations that are a three minute walk from the office— this is also to assist with providing arrangements for quarantining and snow days (we have to have staff onsite).

  37. learnedthehardway*

    I think that you need to look for equity, not completely equal treatment. ie. make sure that people have what they need.

    For people working at home – subsidizing internet / phone, office equipment, and making sure that their jobs remain within a fairly standard number of hours per day. Just because someone is working from home, it doesn’t mean they automatically get an extra 2 hours on their day because they aren’t commuting. (Personally, I’m acting as chauffeur for my kiddo before and after school – normally, he’d be on a bus, but we figured that was just too far beyond our comfort level in the current COVID situation).

    For people working in the office – perhaps gas/mileage or transit allowances, and paid parking would be nice.

    Let people choose one or the other options, make them relatively similar, and people will hopefully feel that the company is at least trying to make things equitable.

  38. Dancing Otter*

    Can you include transit benefits in your cafeteria plan, such as parking subsidies or pretax commuter train tickets? It won’t give Persephone her two hours back, but at least it can help with the costs.
    Do you have a good cafeteria in the building? How much do you subsidize it? (I still have fond memories of the cafeteria at Kraft, and the free oatmeal every morning at Quaker. Other places, not so much.) What about the coffee?
    If some people really have to work on-site, try to make the site a better place to be. Persephone will be twice as likely to kvetch about the temperature, bad lighting, uncomfortable chair, and so forth, when she thinks of Prometheus relaxing at home in his PJs.

  39. Colette*

    I agree with others – don’t compensate for the commute, but offer in-office perks like food.

    Something else to consider is whether someone wants to work in the office. Not everyone works well from home, whether it’s due to isolate, the available space, or other distractions (i.e. if you have infant twins, you’re probably going to work better in the office), even if their job could be done remotely. If you start compensating people for their commute, are you going to also compensate people who choose to work in the office? Are you going to change what you pay if someone moves closer? What about if someone moves farther?

  40. EEB*

    My organization is in a somewhat different boat because almost all of us have jobs that can be done from home, so people can choose whether they want to work from home or the office based on their personal preference. But we have a model where you get a transportation stipend if you work from the office, or an equivalent stipend to help with home office setup/equipment if you choose to work from home. We can choose which option we want, and therefore which stipend we get, on a quarterly basis.

  41. Philly Redhead*

    Equity doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.

    That being said, no company I’ve ever worked for has considered my commute for compensation.

  42. gbca*

    I’ll just echo the other comments that commutes probably aren’t the place to address this, but making working in the office as pleasant as possible is. To the extent your company can provide meals/snacks (even if not everyday), that is always appreciated. Relaxed dress codes are great too. I like the idea of having the office stocked with some things that are helpful to have access to, such as Tide pens. Basically, I would think about all the things outside commuting that make working from the office less desirable than WFH, and consider what you can do to mitigate that.

    I’ll also note that for some people, being in the office is preferred to WFH! Personally I am so sick of my dining room, dishes piling up, no face-to-face interaction, etc. I can’t wait for the day it is safe enough to be in a room of coworkers again.

  43. Dust Bunny*

    I say this as somebody with a long commute, and who also has a job that mostly cannot be done remotely: I don’t think the commute is the company’s problem, unless maybe the company up and relocates away from pretty much all their employees. If there is concern that too many employees seem to live very far away, maybe this means that wages/salary aren’t in line with the area’s cost of living overall so they’re living in cheaper areas, and *that* is what needs to be addressed. But people are going to choose living situations based on a lot of things and not everyone prioritizes proximity to their job,

    I think it’s a lot more important to make sure WFH people have the equipment they need to work (my workplace already used tablets but they gave us extra monitors and mice to make using them at home easier. I haaaaate touch-pads), and that people who cannot work from home are actually getting to use whatever perks they have left and aren’t getting shut out of, say, PTO because bosses are worried about on-site understaffing.

  44. OP here*

    I was hoping for a discussion of all the issues the commentariat has seen as their organizations have considered longer term wfh strategies and not just the one so perhaps I shouldn’t have given the specific example (which really is less about compensating for the commute and more about how to not further deincentivize the already unglamorous hands-on work).

    1. D3*

      I think your example is just a really poor one. Can you tell us what other issues you’re thinking of? Because I can’t think of any issues that would need to be equalized.
      Unglamorous work is always going to be what it is. It doesn’t have anything to do with wfh, really. For example, I would consider something like data entry to be “unglamorous” but it can be done from home. Where nursing is highly skilled and valued and must be done in person.
      I suspect maybe you need to focus on why those “unglamorous” workers feel unappreciated and address that. Do they need more pay? Better heath care? A better environment?

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Perhaps I can give a better example….

        I work at a garbage dump. Our operators (the ones actually pushing garbage around) have pretty strict scheduling because adequate coverage is essential for safety. Obviously it’s not a job that can be done remotely. Some of the office staff have jobs that can be done partly or mostly from home. This means our operators have to use a lot more of their paid time off than the office staff, because the office folks can cover many of those circumstances by WFH instead. For example if Persephone the operator needs to be home from 1-3 to meet the repair guy, she has to take half a day off. But Prometheus the accountant could work from home instead of using PTO.

        1. irene adler*

          Give this situation, would it be possible to award on-site workers an additional benefit to allow flexibility that WFH folks may not need.
          Something like flexible start or end times, or a special “personal time” (for lack of a better term) benefit that on-site folks can use to take that half day off to meet the cable repair guy. This “personal time” would be separate from PTO. Maybe award something like 48 hours per year of said “personal time” at the beginning of each year.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            That’s what I’m pushing for. We’re public sector so finding a way to do it while complying with local government policies is tricky, but for a private business it seems pretty straightforward.

        2. Some Lady*

          The flexibility for PTO is a good example. I had a job where my hours were basically 9-5 and others at my same title level were more 7-3:30; this meant that they could usually schedule doctor’s appointments, etc., within normal hours without using PTO, and I could not. They also ‘incentivized’ us to not use PTO (which, in this environment, felt very much like punishing us for using it, but that’s a different story), so it added to me knowing it was a place I’d never work long-term. So, adjusting things like PTO (or otherwise working with flexibility in a way that makes sense for the position/people) is a good thing to think about!

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      I think that a lot of people have gotten used to a more relaxed attitude to things like clothing while WFH, so if you can extend that at all to your in-office colleagues that might help. When I was back in the office for a while during the autumn our normally quite formal office relaxed a lot on dress code, managers were more flexible about when you took your lunch break, people ordered in pizza on Fridays for impromptu team lunches, that kind of thing. I don’t know how much of that could be formalised as office policy but for me at least it certainly helped soften the transition.

    3. Manders*

      This isn’t something that comes up a lot in discussions about perks, but what does your office space look like, and how would that change if a significant chunk of the workforce continued working fully remote? I think we sometimes underestimate how much open offices and cube farms can make lower-level workers feel unappreciated or magnify little irritations like noise into major problems.

      Could your in-office workers be moved into nicer spaces while your mostly remote workers hot desk or rotate through the open office?

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        That’s what my company is planning for the future. Those who choose to stay remote will not have their own space anymore, when they want to come in for some reason they will use an open space for the day. Just makes sense.

    4. MelonHelen*

      I was hoping to see more suggestions as well. As my company is about 95% wfh right now (and my particular department is 50/50), we’ve been warned that they’re hoping to have everyone back to the office by June and given how many people have expressed a desire to continue to wfh, that we have to start talking to our bosses about it now to come up with suggestions. As one of the half of my department who’s at home and wants to continue, I don’t know how to properly frame it fairly for my coworkers whose jobs have required them to be in the office this whole time.

      1. Dave*

        June seems crazy soon depending on where you live given vaccination timelines plus summer programs still seem pretty iffy for children. One of my biggest concerns moving forward is how are offices reopening safely. What happens to that co-worker that never took this seriously , doesn’t ‘believe’ in vaccines, refuses to wear a mask, and gets COVID. Sure the vaccinated group are less likely to need hospitalization or die, but the seems like a low bar.

      2. Equality fairy*

        I’ma bit late to comment, but I really think that framing things as equal or equitable between different roles is not a sensible starting point.

        In ex job some colleagues had to travel. Some colleagues got to travel. Some colleagues got to work in the separate big room and had lots of space and quiet . Some colleagues had to work in the isolated room and were cut off from others. Some colleagues had to wear business clothes bc they worked with clients. Some colleagues got to work directly with clients. Some colleagues had to fund their own work. Some colleagues got to choose their own projects.

        Basically – lots of pros can also be framed as cons. Depends on your priorities.

        Aim for being as flexible to all your staff as their jobs allow and making for a pleasant, productive work environment wherever people are.

        During COVID I loved wfh and was really unhappy with the push to be back in the office (I didn’t feel safe, and I didn’t see a benefit to being there). I also came to resent how unproductive and unpleasant our workplace could be.

        Employer is half considering a permanent partial wfh option where jobs allow (some cannot be done offsite at all or require some in person time). They have acknowledged that wfh allowed productivity. This angers me. We should be able to be productive in the office. It is why we are there. In general, in healthy times, I prefer working from the office with the flexibility to wfh. I get so much more out of my job by having colleagues around me. I want to be there, and I want them in the office part of each week as well.

        If you want your staff to be happy coming to the office/site have a pleasant, safe environment. Having colleagues that wfh isn’ta factor there.

        Have showers and lockers for those with active commutes. Provide security for staff in car parks or to get to the public transit if appropriate. Have a staff car park if you can. Have a proper break room with fridge and microwaves and cutlery and somewhere relaxing to sit etc. Give people their own office/desk/team space etc that matches the needs of their role and is a productive space. Have tech available so they can connect with remote workers (and each other). Make it easy for your staff to access the bathroom (and give women equal access to bathrooms as men – me glaring at many ex employers that did not). Make sure your workplace is safe. Consider how you lay out your space – does it work for your employees? Actively encourage/require sick leave be used so illnesses are not spread through the office. Have good cleaners go vacuum and wipe down desks and clean the kitchen (not cleaning up after staff per we but communal areas need to be actively cleaned often). Have water coolers / hot water available easily to staff. Appropriately cool and heat the office and remember that women exist as well (guidelines often ignore women and cater only to men). Have a dress code that matches what is required for the job and is no more expensive than makes sense. Make sure your dress code is not heavily gendered (some industries will take a lot longer, but everyone who can should push back on make up heels jewellery and expensive hair styles often only required of women). Make sure staff can perform their roles without a lot of fussing in their uniforms (looking at you place that required butchers to put on a tie whenever they spoke with a customer / and uniforms with pencil skirts where staff can’t even pick up a dropped pen).

        Have you asked your staff what they want out do you just assume? One ex-big boss wanted desks assigned by rank (higher rank better desk). But – there was only 1 big desk per grouping and this meant 1 of our tech group had to go sit on his own because he had too much tank while us juniors got to sit together (thankfully immediate boss accepted that he preferred sitting with the group than having a bigger desk). Big boss was responding to problems in a previous team, but we had different wants.

        If your employees are split I think you need to be careful about making sure offsite employees don’t feel neglected. This is less a factor if wfh is a choice, but some employers are looking to shift some of their workers offsite to reduce office costs. If you offer food, gym, exercise classes, massage, movie tickets, laundry etc you need to make sure that they are equally available to offsite employees (or some equivalent). My ex company used to offer lots of random perks. I never once got anything and suspect the same people got in first every time (I was onsite). It bugged me as when everything was gone I felt like I had missed out – I felt worse than if nothing had been on offer even while recognising I was being silly because I was not worse off.

    5. NYC Taxi*

      My company (a top manufacturer) is still trying to figure all that out. We are going to have the option to come into the office or wfh depending on what’s going on with our projects, if our work is not place-dependent. How I really see this playing out? The people who come into the office and get face time with key people and are being seen in person are going to get the best assignments. I can’t wait to go back to the office. I’m so tired of being home.

    6. boo bot*

      I don’t think the example is a bad one, although I do think it might have gotten people too focused on a specific scenario. It really does matter if your work day is two hours longer because of a commute, and if you’re routinely having 10 hours/week less free time than your colleagues, I see how that could cause resentment.

      I made a joking post about the mythological characters below, but it involved a serious suggestion, which was flexibility in scheduling, if possible. Beyond just commuting time, the big draw for remote work is that you have more control over your daily life – you can use breaks to do household stuff, eat at home, not have to dress as formally, etc. I would look for as many ways as possible to give on-site workers flexibility and control over their own lives at work: consider whether there are unnecessary restrictions on hours, dress code, time off, internal procedures, etc. Some stuff is probably necessary, but some might not be!

    7. twocents*

      I think the problem is that WFH or in an office is highly personal and it’s just not possible for a business to anticipate and manage all the issues. By which I mean, Bob may hate working from home for the exact same reason Tim loves it.

      I work for a large company so an “unglamorous position” like data entry is considered entry-level position. If someone chooses to stay in that role for 30 years until they retire, obviously that’s their choice but it’s not the company’s job to make data entry less data entry. I think you can make being on site as pleasant as possible; free coffee, free tea, the occasional snacks. Some of the other suggestions I think are a little excessive because honestly if the company has that much of a budget to basically replicate the home environment in the office, I would rather get paid more than have all these tiny perks that I’m unlikely to use. That is a conversation my company has had as well about how much money (literally millions) is spent on employee perks and while some people would rather have a free sandwich, a lot more would rather have a larger paycheck.

