my remote employees say our in-office perks are unfair

As companies that went remote last year slowly reopen, a lot of employees are finding work is just different now — from adjusting to offices that are still half empty to dealing with new setups where no one has an assigned desk anymore. Here are some more questions from people who are trying to navigate this strange “new normal.”

My remote employees say our in-office perks are unfair

I manage a team of nine, and we’ve given people the choice of whether to return to the office or not. My team has split pretty evenly, with about half deciding to return and half staying at home. This is fine with me!

The problem is that the employees who have chosen to stay at home seem resentful of the things we’re doing to ease the return to the office for the others. For example, on the first day people were back we threw a catered lunch to welcome everyone, and later that week we hired an ice-cream truck to come and give out free ice cream. When my employees who are staying remote heard about it, they asked if we could cover lunch and treats for them, too (two of them suggested we send them gift cards to a restaurant delivery service). We’re not doing that, because the whole point of these perks is to make the transition back to the office easier for people and to let them know we appreciate them coming back.

Our CEO has also been talking about giving everyone who’s coming back a small stipend to buy new business clothes because we know no one was wearing them this past year, and when my remote staff heard about it, one of them was livid about how “unfair” it was.

I can’t see anything unfair about incentivizing people to return to the office, and not offering those incentives to people who don’t come back. But am I being unreasonable?

You are not being unreasonable.

Your employees who are staying remote are getting benefits of their own, like not having a commute, wearing more casual clothes, getting laundry done while they work, being able to easily walk the dog during lunch, and on and on. And just as there are benefits to staying remote, there are benefits to being in the office, too. It’s not reasonable to expect to get the perks afforded to both groups.

To your employee who’s livid about not getting a stipend for business clothes, you could say, “There’s a burden associated with coming back to the office, as you probably recognize since you chose to stay home. We’re doing what we can to make the return easier on people who choose to come back. So, yes, people at the office might have meals or social activities that people working remotely don’t get, just as you’ll have perks that they don’t enjoy. You are welcome to come back to the office too, of course! But it sounds like you prefer the benefits of staying at home, and we support that as well.”

Do I have to cover for my remote colleague just because I’m back in the office?

My company was almost entirely in office before the pandemic, but transitioned to fully remote last March. Now they’re starting to bring people back, but are letting those who want to remain permanently remote do so. I have chosen to go back to the office, but almost no one else on my team is.

Many of our clients and external associates we have to meet with are beginning to schedule in-person meetings again. (These meetings are possible to have over Zoom, but are easier and more informative when done in person.) My boss is aware of this, but he is also a very vocal remote-work advocate and is remaining remote himself so I don’t expect him to require any of our team to come in for anything, including these meetings.

The other day, a client asked to schedule an in-person meeting near our office with one of my co-workers, but since my colleague is now remote (and has moved away from the city where our office is located), my manager asked if I could take the meeting for her and then forward her the information. These meetings are a very regular thing, and I am worried this could happen again. I didn’t have a scheduling conflict or any real reason I couldn’t do it that time, so I went on her behalf. But I feel like on principle I shouldn’t have to take on extra work because my co-workers have opted to work from home. Am I correct to feel like these extra meetings should not be my burden? If so, how could I bring this up with my boss?

A lot of companies are only just starting to grapple with this, and many haven’t figured out how they’ll handle it. As a result, on-site employees are getting stuck not only with their own responsibilities, but with pieces of their remote colleagues’ jobs as well. While that burden may only be small things — taking a meeting, opening and scanning off-site workers’ mail, and so forth — but when you’re doing it repeatedly and for multiple people, it can add up. And it’s reasonable to feel resentful if this transfer of responsibilities happened without an explicit conversation beforehand or a discussion of the impact on your time and workload.

So yes, talk to your boss. Say something like, “I was happy to cover Jane’s meeting the other day, but I wanted to make sure there’s a plan in place for people to cover their own clients going forward so that I don’t end up taking everyone’s meetings because they’ve chosen to stay remote.”

Be aware, however, that your boss could end up deciding this is now part of your job. If that happens, you have a few choices: You can push back on that decision, if you’ve got some political capital you’re willing to expend. Or you can approach it like any other workload prioritization problem — “if we’re adding this significant ongoing responsibility to my job, let’s talk about what to take off my plate to make room for it.” Alternatively, you can point out you’re now playing a new and crucial role in helping your team run smoothly and ask for a raise that reflects that. Or hell, you can decide if you still want the job at all under these new conditions. But do speak up, and don’t let this get pushed on you without a discussion.

We don’t have assigned desks anymore

My company has announced that when we return to the office soon, we’ll do a hybrid schedule (three days in the office, two days at home). As part of that, we’re moving to hot-desking — giving up assigned desks and instead grabbing a random one each day.

I have a disability that means auditory distractions can severely limit my ability to focus. When we were in the office before COVID, this wasn’t a problem; the people nearest to me were accommodating of my need for a quiet space, and my team is pretty quiet anyway. But now that we’re switching to hot-desking, I’ll have much less control over my environment, and I’m worried that on any given day I could be working next to someone who’s on the phone all day long or who’s just … loud. Since the whole company is moving to this hot-desking model, I’m guessing I won’t have much recourse, but is there anything I can do?

Yes! Because this is connected to a disability, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires your employer to work with you to come up with an accommodation that meets your needs. An easy accommodation could be creating a quiet section that you have a permanent desk in. (And I bet if your office does create a quiet section, there will be lots of support for it among other people who work better without noise or distractions.)