    8. Rocket Woman*

      My biggest issue with working from home was not having the equipment I needed. I think different “perks” can be offered to in-office vs WFH people to make things more tolerable for both parties.

      For example, a more relaxed dress code, catered lunches, and a snack cabinet for in person people. Flexible hours are also a big one, my company has always had this, where as long as you are in ~9-2 each day and hit your 80 hours in the 2 week pay period, you can work whenever you want. As a full time worker and part time grad student with a medium length commute, I LOVE this. I can flex my hours to attend my (online) classes real time, leave a bit early to avoid traffic and make it up another day, and am usually done quite early on Fridays.

      For WFH, offer equipment or a stipend to cover equipment to those employees, and perhaps they get $15 once a week for a lunch vs catered lunch every day from the office.

      My company is also considering a hybrid model, where everyone is in 2 set days and week and can choose what to do the other 3. I also think even if a job CAN be WFH, the employee should have the choice to come into the office if they wish, because not everyone like WFH.

    9. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I think the focus on “fairness” for remote vs onsite work is a distraction from what really matters: compensation and benefits. The job is what it is, and work location (home or office) is just part of the overall job package. If the compensation is fair for the market and reasonable for the area, I don’t think the employer needs to bend over backwards to provide extra perks for working onsite or at home.

    10. A*

      One thing that seems to have gone over really well and has helped even the playing field is my employer sent out a formal communication that moving forward we would be shifting to a casual dress environment (although I assume not applicable to the few teams that are customer facing).

      We always had a very relaxed dress standard (no formal dress code), jeans & tshirts. But now they are essentially fine with anything that is a t least a half step up from pajamas. It might seem like a small thing, but it’s made a huge difference in morale. Might not work in all company cultures, but something to consider!

    11. DashDash*

      I’ll weigh in, as the only person in my company whose job cannot be done fully remotely:
      Much like I knew going in what my commute would be, I knew that part of this job would always require needing to be in the office at least periodically for non-negotiable reasons (while my company already had a partial remote work policy for all staff). It’s what my role is, and it is rough when, uh, *waves hand vaguely* but I still need to walk through a city to an office building.
      My company did all they can to make it as safe as possible, and minimize the need in any way including providing extra soap, cleaning supplies (even technology wipes), and much like OP I can tell they feel bad that I have to do this – but it’s part of my job that I knew about going in, just like all the other factors. Have you checked in with your on-site employees directly to see how they’re feeling about it? (And is your workplace one where they could be honest when they answer?)

    12. AcademiaNut*

      I can think of several things

      – more PTO for office based employees, particularly designed for things like kids being sick, waiting for repair people and injury/illness where you could work from home but not make it to the office (sprained ankle, gastric distress).

      – a pleasant work environment. Decent coffee, tea, cold beverages and snacks (and not just junk food – include healthy stuff like yoghurt cups, fruit, sparkling water), maybe subsidized lunches. With people working from home, rearrange things so employees aren’t crammed in cheek to jowl, but have a reasonable quiet and comfortable place to work.

      -allow in office workers to have smaller packages shipped to the office. One benefit of working from home is not having to worry about your Amazon parcel being stolen while you’re at the office.

      – subsidize bus passes. For the commute thing, this will tend to benefit the lower paid end of the work force, who can’t afford to run a car in the city.

    13. A Genuine Scientician*

      I agree that if it looks like much of your workforce can be at home much of the time, you should seriously re-evaluate the in office space for the people who need to be there. You’re already offering temporal flexibility for everyone, but that’s going to be a bigger deal for those who have to deal with a commute than those who don’t.

      Can you make it so that the people who have to be in the office have actual offices, while the people who are at home most of the time have to use the open floorplan spaces that nearly every worker loathes but which have often been sold as necessary for the budget? I imagine if I were in a cube farm and I saw the actual offices unused day after day that would really bother me.

      Can you make it so that at least the in-office people aren’t required to take a half or full day of PTO at once if they have an appointment? Lots of organizations mandate that people can’t take PTO in 1-2 hour chunks, but that’s often what’s actually needed for, say, a dentist appointment.

      Can you ensure that cleaning the kitchen is part of the janitorial contract, rather than making either the office staff do it in rotations, or assigning it a low level employee who normally does completely unrelated functions?

      What is your dress code like? There are some things I can envision having to be done in office but still not being client-facing; not making those people wear suits if they don’t want to is a good idea, even if you’re in an industry where the clients expect formal business attire.

      What is your policy on personal items at the work station? I’ve had friends complain that even in professional office jobs they aren’t allowed to have essentially any personal items around, or anything that deviates from Interchangeable Worker Bot Persona — maybe they could have a generic inspirational poster, but nothing they found either funny or personally relevant.

      Speaking of the work station: presumably you’ll have fewer people in the office. Can you afford to get the really nice ergonomic chairs for those who are still coming in? A second computer monitor? (I actually use a 4K television as a second monitor — it was cheaper than buying something designed as a monitor, and it’s a larger screen anyway.) A desk where the height can be adjusted? One of those floor pads that reduces the strain of standing on a hard surface? You might not be able to afford that for all employees company wide, but it’s entirely reasonable to say “This is what we provide in the office”, since it will obviously remain company property even if people leave those roles.

      I think anything trying to specifically balance out a commute is going to ruffle a lot of feathers. Making it so that being in the office is just nicer than it used to be, on the other hand, should come across pretty differently.

  45. The Rural Juror*

    A debate came up in our office a couple of years ago when an employee was complaining about their commute. We’re a construction company, so our job sites will change from year to year when projects finish up and new ones begin. It’s a given that one person who lives close to their job site may not be as happy about the commute to the next one. We do take into consideration who goes where based on commute, but it doesn’t always work out perfectly.

    We had two relatively short-term commercial projects going on a couple of years ago that were located on opposite sides of town. The project manager who lived south unfortunately wasn’t wrapped up with another project so we couldn’t put him on the south location. So we put someone else there (who happened to live north, unfortunately). The next project to start when the South Guy was available happened to be up North. Ideally, we would have switched those two guys so they had less commute, but because of the short-term lengths, it didn’t make sense to disrupt the workflow.

    The South Guy was NOT happy about commuting so far. He complained to no end, even though he was already compensated a generous vehicle allowance each month. I understand why he didn’t like it, but he failed to understand that in our field of work our commutes will always fluctuate. There’s no perfect situation that will last forever. He demanded that he be given mileage ON TOP of his vehicle allowance, but our boss refused.

    In this situation, I agree with the boss. We’re all given vehicle allowances that cover mileage, maintenance, depreciation, etc. This is something we agree on as part of our salary package because we use our personal vehicles for work. We all know that from the get-go. There are times when our projects might be 2 miles from our homes, which is nice because we’re still given the same generous allowance. There are other times our projects are further away, which is how the industry works. The allowance is calculated based on a specified distance from the OFFICE, not from our homes. But, again, our company does try to take our home locations into consideration, and it all kind of evens out in the end (and probably benefits us more than it does the company, which is a perk).

    A company can’t help where you live. But I think it would be a good idea for companies to figure up some sort of average compensation to give employees that are commuting into the office as a requirement when others are allowed to work from home. In our company, only the employees expected to be out in the field are given the vehicle allowance. That’s fair, it’s part of our job.

  46. D3*

    Some things balance out, you don’t have to make *everything* completely equal or compensated. Persephone and Prometheus both still have 8 hour workdays, you are not expecting any more work time from either of them. Commute time is not work time. No doubt your employees had varying commute times in the Before Times, did you compensate them differently then?

    Commute times are longer if employees come in, yet wfh employees generally pay their own heat/ac, electricity, etc. and possibly need a larger home to accommodate a home office. For some employees wfh is a great thing, for others it’s a burden. Do you compensate differently based on whether or not they like it?

    So I think maybe you chose a bad example.

    I’m of the opinion that fair pay for the work is fair pay. Set your compensation at or even slightly above market rates for the work. Don’t skimp on health care. Treat employees with respect and dignity. And don’t drive yourself crazy trying to make everything exactly and precisely the same.

    Some jobs just can’t be done from home, and that’s just life.

  47. Construction Safety*

    I skimmed through the comments, so this may be redundant. If you pay them for the commute, then they are on the clock and the company assumes liability for accidents, WC, etc.

  48. Forrest*

    The flipside is that Persephone doesn’t have to dedicate a space in her home to work. Does Prometheus get compensation for that? What about IT equipment and broadband?

    I worked from home for 3 years for a union which had a huge working-from-home staff, and the set up was very well-funded. You got an allowance for a desk, chair, blind, and filing cabinet, and then a work laptop, peripherals, dock, router and a new hard broadband connection. We also got £300 a year home-working allowance to cover heating and lighting.

    But we did have to give up an office-sized portion of our home to work. You had to have space for a full-sized office desk, and the same amount of space around the desk that you have to have in a normal office–something like 25 cubic metres. That’s actually quite a lot, and I nearly lost the job right after I got it because I lived in a tiny house and I couldn’t make a big enough workspace to satisfy H&S (my boss overruled that one, but technically shouldn’t have.)

    I think it’s really difficult to put any kind of monetary value on things like commute, space use at home, etc because it varies for so many people. We live in a huge Victorian house now, and having an office space is trivial. For others it’s nearly impossible. Some people like a commute as a way to switch off or regular exercise; for other people it’s a hell. If Persephone drives to work and pays for parking, but Xerxes cycles the same distance, are you going to compensate Persephone but not Xerxes? These things are so personal that I think trying to compare them is pretty much impossible.

  49. Lara*

    I think the biggest benefit from working from home is the increase in flexibility (for me at least- I can throw in a load of laundry, make a quick phone call etc) so trying to replicate that as much as possible. Some ideas:
    – deciding what hours in-person people NEED to be there and giving flexibility outside of that. Can you have core hours where people need to be onsite (like 10-3) but then let them choose when to work outside that? Can you allow people to take 2 hours to run an errand/go see the doctor etc without being penalized?
    – significant sick time and encouraging people to work from home or take off completely for any illness symptoms
    – can you increase flexibility in dress code requirements?

  50. R*

    I would also think about the environment within the office. At home, when my husband is on site, it’s beautifully quiet and peaceful. I am much more productive because there are fewer distractions. It makes me really really want a private office when I go back in to the office. I won’t get one, I’ll be in a cubicle farm, but if my employer offered me a private office I’d go back next week. But even just spreading desks out more, providing noise cancelling headphones etc. would make going in-person more palatable. And if I were offered a private office AND my choice of wall color to go in-person? And a budget for decor? I’d be back there this afternoon!

  51. irene adler*

    Can on-site work be reduced to a 7 hour work day (with 8 hour’s worth of pay)?
    That would shorten the work day for those who must commute.

  52. NovaGirl*

    Ask your employees! Send out a survey! Get their feedback!

    Personally, I am not a fan of the idea that this sort of thing needs to be 100% equitable because it puts employers in the position of evaluating the personal circumstances of the employees. You should be responsive to each employee’s needs. If one employee lives close to the office but enjoys working from home & does it well, and her job is able to be done remotely, let her work from home. If you have an employee who needs to be there to work on a physical server every day, and he cannot realistically work from home, then he cannot work from home and should be aware of this given the nature of his job. If you have an employee who can do their job remotely but doesn’t like to work from home because they share an apartment and have to work from their bedroom, they can come into the office.

    I really hope we can shift away from thinking about remote work as a benefit and reframe it as a viable, normal option for employees whose jobs don’t necessitate being in a physical office. It means fewer cars on the road for those who do need to drive in (and likely fewer traffic accidents), less pollution, and happier employees. In many cases, it might even mean being able to save money by moving to a smaller office space eventually. It can also attract better talent and keep employees retained longer. So, drop the idea that it’s a benefit to be earned, and embrace that it’s something that is just another way of working for your company.

  53. Sleepy*

    It would be generous to offer some kind of “commute stipend” to anyone who goes into the office, but it should not be based on where they live or how they commute. People can spend the money in a bus pass, a new bike, or gas.

  54. Bagpuss*

    I agree with others that trying to compensate for a commute is difficult, and in most cases, is something which people will have considered when taking a job.
    I think things you can look at are:
    – If you have your own parking but space is limited, consider giving priority to people who are in the office all or most of the time, by way of permits / reserved spaces.
    – Provide things like snacks or the occasional meal for those in person
    – be flexible about hours – would it be possible to give those working in person (say) an extra day PTO so if they need to take half a day to wait in for a major delivery they can do so, or to allow them to flex their time to take a half day and make up the time
    – keep under review which things need to be in person and be clear and up front when recruiting, and also make sure that you are offering existing staff the opportunity to make lateral moves rather than recruiting externally, (I think this is a good thig generally, but a switch from a role that needs you in person to one where you can WFH may change people’s preferences / whether or not they would be interested in a particular move)
    – You can consider whether a requirement to work in person affects the salary you offer – e.g. whether you offer a slightly enhanced rate, or even a specific additional element for those *required* to work in the office (you’d need to check local laws to ensure this was doable, of course, and consider whether it was likely to cause any issues with indirect discrimination of any kind)
    – consider consulting – both about would be perceived as fair / reasonable and also about how your staff view the positives and negatives of WFH and working on site. You may find that there are lots of (perceived) benefits of being on site, by those WFH, as well as the other way around. Which would be relevant to what you offer each group and how to present the differences.