You could have an informal conversation with your boss and see if that’s all it takes (sometimes you don’t need to go the legal route if you have a good boss who’s responsive to issues), but otherwise start by sending an email to HR with the subject line “formal request for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act” and explain what you need. They might float other options to see if there are alternatives that would work — they’re not required to accept the first solution you propose — but they can’t just dismiss your request. The law requires them to enter into an interactive dialogue with you to find a solution.

How can I find jobs that aren’t remote?

I am currently working remotely and very much dislike it! I want to return to working in person, but since that’s not an option at my company anymore, I have been applying to jobs elsewhere that do not include any mention of remote work in their postings.

I have now gone through a few phone screenings and first-round interviews. I prep for these calls and interviews and answer their questions, but at the end of the conversations when I can ask my own questions, I find out that they are remote with no concrete plans of returning to an office. It ends up being a waste of everyone’s time. Is there a way to screen this out earlier, or politely ask ahead of time?

Are you mentioning it up-front in your cover letters? If not, start doing that — say explicitly that you’re looking for a job where you would be working on-site rather than remotely. (You don’t need to give a long explanation; just a single sentence will do.) Lots of employers would prefer to bring people back and are struggling with the number of people who don’t want to return, so many of them will be thrilled to find someone who’s actively seeking that in a new job!

Don’t rely just on that though. Hiring managers often skim cover letters and might overlook your note, so make sure to bring it up when you have a chance to talk with them as well. And to avoid going through the hassle of an interview only to find out about this deal-breaker at the end, it’s fine to ask about it when you’re first invited to interview. When an employer reaches out to you about scheduling a meeting (phone interview or otherwise), say something like, “I’d love to talk with you about this job! Before we set up a time to talk, I wanted to check — is this position remote or in office? I’ve found remote doesn’t work well for me, so I’m seeking a position that works from the company’s office.”

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 419 comments… read them below }

  1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Your perk is working remotely.

    Come on, team remote, we’re making ourselves look really bad here.

    1. Sinister Serina*

      No kidding-they want the perk of working remotely and the perks of the people who come into the office. Sorry, you don’t the rewards that the people coming into the office get, if you don’t actually come into the office. Yes, this is the downside of WFH.

      1. Sinister Serina*

        The anger over the clothing allowance really irritated me, btw. You aren’t coming into the office, and yet you want the clothing allowance for office clothes? Come on.

        1. Bee*

          I do think there’s a valid argument to be made that the people working from home should get a stipend for the supplies they need: it sucks to have to buy your own printer/ink/mouse/etc when your coworkers are getting free clothes. That might be the cause of some of the bitterness. So if the OP hasn’t done this – for everyone, including the people who are returning to the office but might have had extraordinary expenses last year – they should consider it. But if they have, then this is just petty nonsense they can dismiss!

          1. tencentblues*

            Absolutely agree – let’s not pretend that there aren’t advantages to the company when employees work from home and shoulder more of their own costs (electricity, internet access, furniture, supplies, etc.) Those should be taken into account.

            1. lilsheba*

              Really the only supplies I had to buy was an office chair. I already have internet access, a printer, ink, etc. They supplied the mouse/kb/monitor/laptop. All I need.

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                I haven’t used a printer since March 2020.

                I agree that basic office supplies should be covered. But I always buy my own pens, anyway. I like a better pen than is usually bought for an office.

                1. A Feast of Fools*

                  I didn’t pay much attention when our team’s admin put a piece of paper in front of me Feb 2020 and said, “Please read and sign this; our external auditors require it.”

                  It was super annoying when *this* Feb I was told I had to print out the PDF document at home, sign it, scan it, then email it back. I mean, I have a printer. . . somewhere. . . maybe under these old books with this stack of dusty mail on top of it? Not sure if the ink is still in a liquid state, tho.

                  So I signed a blank piece of paper, took a picture of my signature with my phone, emailed it to myself, cropped the pic, and pasted it into the signature line of the PDF.

              2. Not Today Satan*

                My office allowed us to make appointments to go in and get our office chairs. I didn’t even have to buy one. I did buy a printer, but my spouse has used it much more than my 2 pages that I’ve printed this year.

                1. whingedrinking*

                  A friend of mine asked, when they went to WFH, if she could take an office chair. She could not.
                  A year later, people were asked if there was anything they needed. Friend said she still needed a chair. She was told that was still not possible.
                  Friend reminded her supervisors that part of her job was training people in safe work practices, which exist even for office workers – especially ergonomic work setups. In other words, she was losing credibility by fairly obviously working from a kitchen chair on Zoom meetings with people she was telling not to sit in kitchen chairs, so they could seriously either reimburse her for a chair or let her take one home from the vacant office already. (They grudgingly permitted the latter.)

              3. Rusty Shackelford*

                I have a printer and ink and paper, but I bought those for my own personal use, not for my employer’s use.

            2. BRR*

              At my last job, I felt working from home part time was somewhat detrimental to my role. My work from home schedule was set because my employer rented out some space and literally didn’t have room for me… I couldn’t come in more if I wanted to

            3. LTL*

              If the company was 100% remote or didn’t give employees a choice, I would agree. But if employees get to decide themselves, it seems petty to complain about what perks the other side is getting.

            4. Ursula*

              My employer in Washington state decided that a law that says that an employer can’t push the cost of business onto employees meant that while we’re all required to be remote, we need a stipend to pay for things like internet, electricity, etc. But they’re only doing this while they’re requiring everyone to be remote, since those things are provided in the office when we have the ability to go back in.

              Of course, I work in a heavily unionized environment (local government) so there’s the union keeping an eye out for this sort of compliance thing in addition to our HR doing their best to comply with all laws (unlike… all private entities, when you’re the ones who enforce a bunch of laws you tend to try harder to obey the laws from other governments that you’re supposed to obey, I think just because you know how hard it is to get other people to comply!). So I suspect it’s pretty rare.

              1. Chris*

                Same. Also in Washington. We were provided a stipend when working from home was required, but as it goes back to being “optional” or a perk, no stipend. Fine by me, getting rid of my Seattle commute saves so much time if I quantified my time in $$, I’d be coming out way ahead.

            5. Ace in the Hole*

              Presumably, if the company is trying to incentivize people returning to the office then in this case they don’t see employees working from home as an advantage.

              The cost savings on electricity or whatever may not make up for the decrease in productivity, communication difficulty, etc. of remote work for this particular situation. These employees have the option to return to the office if they don’t want to pay for their home office supplies. They’re choosing to stay at home because they prefer it. Great! Glad they have that option, but no one is forcing it on them.

          2. Koalafied*

            Agreed – I’m charitably assuming a company that is being generous enough to ease the return to the office was also generous about easing the forced transition to remote last year, but if that wasn’t the case then it’s a little more reasonable that someone would be upset about the perks being given for returning to the office.

          3. mark132*

            My big expense in working from home is internet. The rest of the stuff you mention is tiny compared to that. But the cost of internet is tiny compared to my commuting costs. And I had it before Covid anyways.

            1. CmdrShepard*

              I’m curious did you have to upgrade your internet when you started working from home? My internet speed/price stayed the same prior to the pandemic even with two adults working from home fulltime since March 202o.

              But I did have what I think might be a fast/er internet connection of 250 mbps before the pandemic, since we already did a lot of gaming and use video streaming as our primary TV (no cable). But if you had a slower internet speed, and had kid(s) that were school from home in addition to two+ adults, I can see needing to upgrade your internet.

              But I agree I do think WFH commute savings more than offsets WFH increased costs.

              1. mark132*

                I actually upgraded it before, and bizarrely enough, it actually saved me a little money, and much faster we went to 500 mbps from really crappy DSL, my family would have been in a bad way if we hadn’t, I had two children doing their university from home while I was WFH.

                It was fascinating to watch my bank account balance grow a lot at the start of the lockdown, no commuting costs, can’t eat out, can’t get hair cuts (well I could my wife cuts what little hair I have), not able to do luxuries like massages etc.

              2. Susan Ivanova*

                When I started WFH the “business internet” was faster than residential – but not fast by modern standards – for just about the same price. By the time the job vanished out from under me, residential service finally had gigabit internet and was cheaper. Wish I’d known about it when it happened.

          4. High Score!*

            I am thrilled to pay for the occasional office supply or extra internet or whatever in return for 2 hours a day of my life back that I don’t need to commute, for the privilege of being able to cook a healthy meal at home, to not have to stress when I need to let a repair person in, to have less wear & tear on my car and to have a quiet office that I can keep at any temperature I want.
            Let those returning have some goodies and a clothing stipend!

            1. Mememe*

              If I’m allowed to be permanently wfh and thus don’t ever need to buy work clothes ever again, and my in-office colleagues get a modest one-time clothing stipend, don’t I still come out ahead? Lol!

              But seriously, the issue of parity (not to mention communication and opportunities) were issues between remote and in-office workers before the pandemic. But so many of us experiencing it for the first time.

              It could be these employees are kind of being babies. But it still might behoove management to pay attention since it may be more about workers expressing fear they might get overlooked in the future or just worry due to the future not being completely clear.

          5. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

            As someone who WFH in a rural area and is paying an arm and a leg for internet to do so I would happily accept any $ for that. But I’m not gonna complain about clothes $. My office clothes came from the thrift shop and didn’t cost much to begin with. I’m saving gas $ by not driving in. I’m always home to cook and I’m not forking $ into a vending machine because I’m bored eating. It might not even out exactly but it’s still fair.

          6. ap*

            Yeah, my company has no regional offices, so about 20% of us – area sales
            reps, etc – have always worked
            remotely. The company reimburses supplies, and provides hardware.

            What they DON’T cover is internet… they didn’t even cover it for the office workers who suddenly had to work from home through. Covid, and that seems crummy to me.

        2. Esmeralda*

          Just because I work at home doesn’t mean I can wear comfy crap. I still have to be presentable from the waist up = nice blouses, jacket/blazer when in more formal meetings, appropriate jewelry, make up so I don’t look like a zombie onscreen.

          Sure, I’m saving money on pants and shoes. That’s about it.

          1. Bridget*

            So you’re wearing this attire the entire time you’re working from home? 8 hours a day, 5 days a week? Like someone who goes into the office is doing? Or are you changing into a blouse and a blazer for a 2-hour meeting and then changing back into a t-shirt and leggings? Do you see the difference?

            1. Homophone Hattie*

              Not to speak for Esmeralda, but a lot of people have enough video meetings where they have to look presentable that they are probably dressing that way all day. My partner has, most days. In fact, he has a lot more client-facing meetings than he did in the before times, now that people have got in the habit of Zooming. Easy enough to add the external guy when everyone is remote anyway.

              1. Remote_remote*

                Yep, I’m on video about 6 hours a day, sometimes more. I’m talking to clients, external partners, job applicants, the CEO, etc., so I’m dressed for the office at least from the waist up every day. Even when I have fewer meetings, I have work to do in between. I’m not running around doing wardrobe changes.