  55. Ace in the Hole*

    Working from home is a benefit in many ways, but it does have trade offs. For example while Persephone has to spend more time/money commuting, but Prometheus has to dedicate a potentially significant portion of his living space to work without any additional compensation. Similarly, while many people enjoy working from home some of us hate it – I am much happier and more productive when I physically go in to work. Working from home is a NIGHTMARE for me.

    My organization has mostly people who must work on site, a few who can work mostly/entirely from home, and a few (like me) who can do some work from home but have significant on-site responsibilities. During the pandemic we aren’t so concerned with equity in the sense of everyone being paid proportional to time spent working. We were concerned about equity in the sense of making sure no one lost income (even if they had to take much more time off than usual) and that our efforts/expenditures to reduce risk were spent on the highest risk people as opposed to the loudest or most visible.

    Some thoughts/suggestions for post-pandemic fairness:

    – Whenever possible, give people the option to work on site or from home. Just because a job could be done 100% remote doesn’t mean that’s best for every employee doing the job. This includes making sure you actually have enough office spaces, desks, etc. for everyone.

    – Consider additional paid time off and/or flex time for employees who must work 100% on site. One of the biggest benefits to WFH is the ability to do small personal things without taking time off – stuff like waiting for a repair person, signing for a package, etc. It also means people may be able to work when they’d otherwise have to call in sick… i.e. if Persephone has vertigo that makes it unsafe to drive, she has to take a day off. But if Prometheus has the same issue, he can still work.

    – Make sure that remote workers have the same level of access to managers and peers. Don’t forget to create channels for watercooler type socialization. Not only is it a necessary element for many people to feel secure/happy at work, but it also contributes a lot to what opportunities and networks a person has access to.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Huge +1 to the opportunities for socialization & water cooler chats. It’s not just for “team-building” but genuinely, people work better and give more opportunities to people they know.

    2. Decidedly Me*

      The idea that if you WFH that you are expected to work while sick is a major downside of WFH and one that companies really need to drop. If you’re sick, you should be able to take a sick day to rest and recover, regardless of being in office or WFH

      If you literally only have an issue that would affect the ability to drive in, but not affect working, there are alternative forms of transportation for that.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Not everyone has access to alternative forms of transportation. I’m in a rural area, many of my coworkers live an hour’s drive from town with no public transportation.

        I agree everyone should have enough paid sick leave to be able to take days off to rest and recover when needed, and many organizations have an unhealthy work culture of never taking days off that is exacerbated by remote work. But I also know plenty of people with chronic illnesses who don’t want to take days off every time they have a flare-up, but being on-site is very inconvenient/embarassing/uncomfortable. The option to work remotely as needed can even be an accommodation for some disabilities. And being sick is not the only type of thing this applies to – I mentioned several others.

        Even if you give plenty of time off, it’s worth considering one category of employee may have tons left over to take vacations or other personal trips while another group is spending most of it on necessities of day-to-day living.

      2. Liz*

        Yes! I couldn’t agree more. I had a former boss who, when not feeling well, and even having the flu, would work from home. and while they never came out and said it, my immediate boss and I both felt there was an unspoken expectation that we would do the same. Nope.

        I told him if i ever call in sick, its because I AM sick, and i’m NOT working from home, even though we have the ability to. I’m fine with no more snow days since we can work from home, but if i feel unwell enough not to come into the office, i am unwell enough not to work at all.

        1. Louise*

          I will say there are some problems where you are to sick to be in person, but you can do WFH. When I had mono comes to mind. After the first couple of weeks where I could do nothing, I could have worked from home, where just getting all the way to the office would have killed all my energy. WFH should be an option where you feel okay to work because you are in recovery mode but you could still be contagious so now you don’t get your co-workers sick too.

  56. NoPerksAllowed*

    My company decided to implement a flexible work policy for post-covid, where some could transition to remote work (either full time or part time), or those who are required to be on site could have the option for flexible schedules (like 9/80 or 4/10).

    Unfortunately for me, my direct management is not allowing any of it for my group because they have said it will be “hard to manage and be fair to everyone”, so therefore no one gets to do it. I asked if there would be some other benefit we could get instead, like comp time since my group has to travel and work a lot of overtime hours (no overtime pay as salary exempt). That was met with a “we’ll see”.

    I think it’s now very unfair to me that I can’t utilize this new benefit
    (and have been required to work on site throughout the pandemic too!). I thought my idea of comp time was a good compromise to make it fair!

    1. NovaGirl*

      Ugh, yeah, in the effort to be “fair to everyone” your manager has managed to be unfair to everyone by not allowing them to use a new company benefit!

      1. NoPerksAllowed*

        Thank you, exactly!! It seems like they don’t want to do the work to manage everyone’s schedules, so my group gets nothing! Very frustrating!

        After reading some other comments, I think another nice benefit is free coffee/snacks/etc. for on-site employees. Pre-covid we had free coffee but they took that away to reduce touch points so I have to provide my own coffee every day now (an added expense for WFH employees, yes, but also now for me too!).

    2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      LOL my boss did the exact something pre-COVID. “[Job category 1] can’t work from home so therefore [Job category 2 and 3] aren’t allowed to work from home either!” Never mind that JC 2 involves travel and afterhours work while JC 1 get to clock out at 5pm and be done for the day…jobs are just different sometimes!

      1. NoPerksAllowed*

        That’s true that jobs are different and require different working environments. In my case JC1 can’t ever work from home because their job requires them to work on machinery 100% of the time and there is little to no work outside of that. JC2 (me) does computer-based work 75% of the time, and 25% needs to be on-site to work with JC1, and also JC2 sometimes has to travel overnight several times a year and working lots of overtime hours (unpaid). JC1 occasionally might work overtime but gets paid time and a half. I get that it’s not fair to JC1 that they can’t work from home at all, but then how is it fair to JC2 to never get to work from home even though it’s physically possible 75% of the time? I don’t even care that I don’t get paid overtime, that’s just the nature of being salary exempt.

  57. boo bot*

    I think it’s great to recognize that everybody’s situation is different! Prometheus has to work remotely because he’s chained to a rock with eagles eating his liver, and Persephone is probably happy to get out of Hades for the day.

    Maybe there are other trade-offs that could be considered – I bet it would make Persephone’s life easier to work flexible hours in the spring when she comes back from the underworld to help her mother with the harvest.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      For a second I thought, “Ew! Gross! Why would you…” and then remembered it’s Greek mythology. Haha! Still gross, though…

      1. boo bot*

        Lol, sorry! I probably should have led with Persephone’s situation (although that’s pretty grim, too, once you get into the details).

  58. SentientAmoeba*

    The commute part is a non-issue because it was a non-issue in the before times. Your company presumably didn’t adjust compensation for employees based on their commute before, so why factor it in now?

  59. Ellie*

    I think this is simply a ‘different jobs, different requirements and sometimes perks’ situation, not a fairness one.

    A perk of my job is that I can usually pick my start time every day. A requirement is that for a few events a year, I have to work 12 hour days leading up to it and be there before the start of the event every day.

    My office had started testing a work from home program before COVID, and they talked about how it was considered a perk, but also talked about the additional responsibilities an employee had (e.g., creating a safe work space).

    When we transitioned to prolonged work from home (requirement), they added an internet stipend and a small home office stipend.

    I think the suggestions of paid lunch for in-office employees is a good one, but beyond that, I think it’s just how jobs work: some things are a bit unfair due to the requirements of each job.

    Some people *can* travel for work; some people *must* travel for work; some never will. Is that fair?

    I do think its worth considering if some jobs allow for, say, one day at home even if it can’t be all days.

    1. Ellie*

      Though this might be a good time for your office to look at pay equity. Are they underpaying the same jobs that can’t be done remotely?

      It’s not uncommon for people who make lower wages/salaries to have to live further from work due to expense of living near work, and jobs like receptionist and admin staff are often low paying.

      Consider whether they are appropriately compensating employees for the area.

  60. introverted af*

    I think you/your company should really focus on making a functional workplace with a mix of WFH/WFO. Make sure everyone is using your IM or team chat of choice and accessible like they would be for an informal chat in the office. Make sure that all employees have access to leadership and no one is penalized when it comes to reviews or promotions for one option or the other. That may require adjustments (like having grandbosses reach out first occasionally and check in, or more consistent departmental meetings to discuss the big picture) for whatever your company’s needs are, but I fully believe that if you want to have a mixed staff schedule you can make it happen.

    Also, definitely would recommend considering more flexible hours overall but especially for your in-office staff. You may still need some specific coverage, but if you can make that a perk for in-office that could help. For example, you might have core hours that everyone is required to work from 10-2 (or 9-12 or 1-4 or whatever makes sense) but outside that you just have to find a schedule that works with your supervisor.

    My current office doesn’t do this well. They say they have a flexible work schedule, but normal hours are 8-5, and you have to show up between 7-9am and leave between 4-6pm (with a couple very small exceptions). It’s more flexible than a hard-and-fast 8-5 schedule, but it’s also not really what I think of when I hear that a company offers a “flexible schedule,” and I think we’re mis-selling it by describing it that way.

  61. No Tribble At All*

    I’d say the most helpful WFH perk would be a stipend to help you get set up. If you haven’t WFH before, you’ll need an office chair, external keyboard and monitors (if work only gives you a laptop), etc. Heck, my desk is still a folding table, because that’s the only extra surface I have. We turned our spare bedroom into an office, but now we’ll have 3 desks: mine, spouse’s, and our personal desktop. At work they give you sufficient space and hardware. At home, it’s a significant investment.

  62. Bestisun*

    For in-office workers, can you ask what upgrades would make their work set-up more comfortable? At my old job, we lost our parking lot access, and the new lot was considerably more expensive, sold out during the summer months before the workday, etc. It was a big inconvenience for the team members who used it. My former boss asked team members what they’d like changed inside the office. Most people asked for relatively inexpensive items like new desk lamps, better keyboards, and favorite communal snacks. Some asked for bigger tickets that were warranted, like upgrading the wifi and replacing sad office chairs. A few asked for ‘free’ changes, like being moved closer or further away from the windows. Buying everyone the same items wouldn’t have worked as well as allowing people to feel listened to. Morale definitely improved.

    1. OP here*

      Because of the nature of our work, this is a thing my group already does but I hadn’t thought about it in a wider context. Thanks!

  63. ElleKay*

    I grew up on the fringe of “commute-able” NYC with a 90 – 120 min trip each way. Not a lot of people do this, obviously and unsurprisingly those that do are often high-income/high-prestige positions but I know a fair number of teachers who did it as well.
    That said, it’s not uncommon that, if you’re commuting by public transit, you employer counts one direction of that trip as “working time”. This is why the 6-7am trains are packed full of people with their brief cases and laptops, hard at work. It also means they might be able to take a 330 or 4pm train home rather than 5 or 6.
    This does have to include some accountability (y0u need to be getting 8 hours worth of work done, even if you’re only in the physical office for 6) but works fairly well in the cases I know of.

  64. Spcepickle*

    I think it is very usual and not productive to take into account people’s commutes. They get to choose to where they live.

    That said I have exactly the same issue in my office half my team does construction work (no ability to telework) and half does all the paperwork surrounding construction (99% teleworkable). So we are also figuring all this out for the After.
    Our big discussion right now are around chairs and computer monitors. We sent everyone home with their fancy office chair and monitors (everyone has a laptop), but if you are going to telework 50% of the time do I have to buy you two chairs and four monitors? Do we provide stipends for home office set ups? What about paying for people’s internet?

    We are going to end up with drop in cubes for people who mostly telework, no stipend for internet (because it is offset by your lack of commute cost) and I hope a home office stipend.
    Telework will be 100% optional and we will let it work out.

  65. Lucky*

    A whole lot of people are focusing on commute times not being compensated normally and “everyone chose their commute” but there are so many other ways to compensate employees whose services to the company require them to be physically in the office. Many companies are shrinking their footprints–in-office workers should get to choose their desk while WFH people hotel-desk when they have to come into the office. Use some of that real estate savings on in-office snacks and beverages. Be super flexible about late buses, bad traffic and snow delays. Maybe even close the office early the afternoon before a three-day weekend so in-office workers can beat the traffic going home.

    1. NoPerksAllowed*

      That’s a good point about in-office employees getting to choose their desk/office location. I used to have a terribly located desk in a high traffic area (even during covid with the people in my department being required to be on site), and recently I asked my manager if I could move to a new desk (near a window!) that was previously occupied by someone who WFH full time now. It was a struggle at first because they had equipment there that had to be moved, and they fought hard to keep the desk. But I framed it as “They get to work from home and I don’t, it’s only fair that I get to choose my desk since I have to be here and have no other choice”. Why should someone who is never in the office get to occupy one of the best desks in the office?!

  66. Llellayena*

    I live a 5 min walk from my office (and I’m still working from home during Pandemic Times). There’s someone else in my office with a 1.5 hour commute. There’s no real difference in how we are treated when it comes to amount of time actually working (not driving/walking). However, the other person’s schedule was adjusted so they work 9 hours mon-thurs and have every other fri off. This gives them one day in a 2 week period where they don’t have to make the drive. I think the key is to ask what flexibility will work for each person, in the bounds of what will work for the company. Equitable is not equal.