                1. whingedrinking*

                  Yeah, when I was teaching from home I had a little more flexibility in the tops I could wear, but only in the sense that I worried less about people being able to see directly down them or that they would ride up as I moved around. I still couldn’t wear, like, my “Irredeemable Shitlib Indie Folk Singer” shirt, or even a tank top.

          2. CB212*

            But in that case if your company brings people back to the office, they probably won’t offer a clothing stipend, because you’ve all been wearing business wardrobes all year. This sounds like an office that had gone to casual dress code for zooms, and now everyone has to be in business attire overnight.

            1. Koalafied*

              I interpreted it the same way – that it’s specifically because it’s been *so long* since anyone has needed office wear, some new hires might not have bought an office appropriate wardrobe at all yet! And plenty of people put on covid weight, but since they weren’t wearing their dress clothes they didn’t have a full 15+ months to gradually acquire a new piece or two in a larger size along the way, and now suddenly they need a week’s worth of outfits and only have one they can plausibly stuff themselves into. And sure, maybe some people stayed the same size and/or kept buying new dress clothes all along, and they’re getting a particularly sweet deal. But it’s generally the all-at-once-ness and new-ness of the need for dress clothes that the company is reasonably thinking might give people who otherwise want to return pause about coming back and/or would impact enough returning people that it’s worth covering the cost for all returning workers.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                I think that’s the best way I have seen this explained, and it’s really logical too.

                However, given that the gripes are coming from home about money for clothes – it makes me wonder – are the complainers newer or more established. I’m going to bet with more established – and how unfair that this new thing happened while I’m working at home!

      2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        Flip flops? What kind of formal WFH dress code is going on around here???!!

        1. Marthooh*

          Dear AAM:
          My fellow interns and I complained about having to wear flip-flops while working from home and got fired en masse. Is this legal?

        2. Clisby*

          Yeah, people have to wear shoes if they WFH? I didn’t, and I worked remotely for 17-18 years. Except in the winter. Then I wore socks.

    2. Momma Bear*

      I’ve had plenty of jobs with multiple locations. If HQ has leftover pizza after a meeting, that doesn’t mean Satellite A gets sent pizza. If I am remote the day that someone brings in doughnuts, I don’t whine about not having doughnuts. I am in my comfy clothes at home, blissfully not commuting. That is my perk! Are these people the ones whose parents made them share everything exactly evenly and bought a gift for Kid B even though it was Kid A’s birthday?

      Want the thing that’s at the office? Go to the office. OP, you are not unreasonable.

      1. Threeve*

        I honestly think there’s something in our primitive lizard-brain that gets triggered by the concept of free food, because so many people get so irrational about it.

          1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

            It can’t just be that. Many people get weird about free donuts yet wouldn’t choose to buy them otherwise. And complain loudly after eating them about their “diets.” So it’s not a simple money saved on nutritional needs issue.

            1. Anonymoose*

              Its deeper engrained and its really the obnoxious “But its not faiirrrr!!!” mentality

          2. fposte*

            I’m doing fine financially and can buy my own donuts whenever I want, and I’ll still get irrationally angry if I got missed on the call for free donuts.

            1. Tuesday*

              Exactly – and I get irrationally excited when I’m there at the right time. It doesn’t even have to be something tasty like donuts. I can be something that would seem very meh if it were on my own kitchen counter at home. People (including me) are weird.

            2. Sasha*

              Yep – I don’t even like donuts (worked in a donut shop as a teen, the smell of stale oil in your clothes is grim). I would definitely never buy one for myself. But if it’s free? Ooh exciting, free donuts!

              1. BatManDan*

                Agreed! I’m on a diet (see earlier comments about business attire not fitting right 15-months into being 15 feet from the refrigerator – haha), would never stop to buy a donut, walk past them in the gas station aisle (probably a good plan 24/7/365), and yet when I dropped into an office last Sunday (business centers around training for my weekend hobby), I got excited about a box of Dunkin’ Donuts I spotted, and (momentarily) very upset when I opened the box and found them all gone! I light-heartedly teased the staff about being rude by not throwing the box away when it was empty, and creating false hope in people like me. haha. What IS that all about?

          3. Librarian of SHIELD*

            But every time Alison’s done a post or a thread about people behaving badly when it comes to free office food, the worst offenders are usually the people with the highest salaries. It’s not just the cost, there’s got to be some other element going on psychologically.

            1. caps22*

              I’m now a well-paid exec in my company, but I was very poor most of my younger years. After many years of putting myself through school, during which a free pizza slice was definitely a caloric win for the day, I still have an intensely satisfying feeling of knowing that when I walk into a grocery store, I can literally buy anything I want (though I don’t).

              So, while I very much rein myself in, free food at work is still oddly compelling.

          4. Xenia*

            I think it might be related to loss avoidance? There’s been some prominent studies people will go much further to avoid the cost to describe as a loss then they will to gain a benefit. I think the most famous one was two groups of people who had the option of getting more efficient lightbulbs – one people were told that the lightbulbs would save them money, and the other people were told that not getting the lightbulbs would cost money. The second group bought a lot more lightbulbs. My guess is that people think they’re missing out on the free food and don’t think about things like commuting because it doesn’t feel like a psychological loss.

            1. myswtghst*

              This is the term I was looking for! It’s so weird how much easier it is to unintentionally ignore the massive savings over time of not commuting (less wear-and-tear on my car, more time at home, etc…) than it is to dismiss the feeling of loss when you miss out on a tangible instant gratification “reward” like free pizza.

        1. Free Meerkats*

          I think there may have been a “Free Food Disasters” open thread. If there hasn’t been, Alison should do one.

        2. generic_username*

          Totally agree on the lizard-brain thing. Deals in general, lol. My husband makes so much fun of me because I’m so attracted to a sale/discount/buy-one-get-one-free deal (like, I’ll spend more money of the item that’s discounted because it’s a better value, lol).

          I also struggle to turn down free food. Like, I dislike both pretzels and peanuts, but I always take the snack they give out on airplanes

      2. Liz*

        Yup. While I might be envious for a minute, because ice cream! I’m also a grown ass adult who understands that life isn’t always “fair”

          1. RJ*

            And eat it literally whenever you want, not just when the truck shows up on one specific day.

      3. rachel in nyc*

        yeah, my coworkers and I at our uptown office have been known to get annoyed because the main office that is “downtown” gets snacks and stuff sent to them by various people but we rarely do. but that’s life…and part of not being at the main office.

    3. Not a Blossom*

      Seriously. I work remotely full time now and it is a way bigger perk than they could offer me in the office (unless they started giving out real money, which they never would).

    4. MicroManagered*

      The catered meals for in-person workers, I understand. The clothing money, I don’t. The in-person workers could easily keep wearing whatever work clothes they wore before the pandemic and use the money for anything else they might use money for (bills, a new TV, etc.), so I can understand why that feels unfair to the remote workers.

        1. Yorick*

          Then they can buy new clothes on their own dime, the same way they always did when their clothes stopped fitting

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Of course! No one is saying employers are obligated to do this; they are not. It seems clear to me that they’re offering it as a morale thing to make the return easier for people who might have conflicting feelings about coming back. (And yes, there is also the morale of the remote people to consider, but as has been pointed out many times, they have a ton of other great perks.)

            1. MicroManagered*

              I think it’s the fact that it’s actual money that makes it different to me. *All* employees can probably find a good use for a little extra cash, regardless of their work location being in the office or remote. There’s no guarantee the in-person workers will use the money for clothing only (and rightfully so, it would be an overstep to try to enforce that) so you are offerring a cash incentive to return to the office. The amount probably matters here too: $100 one time might not matter, but $100/month for the next year is something else…

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                Well that’s why it is an incentive, though. If the remote workers are so incentivized by the though of a clothing stipend, then they can come back to the office, too. But if they prefer to stay remote, then they are refusing the incentive.

                1. MicroManagered*

                  But why offer an incentive to people who return, if it’s voluntary? You could argue the people staying remote are saving the company overhead and *they* deserve a cash incentive. Cash is useful to people regardless of location, so I think that’s why it seems different to me than bringing everyone ice cream. Again, amount is important here too though.

                2. Washi*

                  Yeah it sounds like the company prefers for people to come back but is willing to let folks stay remote (like maybe the overhead savings is canceled out by other negatives of remote work). Thus the incentive to return. If they preferred people to stay remote, they’d probably be offering incentives in the other direction.

                3. MsClaw*

                  “But why offer an incentive to people who return, if it’s voluntary?”

                  That is exactly why they are offering an incentive. That’s fundamentally what an incentive is; a nudge to encourage people to do something. They would prefer to have people back in the office, so they are throwing them some extra perks for coming back in person. However, they are not *requiring* everyone to come back in. Which is great — they are giving their employees choices. But….. those are the choices.

                4. Ace in the Hole*

                  MicroManagered – incentives only exist when something is voluntary. If it’s a perk for something involuntary it’s not an incentive… it’s a consolation prize!

                  This is no different than what many employers do to encourage employees to voluntarily accept less-than-desirable duties or shifts. For example, it’s quite common to offer extra pay, gifts, or treats for employees working a holiday shift. My employer gave free lunch to anyone who worked at certain particularly grueling events.

                  This way, the people who choose to do X (work a holiday, return to the office, etc) have agency and autonomy. They will be much more motivated and happy, good for them and the employer. The people who don’t want to do X in spite of the incentive don’t have to… they’re not being forced. In this way they also have more agency and autonomy than they would if the assignments were not voluntary.

                5. Ele4phant*

                  By definition, an incentive is a tool to encourage a voluntary behavior.

                  Otherwise, I believe it would just be called compensation.

                  If people don’t want to return to the office, that’s fine, but the clothing stipend is meant to encourage people to come back.

                  That’s the whole point.

                6. Caz*

                  But the problem with this and why people are probably whining (and tbh, why I might too), is that these were offered AFTER people came back, not to incentivise them back but as a perk because they were back….therefore making it seem more unfair.

                  If the people working from home had known about the clothing allowance beforehand, it might have made their choice different too perhaps? But what they see is that people who came back to the office get things afterwards… did the company actually say they prefer people coming back and they would get *insert perk*… or just surprise spring it on the certain lucky punters which then creates that “unfair” teacher’s pet atmosphere which demoralises people

                  It’s kind of the same thing like, say you had a annual leave day off and the people working were given a half day off as a nice thing by the boss on the same day… the annual leave person should get that half day annual back as well or they are actually being penalised?

    5. Lana Kane*

      This is always the case, even pre-covid. I had a remote job years ago, and there were always a couple of my remote coworkers who would complain that the people in the office got pizza once in a blue moon. They would invariably ask if they would be getting a gift card so they could eat too. It would drive me batty – it’s extremely entitled. That staff didn’t have the option to WFH and were stuck in a cramped office that didnt have many amenities. Shut yer hole.

      1. Liz*

        I hate this too! I’ve been fully remote since March 2020. Part of my company, including a good friend of mine, has been going in a day or so a week all along, because her job requires it. I’ve been very careful NOT to go on too much about working from home, etc. when talking to her, as I know its a sore spot as she’s commented how others who are also WFH have whined, complained etc. and she has little sympathy for them.