  67. Nope, not today*

    Commutes will always vary for everyone; not everyone has the ability to choose exactly where they want to live, but the employer isnt the cause of location problems. When I was in person I had a very short commute, due to living in the closest downtown suburb; people who choose more space and fewer neighbors have commutes three or four times as long. Not my employers problem. There are inherent costs in working in the office (transportation costs, food costs if you are not bringing food from home, etc), and working from home (I’m paying more for internet so I can work reliably, I’ve bought home office furniture I never needed before so I can be as comfortable as I was in my work provided office, etc). Its easier to focus in the office, but at home I can do laundry in between tasks. I feel like it all evens out in the end, and some roles might require people to be in person and that just can’t be helped…

    The only thing I think companies should definitely do for people coming in to the office is either some sort of transportation stipend for those who use public transport, or make sure that employees are not having to pay for parking out of pocket. That’s really the best leveler I can think of.

  68. Other Meredith*

    An important thing to consider is who is making the decisions about what’s going on in the office? Is it the people working from home? I’m working in person, I have to for my job, but every decision about what we’re doing in the office is made by leadership who are all at home right now. It’s irritating for them to say how safe we’re going to be when they are in their own living room, not interacting with the public. So the decisions should come from people at home and people in the office.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Leadership should at least be consulting those who are in the office and getting their perspective.

    2. NoPerksAllowed*

      Good point. I’ve been required to be on site every day during the pandemic and was told by someone in HR that is hardly ever in the office that “the company is doing a great job with our covid policy” when I complained about people not taking the mask policy seriously and not being reprimanded. Clearly you don’t know what’s going on day-to-day on-site if you’re never here!

  69. I'm just here for the cats*

    First I would like to thank you and your company for being reasonable and allowing people who can WFH to do so. Many companies are not doing this. And thank you for thinking of all of your employees and wanting to make it fair to them.
    As many others have mentioned the commute is not actually part of the workday. Presumably, employees aren’t working during their commute, so they shouldn’t be paid for it. And if they are (hopefully they are on a train or bus and not driving !) they are hopefully salleried and are already compensated for their time. The employees would have factored in their commute time when they took the job. Plus if you hire Molly who has a 1-hour commute and Jill has a 20 minute commute it wouldn’t be fair to pay Molly extra just because she has a longer commute.

    There are other incentives that you could offer like reduced bus/train passes, toll passes. Being flexible if there is bad weather and communicating that employees are not expected to drive an hour in a blizzard to come to work. And if there is bad weather seeing if you can still pay them without docking their PTO. Or allowing to leave early if a storm comes in when they are at work.

    If someone gets into a huff because they have to come into the office but others don’t you can explain that their job is dependent on being in the office where others work can be done remotely. You cannot greet guests or clean the office working from home, but Andy can certainly crunch numbers from home. I think a reasonable person will understand that jobs are different.
    If Jane and Andy have the same exact job and both can be done from home but you only allow Andy to work from home but not Jane, then THAT is not fair.

    I would also add make sure that those who can work from home actually want to work from home and don’t just assume. Some people just do not do well and prefer to be in an office. Or maybe they don’t have the best setup for an actual WFH area.

  70. Momma Bear*

    We have people who live in multiple states. The length of someone’s commute, or whether or not they have kids to drop off, or if they drive or take transit is up to them. However, a company can offer flexible hours and additional PTO for folks who need to come to the office all or most of the time. We also do as many meetings as possible via Teams so that people can join in from anywhere. Most people are required to come to the office at least once a pay period (Feds have similar rules), even if they can WFH.

    However, I think people need to bear in mind that not everything is equal. Some people have offices. Others have cubicles. Some people earn more or less PTO. Some people can WFH and some can’t. It’s not apples to apples. I don’t begrudge people who get paid extra for OT when I don’t. What would help that level of employee should IMO be the question/goal. Can you give your in-office worker the option of a 4 day work week if they work 10 hr days? Would that help them?

  71. No Tribble At All*

    We all got distracted by the commute suggestion, but I think you really have to balance that WFH is a mixed bag for a lot of people, so ask your individual team. While I appreciate getting to wear pajamas and having a cat sit on me all day, I desperately miss the closer teamwork and socialization that comes with in-person interaction. It’s especially true for cross-team functions — if you don’t know who to ask, it’s easier to stand in someone’s office and say “are you the right person?” than it is to randomly email coworkers you’ve never talked to before. If you have half the team WFH, you really need to create a culture that includes and regularly interacts with them. Otherwise, the freedom of WFH turns into being completely adrift.

  72. Monty*

    I think your office should be able to make things a little more equitable by, for instance, allowing Persephone to flex her time. Additionally, some financial adjustments might need to be made to compensate Prometheus for likely increases in expenditures on internet and to compensate Persephone for mileage. Your office could institute a formula that if you need to travel more than X miles or spend more than Y amount getting to work and logging on, you are eligible for some sort of additional compensation.

  73. Pretzelgirl*

    I honestly just don’t see how this can be done, so no one gets hurt feelings. I live in a moderately sized city area. With zero to no public transport. Its not uncommon for people to drive 45 min to work. My entire working life I have had at least a 45 min commute. Its my choice to live where I live and the company cannot control that. Currently my husband and I work in the same city 45 min away. We could move closer, but that would mean changing our kids’ school, loosing out on our (largely discounted) childcare, and our COL would go up.

    1. Pretzelgirl*

      I will say most managers I have had (apart from when I worked shift that had to be staffed) have been understanding. They let me set my work times, let me leave a few min early or arrive late. They understand my commute and let me make my own hours.

  74. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    It makes sense to me that some companies will offer parking/transportation stipends in particular locations to address certain barriers in recruitment (recognizing peer organizations’ employees don’t have these expenses) or to incentivize certain behavior (like carpooling or mass transit over personal cars). Otherwise I think it’s a mistake to think of commuting time as work time. The company gets no benefit from this time (and you don’t want employees to think they need to be taking work calls or answering emails while they drive). Employees are limited about how they use their commuting time, but it’s their time for personal calls, listening to loud rap music, or whatever else they do in the car. Yes it’s an inequity, but it is one that is largely chosen by the employees and factored into their choices about where they work. Even among those workers who must work on site, there will be wide variation in commuting times reflective of personal choices and circumstances. If you are really looking for ways to provide the kind of flexibility or comfort that will feel equivalent to what the WFHers get, can you allow for more flexible scheduling? Can employees opt to work longer hours to have alternating Fridays off? Can you provide some in-office perks like a break room stocked with food & beverages or weekly catered lunch?

  75. Exhausted Frontline Worker*

    Commuting benefits aren’t standard for companies, but they are a nice perk of yours is able to provide them. And while it’s still a public health emergency, hazard pay and adequate company-provided PPE for those onsite, as well as allowing people reliant on public transit to shift their hours so they don’t have to travel during peak times, although those benefits don’t have to be extended after the public health crisis ends.

    I’d also say look at the duties of the on-site roles and see if it would be possible to only require them to be in the office for tasks that can’t be done remotely, and allow split wfh/onsite schedules if people want it (although I recognize this may not be possible for some roles, or some people might just prefer to be in the office every day). It might mean some shuffling of tasks or timelines, but generally speaking people really value flexibility at work when possible. Most of my work needs to be done onsite, but I can usually swing one day a week from home catching up on admin work, and that’s really been helpful over the past year, and I hope I’m still allowed to do that after the pandemic.

  76. Xantar*

    At the risk of being glib, it seems to me that creating equity around commute times is a problem for governments to tackle, not employers all by themselves.

  77. a clockwork lemon*

    My company rolled everything out so there were a whole bunch of options that anyone could get for any reason as long as it was compatible with the functions of our job. When we applied, we weren’t asked why we wanted whatever schedule or WFH situation we wanted but we WERE asked to describe the impact it would have on our jobs and the steps we were taking to mitigate that impact. That way the focus was entirely on business function, and nobody had to get into potentially uncomfortable or discriminatory weeds. It makes no difference to my company if I want to work from home because I have a disability, because I don’t want a long commute, or because I want to be able to walk to my favorite local coffee shop in the morning instead of drinking sad office coffee.

    In my particular case, I sometimes have to use some systems that are locked down and are available for use in-office only. I requested full time WFH (I have a long commute but honestly I just didn’t want to be in the office full-time working in sweats from the comfort of my couch was an option) and was rejected because the core functions of my job sometimes require me to be physically present. The compromise we came up with was “officially” three days WFH and two days back at the office, but I had to sign an acknowledgment that if I was needed in-office for any reason, I would not balk just because it was a scheduled WFH day.

    1. a clockwork lemon*

      I also want to add that commute times aren’t often the only factor for people who want to work from home. I have colleagues who live around the block from the office who felt very passionately about continuing to work from home, and colleagues who live a 45min drive away who felt equally passionately about being physically present in the office.

  78. Lacey*

    I’m work from home now, but I had an 75 minute commute for a year and a 45 minute commute for several years and I think the best thing my employer did for me was being really flexible and understanding.

    No one hassled me for coming in 10-15 minutes late, even though there was a long stretch where I just could not make it to work on time. They just pretended like I had been on time, even though I very obviously had not been, but just saying that they understood would have been even better.

    They also were very nice about inclement weather. Because I lived so far out that made the commute way worse and they often let me leave early to beat the bad weather home or come in late so the plows would have had more time to make the roads better. Another aspect was that very often I would have terrible roads, but the snow didn’t hit their town at all. No one ever gave me a hard time about, “But there’s no snow here!” they just let me take the day off.

  79. Girasol*

    What happened to the old HR advice that when interviewing for a position, one should consider a person with a long commute less qualified than someone living nearer the office? The reasoning I’ve read it that they might be more unhappy and less motivated as a result of the commute time, although I wonder if there isn’t also the suspicion that they’re less likely to work ten hour days. Seems like if you add compensation for a long commute to those negatives, then home address will become more of a reason to discriminate, and people in the suburbs will have a harder time landing good jobs.

    1. DE*

      Is that really a thing? I personally choose to live very close to work because I hate commuting, but I work with a ton of people who have long commutes and really don’t mind it. It seems terrible to decide someone’s qualifications based on their address. Do you even see someone’s address before offering them a job? I don’t believe that we do.

    2. pancakes*

      To the extent that is a consideration, surely it should have more to do with reliability than happiness. Someone commuting from another state via train and bus, for example, may be delayed if one or the other runs infrequently, or tends to be shut down by weather conditions. Whether they seem happy shouldn’t be HR’s business. The idea that it should is extremely paternalistic and intrusive.

  80. Casual Librarian*

    There has been major drama at my workplace surrounding telecommuting and snow days. Our staff that are able to telecommute are still required to be in the office 50% of the time. If there is bad weather on a day that they are normally in the office, they are required to take PTO instead of working from home. This is seen as “fair” by our administration. It has been controversial to say the least…

  81. Alex*

    As this is about the long term impact beyond Covid the biggest thing that companies should be doing is ensuring that any work that has been temporarily reassigned to enable higher risk people or those home schooling to work from home during the current situation is returned to its usual person ASAP once that person is able to return to the office (even if that person would prefer to continue to work from home once they have no greater need to do so they need to get on with their job and visit the office if that is required to complete their tasks) . Different jobs have different requirements and the requirement to be in the office is reasonable if the work cannot be done elsewhere but it is not reasonable to expect people to indefinitely do more or different work to what they were hired to do in order to allow someone else to work from home in the long run.

  82. BSS*

    I consider my on-site workplace to be a valuable amenity provided by my employer, and I’ll happily commute 45 minutes to take advantage of it.

    I’m lucky that my workplace provides me with a comfortable chair, large desk with several very nice monitors, two computers (one monstrously powerful), blazing fast internet, printer, and all the espresso I can drink.

    I also like not having to have a home office in my 900 square foot apartment.

    If employers want to make workers less resentful of having to commute, step 1 would be to provide them with a workplace that’s preferable to what they have at home.

  83. Person from the Resume*

    Dropping the commute (cost and time) itself.

    WFH benefits for me (note: I still have strict work hours that I an not allowed to deviate from without prior permission):
    – don’t have to dress for work (I do change out of my PJs everyday, but it’s comfortable and very casual not appropriate for business.) which saves both cost of a work appropriate wardrobe and more time in the morning.
    – easier breakfast and lunch. My office gives everyone a only 30 minute lunch so there was no time for a lunch out when in the office and there was barely time to go anywhere and get take out so I like many others used to mostly pack a lunch. Now It’s easier to make a lunch in my kitchen when I’m ready to eat than prepare one the night before. And now I can make and eat breakfast after the start of the workday without having planned for that the night before.
    – I can be at home for any home repair without taking PTO.

    – Negative: barring power/internet loss, I don’t get snow, ice, flood days off while I can see the messages telling colleagues that don’t work from home that they have the day off. That’s a silly human “grass is greener” problem, but I feel it even when I know it’s dumb.

    Basically it’s time and money. Perhaps giving people who can’t work from home a couple of extra days of PTO for the times they need to be at home where a work from home employee could let someone in without taking time off.

    A casual dress code as reasonable, but even I wouldn’t wear what I’m wearing in my WFH office into an actual office. Maybe office t-shirts, polos, or uniforms paid for by the company if that makes sense (although that gets into other cans of worms of offering women’s cuts and sizing that fits all). Perhaps a work in the office stipend especially if people in the office require dressier clothes because they deal with the public.

    Definitely should offer a kitchen with fridge and microwave. Consider offering free food/lunches for the employees in the office or some vouchers for nearby restaurants. If not again, consider an work in the office stipend that might cover some of the cost of having to eat lunch while working in the office.

    I don’t know, though, work in the office stipend runs into “that’s not fair” grass is greener people experience when someone else gets a day off because it’s too dangerous to drive into work. But I do think as WFH becomes more common those people who’s job can’t be done from home deserve a bit extra especially when it’s a mixed office.

    For a doctor’s office or something similar where no one (almost no one) can work from home there’s no need for a differential/stipend. But in an office where it’s mixed, I think the cost to a person who must go into the office should be a factor in their salary.

  84. Veryanon*

    Transit benefits are a nice perk if they make sense for your in-office workforce – discounted/subsidized rail or bus passes, subsidized parking, subsidized commuter ridesharing arrangements, that kind of thing. I think trying to figure out compensation for commute time is a slippery slope that can quickly backfire, though.

    1. Veryanon*

      I will also say that many states actually have organizations that will work with employers who want to offer these benefits, usually through the state’s Department of Transportation. My employer’s office in Delaware has partnered with DelDOT through an organization that used to be called RideShare, which was funded by the state.

  85. DE*

    This is an interesting thought experiment. I personally see going into the office as a BENEFIT (I was on maternity leave when COVID started) and was happy to return to my in person job when my maternity leave ended. I have considered getting a new job now and again, and one of the things that is stopping me even from trying to transfer within my company is the potential of being forced to work from home!

  86. Madeleine Matilda*

    There are many workplaces in which some are full-time telework, some are part-time telework, and some are full-time in the office due to the nature of the work. No one gets extra compensation in terms of salary or PTO in these cases. If you can, give those who commute on public transit or pay for parking a commuter or parking benefit. Also keep in mind some people who may be eligible to telework won’t want to do so because they prefer to keep their home life separate from their work life, or their home isn’t well set up for telework, etc. What would you do for those who choose to be in the office because even though they aren’t required to be there?

  87. Hillary*

    I’m someone who despises working from home and can’t wait until I can go back to the office, even though I can do my job from anywhere with an internet connection. Most of my team can easily do their jobs fully remotely but I also have a lot of colleagues who can’t do their job remotely, whether it’s because they have to be on a secure network because they handle financial information or because they need access to their lab. My company’s planning to move to more flexible work but mostly not giving up space. A few things we’ve learned so far:

    – Have a career progression path for people who have to work in the office but want to be at home. AP clerks have to be in our office because of the network restrictions and physical checks, but how can we help them get ready for an analyst or AR role if they want it.
    – Make sure WFH work is visible to the people in the office. We’ve seen resentment from the people who have to go in that people are slacking at home. We know they’re not – we measure productivity in a lot of ways.
    – Give people a choice as much as possible. There will be people like me who want to go to the office, and there will be people who need to. Entry level employees learn a lot through osmosis, we haven’t figured out how to replicate that remotely. How do we give them opportunities for growth and career progression?
    – Also think about the supervisors/managers. We have to have at least one supervisor in the building for safety/liability, but they’re almost never doing work that must be done at the office. The senior leader on the main team in the office made sure he and his reports rotate through the office so one supervisor doesn’t have to go in all the time.

    1. OP here*

      Career development and progression is on the radar but I don’t think it had been considered as a facet to enable getting people to a remote/partial remote/full on site situation that they prefer. We all had accepted the jobs that we had a year ago. Some of us will get them back the way they were. Others won’t. This is useful. Thanks.

    2. pancakes*

      Why “Make sure WFH work is visible to the people in the office” instead of “make sure people in the office aren’t indulging in bitterly crafting narratives about their coworkers’ productivity”?

  88. Combinatorialist*

    One thing that should definitely be under consideration is office space. If people who have to come in every day and work in cubicles while most of the offices are empty because people are working from home, that is going to look and feel really bad.

    At my company, we are being given a choice. We can work from home full-time or nearly full-time and basically get floater space for when we come in. Or we can work onsite full-time or nearly full-time (once everyone is vaccinated, the pandemic is over), and keep our offices. For me, I have to go in enough to do work that legally cannot be done from home that it is worth being in the second group and keeping my office, even though I would rather work from home a little more. For another team in my department, they all chose to be in the first group because they rarely need to come in (maybe once a month or less, instead of my once a week) and so are happy to give up their offices in order to be able to work from home full time.

    The people who are in the most should have the nicest space.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I’ve been back in the office for a while, but only because we have individual offices where we can close our doors and stay socially distant. However, there’s only one office in this suite that has any windows, and it belongs to my boss…who is rarely here. It’s really been getting to me that I can’t even have my door open to see a little bit of natural light or other people. I would gladly share that office with other people (in normal, non-pandemic times) if it meant I could have WINDOWS. I want to see the trees and the sunshine and to know when it’s raining! Right now I feel like I’m shut away in a closet…even though it is nice trade off not to share…

      You make a very good point that it would soften the blow of being required to be in the office if you get to choose a space that works well for you (and hopefully other people as well).

      1. Hillary*

        When we moved into our new offices they did something fantastic with the architects – they put the offices almost entirely on interior walls. C-level offices have exterior windows, but all the other windows are in conference rooms, cube areas, or break rooms. We thought we’d miss the privacy we had with our extremely tall cubes in the old space, but we don’t. It’s amazing how much better we all feel in a nice space with natural light.

    2. OP here*

      Yes! I know this is a thing that’s on the table. I don’t know how it’ll pan out in practice but it’s nice to hear how it’s working for someone else.

  89. Mannheim Steamroller*

    In my office (state-level public authority), the “compensation” for the longer commute comes in the form of special allowances for those who live in the distant suburbs: e.g. flexibility in arrive/leave times (especially when it’s related to inclement weather or childcare), frequent exemption from mandatory unpaid overtime, and so forth.

    Those of us who live within the city call that the “residency penalty.” Some have even been “ordered” to not move out of the city because they’re needed to pick up the slack from their suburban coworkers.

  90. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    I look at it as, different jobs have different expectations, different responsibilities, and different perks. I would imagine that the types of jobs that allow for remote work are in some ways different than those that don’t, rather than the org just flipping a coin (as some commenters suggested upthread). Working from home means no commute, but it also (often) means less sense of community engagement, less facetime with higher ups, and just less time out of the house. A lot of people love working from home (and I think they’re overrepresented among this commentariat), but a lot of people HATE working in isolation and would rather be with their coworkers! So as long as the positions are paid fairly for the market and the benefits are as competitive as possible, I wouldn’t worry about trying to make things exactly even between jobs that allow remote work and jobs that have to be done on site.

    Here’s an example – before COVID my boss was twisting himself into pretzels trying to figure out a way to make it exactly equal for some positions to be able to work from home, some to have flex hours, etc. At the time it didn’t seem possible for admin staff to work remotely (obviously that was changed real quick last March) so the remote-functional employees were prevented from working remotely because it wouldn’t be “fair” to the onsite staff. But every job has its benefits and drawbacks! I can work remotely but my job also (normally) involves substantial travel and afterhours work, whereas my office manager needs to be onsite but also gets to turn her computer off and go home at 5pm. It’s not my boss’s job to make sure our jobs are exactly equal and if one of us doesn’t like how our jobs are set up, we can certainly find something that suits us better.

  91. Squirrel*

    Commutes are tricky of course. I see that some people consider it a “choice” to live far from where one might work. That is often not the case though. Where I work the cost of living is WAY too high for the lower paid staff, so most of us live in a neighboring area with lower rents. So yes, our commute times are longer, but it’s hardly a “choice.” If making things equitable is truly your goal then mileage reimbursement is a must (we also tend to drive older, more run down cars, and pay higher insurance because of our neighborhoods). For those who take the bus being reimbursed for that would be great.
    Flex time is also something to consider if possible. We are often working more than one job and have family to care for.

  92. The Real Persephone Mongoose*

    It’s hard to fairly compensate for commute. Paying a person who has a 2 hour RT commute daily more than a person who does the same job but only has a 5 minute commute isn’t fair either. The pay is for the job functions and not the commute. But what you can do is honestly assess whether or not someone needs to be in the office ALL of the time and offer everyone flexible working hours including WFH part time or full time. For those who opt for WFH full time, offer an allowance towards quality ergonomic work station and chair, a good laptop, extra monitors (if needed) and access to common office supplies. I’m one of those people with a super long commute (4 hours RT daily) and a job that could have long been done 100% remote or with minimal time in my physical office. I would happily WFH forever and come into the office on a 1x weekly basis max just to have face time with my team and get office supplies. I could move closer to the office to decrease my commute but my employer’s pay structure along with that of the other big tech companies in this area have driven housing prices sky high in the areas surrounding the main offices. So my choices are affordable housing or a short commute. I’d rather WFH and have no commute. My employer seems to now be shifting to agree with me. We are both happy right now.

  93. Aquawoman*

    How are they being punished? If someone decided to rent a more expensive home to get a shorter commute, they got a shorter commute. They got what they paid for.

    There are plenty of people who can’t afford a short commute because the housing prices are too high. Their higher commuting costs are a poverty tax.

  94. Mazda*

    I don’t know–I think there are contexts where it’s more fair to consider commute–when your salary can’t sustain the COL nearby. For instance, I live in a high cost of living area with a tight rental market and an insane housing market with vanishingly few options. Near where I work, home prices are in the stratosphere and there’s no way I could qualify to buy or maintain even a tiny crappy house anywhere near my workplace–not really any affordable rentals anywhere, either.

    The employer can’t afford to pay us to live nearby, and people have to live further and further out, all while accepting tiny raises. A lot of long-timers, however, have mortgages from 20 years ago close by when they could pick wherever they wanted to live, and make much higher salaries to boot. Most of them are the ones who don’t want formal WFH policies expanded.

    So in this instance, I think it’s more fair to consider the commute as something that could be taken into account. We literally can’t afford to live closer than 50 minutes away. How is that our fault?

    1. Squirrel*

      Amen! Exact same thing here. Make too much for section 8, and the only section 8 housing is way out on the far side of town anyway.

  95. Alexis Rose*

    When employers reimburse a certain behavior (whether transit passes or parking), they incentivize that behavior and there can be a certain amount of moral hazard involved.

    For example, I used to work with “Jane”. When she came to our downtown office (1x per week), she asked to be reimbursed for parking, saying that a bus commute was a burden on her. Management agreed to reimburse. Jane consistently chose the most expensive parking garage to park in. Management switched to giving all employees at that office a “commute stipend” which they could spend as they saw fit. The stipend would have just covered a less-expensive parking garage with nothing left over, or would cover a bus trip with a about 2/3 left over. Suddenly, Jane realized the bus wasn’t so bad.

    1. pancakes*

      This seems more like a non-issue than a moral hazard. There are all sorts of reasons people might switch from driving to taking the bus – a partner changing their schedule and needing to use a shared car, for example, or a new medication that makes driving more difficult. In any case, if everyone gets a commute stipend it’s pointless to fuss over where Jane parks.

  96. Jerry Larry Terry Garry*

    During Pandemic times, when it’s more burdensome to have to go into work, what about shortening the workday by half an hour for those going into the office?

  97. Millennial PR Pro*

    In terms of commuting – it’s the person’s decision to have an hour long commute! I’m a millennial who has had to option to work from home with almost every job I’ve had, but I also knew going into my career (public relations) that my job would allow me to WFH more. My best friend on the other hand works in wildlife research, and knows that she has to do field work and office work, some of which can be done from home, but she will mostly have to be in an office to get her work done.

    I think that companies who can let people work from home a few days a week, should, but I enjoy being in the office and am looking forward to going back. My husband could care less about being in the office, but does miss some of the social interaction. As long as companies provide commuting benefits, have water, coffee on site, and are reasonable in who is allowed to work from home, I think that’s definitely enough. All job roles/positions have their perks and disadvantages. In my role I’m expected to be reachable before and after hours if something happens, my husband is not. I think it’s just one of those trade offs people sign up for.

  98. A Frayed Knot*

    This may seem unworkable at first, but…can people switch roles/responsibilities so that they are working in their most productive environment? Those who want to work from home switch to WFH roles, those who would rather come to the office switch to those roles, etc. This assumes that skills and knowledge are approximately equal, which is a HUGE assumption, but letting people do what they want to do/where they want to do it makes much more sense than finding ways to incentivize people to do something that just doesn’t come naturally to them.

  99. James*

    A lot of this is going to depend on the job. I can’t work from home as a QC rep on a remediation site because I have to see the dirt. It’s part of the job, and there are already ample policies and procedures in place to make it as un-horrific as it can be. On the other hand, grocery store staff can’t work from home because they need to physically be there, and there’s not much to make their lives better. The upper ranks can work from home, while the grunts get exposed.

    So I would say that the first step is to find out what your individual workers want. At my job we started doing cookouts (pre-pandemic) as a way to compensate for the travel. Folks stocking shelves may want more breaks, or the ability to listen to music, or something (been 15 years since I did that, and I never did it for long). Maybe office workers that are required to be in the office want some free, or even just reduced-price, snacks (like a popcorn machine). I’ve seen each of these work, but what works for one group doesn’t work for the others.