      2. Admininja*

        Oh yes. I worked at a place with widely-dispersed “offices” ranging from 50 people to 1 person WFH. The WFH folks didn’t have to commute or wear office clothes if they didn’t have in-person meetings, of course, & they all received supplies, furniture, phones, tech gear, & Internet money. While our firm was great about flexible schedules, office workers were expected to keep a generally normal schedule, but no one tracked remote employees’ time beyond productivity measures, being on time for meetings, etc. Remote workers were brought to an office for holiday celebrations (with travel time & expenses paid), & offices often made a big fuss about visiting remote workers who weren’t frequent visitors. It drove me crazy listening to them whine about the perks of being in the office! Especially the coffee- people actually asked me to send them coffee because we provided it at the office, & one person just charged it to his company card. These perks were all normal things- dinner bought for a team staying late, lunch to welcome a new hire, an outing to see a local baseball team (local remote employees invited- complaints came from hundreds of miles away with demands for tickets to see their local NFL/NBA team!), new equipment in our conference room (“No, Bob, you’re not getting a new web camera capable of displaying a whole room full of people because the one we supplied in your laptop is sufficient for just you.”)… and the remote workers just couldn’t wrap their minds around how this is fair.

    6. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I’m a devout WFH supporter and wouldn’t dream of asking for the things OP’s team is. I get to work at home in my comfy clothes, without a long and irritating commute? Life doesn’t get much better than that.

      Seriously, Team Remote, ‘fair’ does not mean ‘everyone gets exactly the same things, no matter what.’ You get perks your onsite colleagues don’t. Be graceful and stop pulling on this particular thread.

    7. Esmeralda*

      Working at home is not all perky perks.

      I had to get a new desk (I paid for it out of my own money) that would work ergonomically (I have back problems), whereas my at the office desk is already pretty good for that.

      I had to get different lighting. Which I had to pay for.

      Fortunately, I already have good internet and wireless service. Which I pay for.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        If you itemize your income tax filings, you might be able to deduct the costs as non-reimbursed work expenses. Even as a W2 employee, it’s worth asking your tax preparer or a small-business accountant about it.

        Most people I know have a home office for bill paying, school work, occasional WFH days, etc., so they didn’t need to make large purchases as you did. But most people already have Internet and wireless services for their personal use, so that’s not necessarily a new expense unless you needed to upgrade. Again, it could be worth talking to a professional.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          The tax write-offs were much more of a thing 5+ years ago.

        2. HB*

          You can’t right now. Unreimbursed business expenses are Miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2% AGI rule (so you can only deduct those expenses that exceed 2% of your AGI), and those are currently suspended under the TCJA. It should come back in a few years when most of the TCJA sunsets, but you’re out of luck for now.

      2. generic_username*

        There are pros and cons to both WFH and in-office. I also had to purchase stuff for my home-office during the pandemic, but that was easily offset by my savings from not commuting to the office (for instance: I bought a $300 office chair after my old one could stand up to constant all-day use, but I saved approx $14/day on my commute, which means that within 22 work days it paid for itself). I think the sticking point here is that the employees are getting to choose whether they return or WFH.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          The getting to choose is why I have about zero sympathy for the WFH folks whining about not getting “thing” that the folks who went back in are getting. You made a choice – so put on your big kid clothes and deal with the fact you get different perks than the in office folks.

          1. Esmeralda*

            Well, you know, the in office people chose that too. In the OP’s situation, it’s not like some people got to choose WFH and some people were forced to work in the office. For the in-office people, there’s a benefit, otherwise they would not have made that choice.

            The problem for the OP, it seems to me, is acknowledgment. People working in the office are being acknowledged for their choice. They are being rewarded by the boss for making that choice. They’re being recognized for having made “the hard choice” (not saying that’s true, but that’s how it looks, and frankly, that’s what the commentary is saying). WFH people are not being acknowledged.

            Recognizing and “rewarding” some people and not others is not a good way to promote esprit de corps. It generates resentment. It doesn’t have to be logical. We often scoff at little recognitions — “I don’t want a gift card, I want a good sick leave policy!” or whatever — but if someone is getting the little recognitions, and more than one of them, and someone is not, no one should be surprised that the someone who is not feels hurt.

            I would LOVE to work from home like 95% of the time. If I couldn’t get the free donuts that the office folks get because I’m not using the office kitchen, I’m not sad about it. But for sure I’m going to feel left out if the folks in the office are getting some sort of recognition that their situation is sooooo hard, they’re getting it several times, and I’m getting bupkiss. Hey boss, *I’m* working pretty hard here too and WFH is not a bed of roses from 8 to 5.

            1. Kitty*

              Well, the I office situation IS harder, isn’t it? That’s why they are getting the extra acknowledgment.

              Sounds like some people want to have their cake and eat it too, AND get extra kudos that they chose the cake in the first place.

            2. Susana*

              OK but… if you really think it’s easier to go into the office, then why do you want to WFH?

              The company prefers that people come in – and they know it’s an adjustment, after a year-plus of pandemic. So they’re doing small things to encourage people to do so, and to thank them for it. All while STILL letting people WFH, which is not a universal thing.

              Seriously, the complaints here are just childish me-tooism. If you want ice cream and $$ for work clothes, then go into the office.

            3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              To me it’s a matter of choices. If you make choice A you get the following things, and if you make choice B you get different list of things. It really seems a bit little child unreasonable to make choice B and then turn around and demand all the things that choice A gave in addition to the things you got from choice B. Fair doesn’t necessarily mean everything is the same.