    The other thing is, don’t assume that working from home is a blessing. For many of us, it’s not. A person working in a small apartment, with their wife and new baby, trying to stay productive at the kitchen table is going to be somewhat annoyed to hear that office workers are getting extra goodies to compensate for the advantages experienced by the work-from-home group. I would sell any attempts to compensate office workers as “Pandemics suck, we’re trying to make it suck less”, and leave the work-from-home group out of the discussion entirely.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      What can be done for the so called grunts as you put it–pay them. As in reward them well with money, extra PTO, etc. Not lip service like snacks or “you’re heroes!” PAY THEM. Pay for theor health insurance, up their wages, up their sick and PTO.

      1. Spearmint*

        During the pandemic, I agree they should get extra pay, but afterwards? Eh, I don’t think that’s fair. Everyone should get generous pay and PTO because they deliver value to the company, not based on particular perks they may or may not have.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          But those workers keep the company alive. Pay your workers generously. Fpr those who cant work from home, extra PTO, extra pay. The WFH get that perk, the workers who can;t get more money and PTO to compensate.

      2. James*

        “Grunts” was by no means pejorative. Or if it is, it’s self-deprecating. It’s what some of us field geologists call ourselves, as opposed to the office workers who sit in air conditioning all day. (I’m sort of in both worlds right now.) I was a cashier for a while, and understood very quickly that these were critical employees–after all, a customer may never meet a manager, but they ALWAYS encounter the cashier. The cashier is the face of the company. And it’s that way for most work that can be lumped under “grunt” work.

        The snacks was for office workers. They already get a lot of benefits compared to line workers, folks who stock shelves, etc., so it makes sense that their perks in the pandemic would be lesser. Frankly I’d consider being able to go into the office to be a benefit in and of itself right now, commute and all. But that’s just me; I get that others view things differently.

        I do not agree with a blanket “pay them more” argument. It’s going to depend on the business. A lot of businesses are suffering right now–more than a few have gone under–and many simply can’t pay more. I’m not talking about Walmart or Amazon; most businesses are much smaller and operate on very tight margins. There are, however, other things that can be done which are not lip services, like you said. Specifics will depend on the specific organization, though.

    2. pancakes*

      I’ve never worked in a grocery store and it seems to me there’s a LOT that can be done to make their work lives better. Higher wages, bonuses for hazardous conditions, more sick days, better security provided by the stores (so that people responsible for stocking shelves or cutting meat, for example, don’t find themselves brawling with anti-mask renegades), upgraded ventilation, and comfortable seating for cashiers, for starters.

      To your second paragraph I want to say that it likewise doesn’t make much sense to assume everyone working from home is doing so at a kitchen table with a crying baby in the vicinity. I don’t want children and have never not had a desk. Rather than leaving any particular group out, it seems preferable to ask employees what would make their work lives better and listen carefully to what they say.

      1. James*

        “To your second paragraph I want to say that it likewise doesn’t make much sense to assume everyone working from home is doing so at a kitchen table with a crying baby in the vicinity.”

        100% agree. I know people who pushed for this perk, and who love it. The reason I mentioned a specific type of person who may find working from home a burden is that the idea that a company needs to “build equity for those who can’t work from home” assumes that working from home is a perk. It’s worth remembering that this isn’t universally true, though. Not everyone has living arrangements that allow for it, or personalities that fit with working from home.

        Ultimately I think you and I agree: the nature of the work and the conditions of the individuals needs to be the determining factor in how to handle the pandemic. Some are going to find working from home a benefit; some will find it a hardship; some will find it impossible, for a variety of reasons. And the only way to really know which is to ask. Everyone should be treated as fairly as possible, and management shouldn’t assume that any one group is inherently getting the better end of the deal, at least not prior to getting employee input.

  100. egallison*

    I have since left this job, but from March-November I typically had to go into the office about once per week where I was the only person or there was one other person (who also came in about 1x per week).

    In November the company gave everyone a $500 WFH stipend for home office needs ( a little late, but better than never, and you could use it for literally whatever you wanted, it didn’t have to be for office items). The two of us who went into the office got an addition $500 as a thank-you for going in when others weren’t.

    Doesn’t really answer the question, but one kind of approach.

    I know at my former company paying for transportation, catered meals (maybe one per week), and flexible hours would be highly appreciated by those who still needed to come in and seem like gestures the company would be willing to do.

  101. Choggy*

    I’ve been at my current company for 17 years and used to have an hour commute. I drove to work in every type of weather until my husband and I decided to move closer to my office (without affecting his shorter commute too much), it’s not much shorter, but it’s better. 2020 was the first year my company allowed work from home in any capacity (well, was forced to do so) and most are still WFH for the foreseeable future. Of course not everyone can work remotely, our field personnel have to continue commuting to their home base and driving to customer locations because that’s the nature of the job (utility company). I don’t know that employees in different areas have complete visibility into how companies try to provide equanimity for all based on job type. I think my company does its best to make sure those who are essential have all that is necessary to do their jobs safely and comfortably (as possible) and are well compensated. There are also employees who don’t want to WFH, so choose to safely work in the office, they either have their own office, or have enough space between themselves and other workers, wear a mask, etc. I have enjoyed my year of WFH, and am not looking forward to having to return to the commute and hopefully won’t have to! I agree there are jobs that have more flexibility but if someone chooses an essential job, they should be made well aware of certain concessions they may have to make.

  102. Richard*

    This might be a good one for a note clarifying that this doesn’t need to be just a discussion about compensating commutes, which a lot of people seem laser-focused on.

  103. Yellow Warbler*

    My company higher-ups have touted “fairness” as a reason to make button-clickers come into the office. Multiple people who work in our manufacturing and R&D facilities have posted on Glassdoor “We don’t care if it’s fair, you should stay home if you can work remotely, so we are all safer!”

    My point is: it’s entirely possible that you’re stomping on good-enough while reaching for perfect. Actually ask the people who have to work on-site (use anonymous surveys if you must), and sift through the answers with an open mind.

  104. Silicon Valley Girl*

    Since OP has added a comment that this isn’t specifically just about commuting & bec. I agree w/the comments about commute time not being paid / employees’ commute distance has various reasons / WFH isn’t always a perk … why not just focus on good old-fashioned pay & benefits? When all employees are fairly compensated & have solid benefits packages, differences like who works remotely & who’s on-site matter less.

      1. twocents*

        Just point blank with no other facts? My job requires an MBA and Bob’s job requires the ability to run a simple calculator, but he should be better paid and get better benefits because he’s customer facing and I’m not?

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          He should be compensated well for work. And as he can’t WFH, he should be given more PTO and paid better than those who get WFH as a perk. Now, education doesn’t mean a person works harder, Should a degreed person be compensated more than Bob? I don’t know–Bob may actually do more work than many with MBAs. Plenty of degreed people do less work than admins or receptionists. If you are doing more complicated work, let the pay scale reflect it but again, if you are working from home, Bob should have more PTO. And Bob should be paid more than someone doing similar work (say data entry or answering phones from home) if they have WFH and he doesn’t.

  105. a*

    We’re in kind of a unique situation. There are ~30 (and ~200 in the state) of us in the building who all have the same job title/description. We are in different sections, performing different functions. Some of us can WFH; a few of us cannot. Each section has varying amounts of work that can be done at home. There is some work that must be done on site, but my section in my location cannot WFH at all because the computers that we have are laptops and can’t be accessed using the remote desktop program because they go to sleep when we’re not here to wake them up. Aha! But they’re laptops, you say! Just take them home with you! Sadly, no, that is somehow NOT a reasonable solution…for us. We have the appropriate software to do it, but our bosses have decided that we should not.

    On the plus side, my work week has been compressed from 4 days (~10 hours) to 3 days (~13 hours).

    If we wanted to make an issue of it, we could, as we are a union shop. But for now, none of us really want to work from home, so we’re letting it go.

  106. Dasein9*

    One way employers can support their in-office employees is by paying taxes (instead of taking every possible loophole) and lobbying for regional infrastructure that makes commuting less onerous and a variety of housing options available.

  107. Black Horse Dancing*

    For the people who can’t WFH, offer them higher pay, extra PTO-start with a week–, and possibly a concierge service so that someone can be at their home for the cable installer, plumber etc.

  108. I'd Rather Not Say*

    No, no compensation for travel vs those working at home. You’ll get into an endless competition for what’s fair. What about those whose kids are old enough that when they get home from school they can keep themselves busy until the WFH parent is “off the clock” so that parent no longer has to pay for afterschool care? Clothes, dry cleaning, gas, insurance, increased utilities (and internet) costs (WFH). The list is endless. What’s a benefit for one person, may be a detriment for another and people will chose accordingly. Some employers are realizing that offering WFH is actually a perk they’ll need to offer to be competitive. Can’t we just agree, it will all come out fairly in the end?

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      But it won’t. If you can’t WFH, how is it right that X can and avoids commute time, can toss laundry in whenever they want, use their washroom, etc. Yes they may have a slighter higher utility bill but they don’t have a commute or gas bill. Please they can be there for the plumber, etc. The people who can’t work from home should be given more PTO and paid more.

      1. Name Required*

        I’m paying more in increased costs working from home than I did working in office. My utilities are more than my commute cost. Sure, I can toss a load of laundry in, but for many people, employers expect 24/7 access to their employees’ time in exchange from this perk. Working from home isn’t a gauranteed upshot for all workers.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          No but neither is working in the office. Those people who must work on site should be given more PTO, more money because they will not get the benefits of working in PJs, waking up 5 minutes before a call, and not using PTO for a plumber’s visit. The remote workers should absolutely not be considered on call unless that is their job. They should have their hours and that is that unless they are paid to be on call or to finish a project.

          1. I'd Rather Not Say*

            A job it worth what a job is worth. If an employer needs to offer things either for remote workers or on site workers to fill positions, they will.

        2. pancakes*

          I don’t think many employers do expect 24/7 access to employees working from home. That’s a seriously dysfunctional lack of boundaries and lack of perspective.

          1. Name Required*

            ;-) maybe I’m reading this blog too much. It’s an example, with the overall point being that you can’t make assumptions about how *magical* working from home is or how *painful* working in office is. There’s can be truth there, but listen to real people in your office, don’t generate assumptions and then make policy decisions off of them.

  109. Emily*

    You can be upfront to people when they interview what the demands of the job are and you can provide some benefits associated with working in the office (transit subsidies/parking, snacks). Beyond that, this just doesn’t seem to me to be an employer’s obligation to deal with. There are companies where you and all of your coworkers will be remote, and there are companies where they’ll all be on-site. Having a mix does not create a special set of obligations. If people are being called back in, it would also be kind to give them as much as time as possible to prepare for this, and you should anticipate some of them may leave, particularly if they are no longer local.

  110. Esmerelda*

    I think this (really good) question stretches beyond commutes. If you work from home on a permanent basis, should your company give you a stipend for your internet at home since people in the office have free internet to work from? If you need to buy a new office chair or desk to work from home with, does your office pay for that? That would seem reasonable to me.

    But sometimes I think the reimbursing conversations go to far. In my office, we stopped brewing coffee last year since there are now only 1-3 of us in the office at a time (and only one of us drinks coffee). No one told us we couldn’t use the office coffee anymore or anything, but my coffee-drinking coworker just stopped making it, thinking it wasn’t worth it to make a pot for only himself. So he bought a Keurig for the office and a bunch of K-cups (like, hundreds of them for himself) and was absolutely livid that HR didn’t offer to reimburse him for coffee costs. They reimbursed when he asked, but he was mad they didn’t proactively offer. He claimed free coffee was his right because he came in to the office when other people didn’t, and gosh darn it he shouldn’t have to buy “office supplies” (as he called it) with his own money. I found that quite petty. We had free coffee at our disposal already; he could have just made a couple cups at a time. And I don’t drink coffee so am I supposed to be offended that he’s getting more free things than me when we both come in to the office? I mean, I really don’t care about the coffee, but it’s an interesting thought. :)

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      But if you compensate remote workers for internet, why not compensate the office workers for gas and mileage as well as a clothing allowance because the office workers are usually more dressed up than remote workers?

      1. Esmerelda*

        Oh it’s a slippery slope for sure! Because then if you give clothing allowances for office employees like you suggested, then you’d have to make everything fair fair WFH employees, too, like giving WFH employees stipends for childcare/petcare/elder care/etc so they can have more productive workdays like the in-office employees do, etc. The factors just never end.

  111. I Don't Know What I Do*

    I agree with a survey of staff — anonymous. It might take multiple rounds because people might have ideas that won’t work and you’ll need to filter.

    I work at a university so there are limits to what a specific unit or school can do. But there are people working onsite and people working from home.

    – I’d look at things like salary — if you’re “essential” to be onsite, maybe there can be an increase in wages. Some jobs can really only be done in person.
    – PTO policies. As mentioned above, can onsite employees go to the doctor without taking leave? At my institution this is more about hourly vs salaried employees
    – If fewer people are commuting, then maybe better parking benefits. We pay to park. Can we pay less to park closer?
    – Flex time. Work 4 longer days? is there any work that can be done at home?
    – Holidays. We don’t completely close during the break. If we did, onsite people could have a longer holiday (and not have to use vacation time!)
    I don’t think everyone else here will stay WFH 100% — I like the idea of a hybrid option with planned office days and planned WFH days.

  112. Barking Mad in the US*

    I work in the transit world and I am really happy to see a number of people talk about employer-subsidized passes. It’s a thing-my transit agency doesn’t offer it yet, but we will be offering in the future. I will also add that through either the transit agency or MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization-and every large urban area in the US has one) there are van pool programs. It’s run by Enterprise who generally is the only national company doing that. It’s another opportunity to cut commuting costs and funded through Federal Dept of Transportation.

    I also happen to have a boss that understands there are times when you have to WFH. My commute is 60 minutes/one-way and it’s the shortest commute I’ve had in 5 years. However, I go over a long bridge with 3 exits and then another huge bridge that when crashes happen, you are stuck. And yes, this is my choice to commute but jobs like what I do are very far and few between in my state and my husband is from here, so here I am.

    The other perks I’ve read about are great but in public agencies, you can’t do a lot of those things. We are funded by tax dollars and, quite frankly, the idea that government employees get perks similar to private industry starts the general public yelling waste. (Most government workers, on any level, are highly skilled/educated and take the fact that their agency is funded via tax $$). It’s not fair but it’s reality. I think there are some agencies who are creative and smart

  113. Aly_b*

    There are also some studies going around about how people who work from home end up paying for a larger living space, often moving costs to get into that larger space, higher utility bills, etc. So it’s not all sunshine and roses either way.

    Honestly I think I’m coming down to: just pay people well, with money, and let them figure out what to do with it. Where you can give the option to be in person vs remote that’s great. Not everyone will want to do the same thing!

    Where roles require in person presence, try to do your best to make that nice with the usual office stuff like decent coffee, and where possible things like flexible hours and dress code. But different jobs have different requirements, and one piece of that going forward is likely to be remote vs in person.

  114. YetAnotherAnalyst*

    Thinking about this, I realized what would make my transition back to the office more palatable would be something like a discount for doggy daycare near the office. I’ve gotten accustomed to taking my dog out in between meetings, but when I’m back in the office I’ll need to pay someone to look after the pup during workdays.

    There are probably dozens of services like that, that we’ve been able to take on ourselves in our more flexible WFH schedules but won’t if we need to go back to the office. Childcare, eldercare, tutoring, cleaning, gardening…. It’s probably worth a survey of folks in your office, but if you can use size of your company to get group discounts on those sorts of services for folks who have to be back in the office, I’d bet that buys you a lot of employee goodwill.

  115. Robin Ellacott*

    I’m always intrigued that it seems working from home is just assumed to be more desirable. I have an apartment that yes, has an extra room, but I paid more for that room because I wanted it for a reading/sitting space. So I would much prefer to work from the office, which in my case feels pretty safe. We had other team members who preferred to come in to the office if given the choice.

    Given that it seems most would prefer to work from home, but not everyone can, I’d say employers should look for what the specific downsides of their particular office are and balance those out.

    No restaurants around? Bring in snacks/food.
    No free parking? Pay for people’s parking or transit if that’s viable.
    Open plan? Spread people out and give them as much dedicated space as you can (we don’t have open plan but we moved the In Office folks into the nicer offices vacated by some staff who are working from home)
    Relax the dress code as far as you can.
    And make sure people at home and in office aren’t treated differently re expectations that they’re on call or flexibility of work hours (unless it’s an accommodation for childcare or something, in which case I’d hope it would be applied evenly).

  116. Formerly Ella Vader*

    Find out what people’s preferences would be, all other things being equal. Would each person prefer to be fully at the office/at client sites, fully or near-full WFH, or a mix? Do the total numbers match with the total % of work that needs to be at the office? Might be that each department could propose some arrangement (whether it’s, we each come in one day in four and we’re all there Mondays, or Jim is always in the office because he prefers that, so he’ll take care of the physical deliveries and storeroom and packing orders, and the rest of us will be mostly at home) that works for them.

    Whatever customs you had about flex time, core hours, when people are expected to monitor and respond to messages, while they were all WFH: are those sustainable long-term for everyone? Not just, can the company manage with everyone getting to run errands during the day, but were there any expectations of weekend availability that worked okay in a crisis year but which need to be backed off now to make healthy habits?

    What about childcare. In the before times, I agreed with before-AAM that as a general rule, people couldn’t bill WFH-time if they were caring for babies or toddlers at the time. (If they were going to do it in the evening when someone else was on call for the kids, I was fine with that.) This was a handy rigid rule that avoided me having to negotiate or judge whether a specific person was getting enough done. And then in covid times all those rules were off. But now, I don’t know whether to have a rule, or whether to do it on a case by case basis with expectations laid out.

    Also, I see some advantages of having everyone welcome to work at the office sometimes. So I want to make sure there’s visitor parking available (and you don’t have to be on site at 8 am to get it), an empty desk with a chair that isn’t broken, a way for anyone to get the wifi password, either everyone with a key/keycard or someone always there to unlock the office, etc.

    1. cncx*

      just to amplify what you said about flextime/core hours/response time: flextime and core hours and a reasonable response window from support staff is a big issue at my job. i’ve negotiated flextime in exchange for coming in so like, i’m fine but i still have coworkers who just expect me to sign on at 9pm just because that was their first time getting to something that day. My company has handled the pandemic really well and has been very good to me personally, but one thing that has not been communicated well are expectations around core availability. I think it’s a perk for people who are wfh to be able to schedule around meals and childcare and life but they need to make sure they’re not forcing support staff into 12 and 16 hour days, which happened to me last week. someone dropped a ball on me at 5pm, i told her i had been online since 7am, asked her to get back to me promptly, and instead she had dinner with her kids and didn’t write me back until 730pm because of *her* schedule. I don’t get paid for on call or extra hours. The problem is her boss just told her i was the hired help and didn’t communicate properly that i don’t just stay online all day. So some user education around what the company accepts in response times (if you write julie at 8pm she will get back to you in the morning because she doesn’t get paid overtime and works 9 to 5, and so on) would be really helpful in some companies.

  117. Sometimes Charlotte*

    When we were presented the offer for our current jobs, we made a decision on that offer based on many factors, including our commute time. We may have negotiated our salary or work hours based on that commute time.

    For those of us that had previously negotiated WFH, we may have traded away salary to get that perk. For a company to now “allow” people to work from home at their current salary when others were previously offered less because WFH was a “perk” is also unfair. Yes, they may have expenses such as office furniture or a need for a bigger house, but they are also not being “forced” to take the WFH position going forward; they can decline if they don’t have the proper space or if they don’t like some aspect of working from home.

    IMO, if a company has decided that WFH is an option they want to continue to allow people to have, they should be negotiating that new WFH schedule as part of a conversation regarding salary and benefits. Employer and employee can each decide what the WFH benefit is worth to them and reflect that in the compensation. Maybe that means a company is cutting salaries on jobs that are 100% remote or increasing salaries on jobs that 100% in office – no matter if the person lives next door or an hour away. And the employee can decide if the benefits of working from home are worth what the company offers.

    Personally, I have a 10 minute commute and a pay cut to work from home wouldn’t be worth it to me, but if I had my former job, with a 45-minutes-on-a-good-day commute, I’d have taken a pay cut to be remote.

    1. a thought*

      I think this makes a lot of sense but honestly I see it being extremely hard for morale if companies start cutting salaries!

    2. Des*

      That sounds incredibly unfair to me. If my employer decided to cut my pay just because I’m working from home I’d be looking for another job. (FWIW, my expenses decreased by at most a few days of gas for the car (which I still have to drive to grocery shop now that the store is not on my way to work, etc) and went up by the cost of setting up a home office.) The fact that someone negotiated poorly to take a pay-cut for a job that can be done remotely shouldn’t be offloaded to other people.

  118. Carlee*

    I just don’t think the commute should be addressed – a person who lives next door doesn’t get paid differently than one who elects to live an hour away.

    If the nature of the job requires that it must be done in person (my husband is a surgeon and remote work is not possible), I think it just is what it is.

  119. Jonquil S*

    Just throwing this out there: costs of a commute are in contrast to the cost of setting up a home office. For example, working from home, I had to spend a lot out of pocket to upgrade my internet to a high speed, which is not readily available in my area.

    For some people, electric bills might go up, and for others, there may be costs associated with making a home-office space actually useable (i.e. blocking out noisy distractions in the house). Some people may need to purchase an additional phone line to take business calls (I now pay for a VOIP number in addition to my personal phone number).

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind commuters being compensated, as long as I was being reimbursed for the additional expenses to make working from home viable.

    Now, currently, I’m an independent contractor with multiple business clients, so I am able to reimburse my own expenses with tax write-offs. I’m just intensely aware of ways that WFH employees can be overlooked and disregarded, and it’s important to factor that in when considering fairness.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      But what about the time/convenience you’re not including? Instead of taking a day’s PTO for the plumber, the WFH worker takes none. They can get up later, toss in laundry, sip coffee, sit around in PJs as they work (unless on z video call), etc. Personal things can be done while at home. You can cuddle the cat and dog, make a sandwich, and not worrying about your co workers hearing a personal call.

  120. Heather*

    Commutes can be made more fair by allowing for staggered entry to work. Why should everyone travel through rush hour? Offer a later start for those that live further away or have harder commutes that take longer like bus or bicycle commuters.

  121. EngineerMom*

    There are so many ways companies can compensate commuting beyond things that feel very unfair (like literally paying people to live further away by directly compensating for mileage or fuel costs – not only is this extremely unhelpful, since the decision on where to live is very individual, but it definitely drives people to choose less environmentally-friendly options!).

    My company does a few things:
    – Preferred parking for rideshare participants
    – Runs a shuttle to/from the nearest train station
    – Actively supports “bike to work” days with events, snacks, water, etc.
    – Has flexible hours whenever possible so folks who don’t need to be on site at a specific time can come in off rush hour. (We do have manufacturing shifts that don’t have flexible start/end times, though the established times are slightly off surrounding companies, which helps manage the traffic around us).

  122. agnes*

    I think one outcome of this pandemic might be a realignment of pay structures taking into consideration a remote work option. It may wind up increasing pay scales for people whose jobs have to be done onsite, and slightly reducing pay scales for those who can work from home. Work from home might turn out to be a benefit that is quantifiable in the workplace and part of a total compensation package.

    In the meantime, these equity issues are bubbling up everywhere. Our workplace has them too and I am reading all the comments in hopes of finding some suggestions that might help!

    1. Pearls and Tech*

      Totally agree! I know a few people who’ve said they could see themselves moving into jobs that pay a bit less if they could work from home.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Only if my employer is going to compensate me for the increased utility bills I pay while I WFH, as well as the portion of the cable bill I pay that’s used while I’m WFH. We had to upgrade in order to manage having two people working at home (for awhile our son was at home doing college online, but that’s our problem, not our employer’s). And the custom desk I had to have made. (I could get ergo desk and chair at work, but if I wanted that at home, I had to pay for it myself, and I don’t want to go back to the hospital with back pain, so…)

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        But then you offer to work on site. Remember, the people on site don’t have a choice at all.

  123. Pearls and Tech*

    Like many other commenters, I think commutes are hard to make fair, but that’s kind of expected (I live the furthest from my job out of the whole organization, but of course I was fine with the commute when I took the job). At the same time, there are other major benefits to working from home too, like schedule flexibility. So maybe companies could offer more perks like that for in-office employees: more flexible schedules, more space to spread out (if there are less people who need desks in-office, why not?), etc. Depending on the company’s resources and location, they might even be able to upgrade the office space, and add perks like an on-site fitness room.

  124. La Triviata*

    I’ve been coming in to the office since the beginning, working a full day; everyone else is working from home except for days when they have to come in to deal with something on-site, usually for less than a full day. I started coming in alone because I knew I’d be moving soon and it wasn’t really practical to get internet access at home.

    So I come in – I answer phones, help when I can and direct callers to email the appropriate people/teams when I can’t. I open the mail and work with our accounting team to get checks deposited, invoices paid and anything urgent handled that needs it. I water plants and have dealt with some significant maintenance issues. I’ve taken in shipments of office supplies and computer equipment.

    I tried working from home but, on the first attempt, it turned out I wasn’t set up properly – I couldn’t access any of our network files and, after a few messages, I was locked out of email. I also discovered that I hated trying to work from home, over and above the technical issues (which have, supposedly, been fixed).

    I was talking to a friend who was of the opinion that I was doing my employer a favor, since I was coming in on public transit and risking exposure to the virus. My boss, however, sees it as him indulging me, since days when I couldn’t get in (snow, etc.) meant that I was out of commission for work for those days. So now he’s pushing me to work from home and getting pretty insistent about it. I’m kind of between a rock and a hard place, since I may have to start working from as little as I want to, but which would leave the things I do in the office undone.