            4. Forrest*

              I think this is exactly right, actually. The company is sending very mixed messages. Is it:

              a) we’re OK with people WFH, but we’d prefer people to come back in, and we’re going to incentivise that.
              b) it’s up to you whether you work from home or come into the office, we honestly don’t mind either way, pick whatever is the best for you. BTW the people who come into the office are our favourites now. Smiley face!

              LW’s post has a real mixed message — “we’ve given people the choice, they’ve chosen half and half, that’s fine with me” but then “we’re offering incentives to people who come back to the office”. Well, which is it? Is it fine to choose either way, or would the company prefer people to come back in but are allowing people to work from home as a perk? If you’ve told people it’s an equal choice and they’ve decided accordingly, but then you actually act like Option 2 was the Best Choice, it’s legit that people are narked.

              1. Eden*

                Not sure what the confusion is! They are fine with both but prefer in-person work. I’d rather go get Mexican food than sushi right now, but both are fine. I like both my brown and blue striped shirts but the blue is nicer. OP never claimed they or the company were equally happy with either – just that both are acceptable. They can still have a preference among acceptable options.

                1. Eden*

                  And upon rereading, it’s not even clear they DO have a preference! “You can do either, and if you do choice X we’ll make it a little easier”. No conflicting messaging here. I really think both your interpretations are reading things into the letter that aren’t there at all.

                2. Forrest*

                  The fact that your two comments contradict each other what I mean by mixed messages! I don’t think you can say, “we don’t have a preference, but we’re incentivising B”.

              2. Kitty*

                Ugh this company just can’t win. Obviously they’d prefer for everyone to come back to the office, but they are still allowing people to work from home. And these ahem spoiled brats ahem are now complaining about missing ice cream although they are getting this great option!

                This is not a confusing mixed message from the company. This is entitled people being entitled. You work from home. You want ice cream, get your butts to the office, princesses.

        2. Admininja*

          Thank you. I get that it’s bad to push expenses to remote employees (nor would I), but there’s an offset to the furniture and such that’s being largely overlooked. Very few employers reimburse any commuting expenses.

      3. Ele4phant*

        Sure there are pluses and minuses to working from home.

        When companies were forcing people to work from home – it was incumbent on companies to make it as easy on people as they could.

        Now though, they are offering people a choice. Each employee has the opportunity to decide for themselves whether the pros of wfh outweigh the costs. If they don’t feel they do, they are welcome to return to the office as well.

      4. Stop whining*

        Those coming back to the office now would also have had to figure out how to WFH effectively, including purchasing desks, lighting, printers etc. if they didn’t already have them. This isn’t a choice between two options from point zero and it wasn’t a choice between two options last spring. Today it’s a choice to leave the WFH setup they already optimized and come back to the office or continue WFH. The company rewards what it values. If the in-office perks tip the scale for some, those individuals will stop whining return to the office. Those who continue to WFH knowing all the options but whine anyway are in the “I want it all” crowd.

    8. Pocket Mouse*

      I suspect a lot of it is coming from people who worked in the office Before—meaning they haven’t experienced remote work while coworkers are in the office until now, and hadn’t previously paid attention to the different kinds of benefits and drawbacks each group enjoys. People who have been remote for years frequently said here that pandemic-remote is very different from even their remote experience, so it should be no surprise that people who are newly remote workers post-pandemic-remote are having an adjustment period of their own.

      1. fposte*

        The original question was pre-pandemic; it’s really intriguing to revisit it post-pandemic when the stakes of in-office vs. home became very different.

          1. fposte*

            Oops! I think there was a very similar one pre-pandemic and I just overextrapolated. Sorry about that!

    9. Tinker*

      Counter-proposal: can we let the concept of “perks”, in the sense of petty conveniences and basic working infrastructure (especially when these benefit low-level or non-management employees) being described as if it is a beneficent gift from on high that must be received with gratitude when it is given and also when it is taken away, die? I was really hoping that we would see the end of that with the pandemic, what with the massive object lesson in how remote capacity contributes to business continuity when unexpected events arise, but that does not seem to be what is unfolding.

      1. Tinker*

        Actually, I’m going to be just slightly more salty about this.

        It is technically true that I am not legally required to allow my partner to sit on the nice foam chair in my living room whenever they want to sit in it. It’s clearly my foam chair, it’s inside a house where both of the names on the title are my names, the only legal obligation I have is to tell them to leave before I attempt to physically remove them.

        However, this is a pleasant collaborative relationship that I have with another person. I want to get along well with them, and I want them to be comfortable both so that we can take up various common activities effectively and also so that they don’t find it unpleasant to share space with me. These things serve my interests, providing them is doing something that is serving my interests, and in the course of a mutually negotiated relationship various things that are technically concessions will occur in both directions. I don’t need to position myself as the king giving boons from on high; I do not need or want my partner to be constantly mincing and scraping in gratitude over candy bars and nice chairs, and if I did expect this I am glad to say that I would most likely find myself promptly unpartnered.

        Granted that I’m not dating my employer, but still — I would about rather have whatever thing not provided (and, depending on the nature of the thing, then make my own decisions about whether our working relationship is still valid because I am not here for being e.g. a software engineer who doesn’t get to have reliable network access) than to be constantly nickled and dimed about whether I am being sufficiently deferential about technically optional acts that lubricate a relationship.

        I’d also theorize that the “it’s a PERK you don’t DESERVE” type dialogue is actually a significant contributor to people being rigid and grasping around such things — if you go and make something into a competition for access to a desired resource, it’s only to be expected that people will focus on coming out on top.