  125. Wendy Darling*

    I have worked 100% from home, 100% in an office, and a mix of both, and I HAVE THOUGHTS:

    – Provide transit passes or free/VERY heavily subsidized parking for people who work in the office (this is a big deal where I live because parking is $$$$$). If your building doesn’t offer parking, build a relationship with a conveniently located lot that does monthly space rentals. You can’t compensate entirely for commute-related inequalities but you can take steps to minimize how much a commute sucks.
    – Have nice office furniture and equipment — good chairs (yes I’m talking the expensive ergonomic chairs, go chat up Herman Miller or Steelcase), sit-stand desks, nice monitors, etc. so the immediate work environment is actually comfortable.
    – To the extent possible allow a flexible schedule — for me one of the big perks of remote work has been not having to worry about when I can schedule a doctor appointment or the plumber. This also means people can shift working hours to avoid rush hour traffic if they want.
    – If it’s possible to let people work part of the day from home, even some of the time, offer that option (e.g. I used to work from home 8am-10am, commute into the office when there was less traffic, work in the office 11-5, and then go home)
    – Make the kitchen area not totally suck. Consider stocking it with some basic drinks and snacks, but if you can’t do that at least make sure someone is getting paid to wipe everything down daily and clean out the fridge weekly. A clean, weird-smell-free work kitchen is a big quality of life improvement.

    1. Red 5*

      All of these are excellent points, but as a person who frequently has ended up cleaning the kitchen solely because I can’t stand dirty kitchens and somebody has to do it, one of the absolute best quality of life/morale improvements that you can make for not that much money is paying for somebody to clean the dang kitchen. Preferably somebody who doesn’t work there, because while I would gladly accept it if they offered me a small bonus for my kitchen cleaning (funny how nobody has ever offered) at the same time I still would rather be doing my actual job so they could spend that on a service.

  126. Esmeralda*

    I can get my laptop and peripherals fixed/swapped out pretty quickly if I;m in the office (because the gear and the folks to repair it are on campus).
    If I’m at home, I’m stuck with non-working gear until I can get to the office.

  127. Pigeon*

    Persephone could move closer to the office, or transition to a role that allows for WFH. Persephone might also say these aren’t reasonable solutions, but if it wasn’t a big deal that Bob only had a 10 minute commute vs her hour pre-pandemic due to their respective living situations, then this isn’t a big deal now. It’s just the same disparity that’s always existed, with the same solutions that have always existed.

  128. DataQueen*

    Please make sure someone is taking care of the office!! I have to go in, and only 5 of 100 people are going in right now, and it’s gross. No one is watering the plants, or changing the bubbler filter, or emptying the shredder bins, or calling the Pitney Bowes people. So then I end up having to be the one calling the front desk staff (who isn’t there, because no one is visiting) and asking them to order letterhead. It’s awful and a huge waste of my time. I wish they’d be more thoughtful.

  129. crown-of-nettles*

    If someone can work from home some or all of the time, let them work from home when they want to. I have never understood the hesitation some companies and bosses have around this. It’s stupid: the vast majority of people are either just as productive, or more productive, at home.

    Regarding long commutes: do staggered starting times. Does Persephone really need to be there at 9am? Probably not. If she either can’t, or doesn’t want to, work from home, let her come in to the office later (or earlier, if that’s her preference), as peak hour might extend her already-long commute. Some places will offer those with a long commute extra paid time off (for example, an extra day off each month or quarter) and/or will cover most or all of their transport costs.

  130. Derivative Poster*

    This reminded me of a previous letter from someone whose office had moved to a location which was inconvenient for them. This situation isn’t exactly analogous, but it’s similar to a move in that sometimes work situations will change in ways which are advantageous to some people and not others. If your employer moved, would they compensate people whose commutes became longer? Offer them more flexible schedules? Both? Neither? The answers to those questions might help you in thinking about the current situation.

    Incidentally, you seem to assume everyone would prefer to work from home given the opportunity. That is not universally true. If someone chooses to work in the office (once it is possible) instead of working from home, would you expect them to deduct the length of their commute from their workday while their WFH peer doesn’t? Would you dock their salary for the cost of maintaining their on-site workspace?

  131. MBK*

    So you’re saying that while Prometheus’s commute is as quick as fire, Persephone has to travel to hell and back?

  132. ReluctantRemoter*

    Long time reader, first time commenter. I’m writing to point out that the issues with figuring out employee parity between in office and remote employees can definitely go beyond just the difference in commute. To use myself as an example, I work on a collaborative project between a university in one state, and a government research institute in another. In June after 2 years of working at the university, I made a long-planed move away from university city, to government city. For the most part it’s been great, but I notice my relationships with the university team have clearly diminished. There’s been quite a lot of turn over on the team, and I barely know the new people. My boss is usually fairly responsive to email, but sometimes I go weeks without hearing from him, and he really doesn’t have any general supervision on the project anymore; we now only meet infrequently and at my specific request if I have an issue or feedback request. When I need anything from the larger University (who’s not directly on my team) it’s a HUGE hassle: many emails go unreturned, and there’s no way for me to “pop by” their office to check up on things. All this is to say if a hybrid model is here to stay for your company, I’d emphasize the importance of accessible channels of communication and (in the least possibly cringe-y sense of the phrase) team building. It’s important that the remote workers have the same access to resources, and timely feedback, as the people who go in to the office. It’s important that the remote workers get to know their teams, and vise versa. It’s important to build structures to keep the remote workers looped in to what’s going on, and not put all the onus of setting up times to team members on the remote workers. Etc etc. One concrete way to do this I’ve found super helpful (that’s actually on the government side) is remote drop-in hours. For 1 hr every Friday the office that manages all the students makes themselves available for drop-in questions, no appointment needed. This and other resources like it are crucial for making sure the fully remote workers can be successful.

  133. Sue Z Q*

    Whoa there, slow down scooter!
    You are about to create a huge bundle of issues by trying to make things “fair”. Life is not fair, quit trying to squeeze it into that box.
    The company hired/hires people for a job at a set rate of pay and at a set location or in some cases multiple locations if an employee works at multiple office sites. Covid altered the way businesses worked and some have found those changes to be beneficial, some have just managed to “make it work” but are eagerly awaiting the return to office and some, as in your case are a blend of the two. For jobs that do well working from home – good for them – if that is what they like. I think you will find some who don’t like working from home. For those who must return to the office – well that is what they were hired to do. I don’t see any need to start making salary adjustments based on whether they are in office or work from home. Did you take commute times in to consideration before the pandemic? Why start now?

  134. cncx*

    i get the comments that the employer is not responsible for people’s commutes but like…i’m in a team where i live the closest and have the most covid-compatible commute- so i have disproportionately done the “in-house” parts of my team’s jobs for the past year. it’s fine, i did it in good faith and no one forced me, but like, i do expect some kind of consideration. What i’ve negotiated in return is flex hours on the days i have classes (specifically being off during core hours two mornings a week) in return for otherwise always being willing to come in, and it’s something that has worked out well with management and my team. If someone has a job or living situation where they have to come in, i think flexibility like letting them come in and leave outside of rush hour or like i do, have time off during office hours that normally wouldn’t be granted. This doesn’t work for like, a receptionist who covers phones, but for people who, like me, just need access to big printers and equipment, it could work.

    1. Red 5*

      If there’s not a concern for coverage (like a receptionist) then I honestly think more employers need to start embracing flex scheduling. Largely for exactly these reasons. Where I live, leaving at 6 a.m. could get you somewhere by 7 a.m. Leaving at 6:30 a.m. you’d arrive at 8:30 or 9. Having to plan backwards from an arrival time instead of planning proactively to avoid larger rush hours is a pain that can often easily be avoided. And then you’re also letting employees have less stress around things like school drop offs or pick ups, regular doctor’s appointments, etc. Plus, people who are more productive and “awake” at different times of day can have a little bit more flexibility to plan around that. It’s a win-win, but again, you know, if coverage isn’t a thing.

  135. StuckInTheMiddle*

    Something I would find to be helpful is to reinforce boundaries for all employees. I’ve been working from home for a year now, and coworkers have slipped into a mindset where it’s acceptable to schedule early/late meetings because “no one has a commute”. This is problematic because I still have a “commute”! I take my children to childcare daily, so I don’t get extra time to sleep in just because I’m working from home. My morning routine is literally the same, aside from the clothes I wear, as if I were in the office. And it’s frustrating to be the only person pushing back on meeting times (or waking my kids an hour+ earlier than normal) to accommodate what I think it an unreasonable expectation. So, as people have varying schedules, it may be helpful for everyone to lay some ground rules. Just because you can roll out of bed for a 7am call, doesn’t mean you should schedule a 7am call.

    1. OP here*

      This is a thing we’d had to deal with before. If you schedule a mandatory all staff meeting during a time your support staff are doing support things or your field staff are 30′ in the air, they can’t attend the meeting (and start to get the impression they aren’t included in the organization’s concept of “all.”)

      I haven’t seen it increase this last year with that particular mindset but I’ll be sure to remain vigilant about it. Thanks.

      1. Red 5*

        As a side note, I’m a part time employee at an organization where part timers are extremely rare (last time somebody checked I was one of two) and basically every single all-staff meeting and every social event was always scheduled on days or times where I wasn’t in the office. Often with only a few days notice so I couldn’t shift things to try to be there either.

        I get that not everybody in the entire building can or should keep track of my schedule and schedule around me, I’m hardly important to any all-staff meeting that they’re having and my absence was never really felt. But that with a few other things led me to feel incredibly isolated and underappreciated by the company as a whole for a while. My own team frequently forgets my schedule when it’s been the same for a lot of years. That stings sometimes. You can’t know what everybody is doing, but when your own manager schedules multiple team meetings on the day of the week you’ve never worked…it sends a message.

        Conscientious meeting scheduling can go a long way to helping somebody feel like they are part of a team and not just churning out widgets. And the above comment is right, it is something that very much can slip and get more difficult with a hybrid remote/on-site team.

  136. Cygda*

    If you’re looking specifically at commute equity, commuter/parking benefits are very common. Mileage reimbursement is also something that’s standard in some jobs/areas.

    A slightly adjacent compensation I’ve noticed is that there are companies that are adding hazard pay as a recognition of the decrease in safety for this who have to come into the workplace while others don’t. Though it’s important to note that this is usually being done for jobs that require a lot of client facing or are places that can’t really accommodate the recommended 6ft distance. This might look like anyone who has to come in gets a $2/hr boost on their wage, or it’s a set per diem, which accommodates both those who have to come in every day and those who have to come in a few days every week.

  137. Red 5*

    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.

  138. Equality fairy*

    Your wish to make things equitable is admirable – but quite frankly you cannot.

    Different roles in your company have different needs, different expectations and different pros and cons (including remuneration).

    Instead of trying to be “equitable” between different roles, instead aim to treat all your staff well. Offer free parking or free/subsidised public transport to everyone. Offer flexibility wherever the work allows. Provide home office supplies or a fixed allowance for costs. But don’t start tying income to worker choice in their home life.

    You could financially compensate those required to work from the office because commute. You could financially compensate those required to work from home (renting/buying a place with a suitable home office can be very expressive, especially if you need to “see” people from it). But even if you came up with a scheme it is guaranteed to be unfair.

    If Martha and Mary both have the same job and perform at the same level they should be paid the same. If you compensate for commute or cost of WFH in an “equitable” way you will be automatically introducing inequalities and if you aren’t careful they could be discriminatory. What if Martha chooses to live 90min away in a beach front home (lucky Martha is independently wealthy, she can afford it) – will you pay her more than Mary who instead lives in a share flat behind a curtain in the lounge room 15 min cycle from the office? Parental status, marital status, cultural background, family background, health and disability status etc are all factors in where people live. You can give 2 people identical incomes and they will choose different ways to spend it – because they are not identical. If you start judging their expenses to compensate you are making decisions affected by all those other factors through your own lens of bias and you will have a VERY hard job ensuring you do not illegally discriminate.

    If I found out that my pay was tied to my employer’s perception of my personal expenses and how they should be spent I would be job hunting immediately. I’m heartily sick of people evaluating what I am worth based on my personal lifestyle rather than my work output. If you tie my income to where I live (for a job where that is irrelevant) or who is in my family I will hate you, because it just comes too close (whatever your intentions) to the comments from people about not hiring people like me to save the jobs for the valuable people in society.

    Also – side thought, what will you do of your workers see a changed remuneration structure and change where they live because of it? Can you afford to pay for lots of long commutes or big houses if people act differently given different information?

  139. Sprinty McJira*

    I think this one is interesting — I work in an “essential” sector and my job requires me to be onsite (I have a few responsibilities that I can tackle from home, but that’s 5-6h out of the ~60h I work per week so not a sustainable solution). About 20% of our onsite employees have contracted COVID, and we don’t have much in the way of safety protocols. I say this not to complain, but to contextualize the risk our team takes on when we come to work.

    Some teams are able to WFH, and they regularly do so. They’re usually not super reachable during the day, but we’ve adapted. It’s performance review season and I think it’d be great if one of the following options were considered for teammates who have been onsite this whole time:
    – one-time cash bonus
    – extra 1-2% salary increase
    – more substantial salary increase as “hazard pay” until we are all vaccinated
    – free onsite COVID tests, either on a weekly cadence or as employees want them
    – provided lunches on Fridays
    – more snacks in the break room
    – shorten workday by 1h but still pay the full day’s wages (or for technicians who need to work extended shifts, add an hour of OT to whatever they’re already doing)
    – space heaters or fans for employee desk areas

    These are all super rough ideas but I feel like they should be doable. Across the board most people who can WFH prefer to; I know I’ve preferred getting the extra sleep and not panicking while trying to book a COVID test after yet another exposure onsite.

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