        1. Save the Hellbender*

          I think you’re right that the larger point is Capitalism is Bad and American office culture is messy, but I think Alison’s point (and the comment above) that this employer can keep offering bonding activities to the employees making a weird and hard transition, and not to the ones enjoying the real and awesome benefits of voluntarily WFH is more to the point of the letter.

    10. HigherEdAdminista*

      Seriously! If I was able to work fully remote forever, I would not care if I missed out on free pizza. Heck, I have several times planned a vacation around the employee appreciation event (not specifically to avoid it, but that was just when I could go) and I didn’t lose a wink of sleep about not participating.

    11. Harper the Other One*

      Working remotely is a HUGE perk for me, to the point where I have stayed in a part time job far longer than I planned because it was so useful.

      It’s even more frustrating given that these folks were given the choice of staying remote or coming back to in person work.

    12. Anon for this*


      I would not be able to function if I had to worry about my commute, AND the stresses of my job, at the same time. That I don’t have to is a perk. People on site get lots of other perks. This is okay. Those perks, while nice, would not make the difference in allowing me to function in my job that working from home allows. The perks would be nice. But I would much rather be able to be more than minimally functional, without the perks, than not be minimally functional, and have the perks.

    13. Seeking Second Childhood*

      So true!
      I’ve already missed out on several company sponsored onsite treats, and I’m OK with that because I’m NOT there and don’t want to be.

    14. For goodness sakes, wash your hands!*

      For real, I’m like, be cool, guys! As a remote employee who’s always pushing their firm to innovate and take on additional remote employees, this is not a great look.

    15. tink*

      That said, if something like lunches will become a regular thing it could be beneficial to offer something like a delivery credit/stipend to remote workers as well. My partner’s company did something like for a while pre-pandemic–everyone got ~$15 biweekly to cover most of a lunch delivery instead of them doing a bigger twice a month catered lunch. People working remote at the time also got the stipend.

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        Nah. Remote people are saving way more on commute and gas and not using PTO.

        1. Rach*

          It is still a nice thing for the company to do and is part of team building, especially if it’s a working lunch that is catered on- site. Sending a gift card home is a great idea (one my job does). No one is entitled to it, but it is a nice gesture.

          1. Washi*

            Yeah, if the purpose of the lunch is team-building, it should include everyone. If these things being offered are in order to ease the transition/incentivize returning, then it doesn’t make sense to give them to remote employees.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              My read from that letter is this is to help ease the return to the office ( I think the letter explicitly says the CEO is trying to incentivize people coming back into the office). As long as he doesn’t go too overboard then I think if you choose to stay home (as the people complaining have chosen in this case), then you have to accept this as just part of not being in an office and not dealing with commuting and people.

      2. MsClaw*

        We have team members in two offices across town. In our group we really only have two or three people in the other building. Sometimes our manager will try to get food for both buildings when we have lunch meetings via video conference. It’s a nice thing to try to do if you have a lunch meeting that includes people in multiple locations. So in a case like that, if you had 7 people in a conference room and 3 people dialing in from home, it might be nice to try to doordash those people some grub (not required, but nice).

        However if you’re having a ‘welcome back to the office’ lunch…. it doesn’t make much sense to do that for people who aren’t in the office.

    16. Simply the best*

      I think when your perk is ongoing and it’s something you’ve had for over a year, it stops feeling like a perk and just feels like business as usual. And then when other people get something shiny and new and different than when you get, it feels unfair.

      OP just needs to be firm and remind them that they have chosen one set of perks over the other and they don’t get both.

    17. Jillith*

      I’m so mad about this kind of attitude where I work! Although I’m contractually office based, my boss has always been clear that she doesn’t care where I am as long as the work gets done (my team is based in London and I’m in the north – there is a regional head office full of people that I have nothing to do with and no one ever speaks to me) and I’ve been wfh since I started in 2019 with no issues. Come the pandemic and all the office staff are working from home and there is whinging left right and centre from people wanting this, that and the other paid for by the business. The company has had to set some company wide rules and rolled out a revised flexible working standard where office based employees have to be in the office 2 days a week and I’m slightly mad about it. Forking out for a dog walker and driving 20 miles to sit in uncomfortable clothes in the office to talk to my colleagues on my headset on teams just seems absolutely pointless!

    18. Andy*

      To me it sounds like they had the choice – stay remote or not. Anyway, our company gave care packages to everyone, they went out of way to make it fair between remote or not.

  2. Jean*

    You’re not being unreasonable. And I would just use the same exact language you used in your letter when responding to complainers – “These are things we’re doing to ease the return to in-office work for people who have chosen to return.” End of discussion. They’re entitled to think it’s unfair, but they’re not entitled to keep complaining to you about it.

  3. Former Young Lady*

    Maybe I’m just weird, but I consider “not feeling obligated to participate in awkward office meals” one of the best perks of working remotely.

    In any case, the answer to this was on-point.

    1. Primavera*

      Yes! My office is doing “fun events” to entice people back to the office early and it’s just reminding me how unfun and awkward and awful those are. So grateful to be remote even if I lose “perks” like free low quality food and forced socializing with people who send me passive aggressive emails.

      1. mark132*

        Sometimes I get sick of cheap pizza. I’ve skipped some of this lunches and just gone to the gym.

      2. Anon for this*

        My office offers cheap, high quality food. It’s still not enough to offset the increased stress from worrying about our increased workload, AND my commute, and the same time. Reduced commute is precious.

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        My office doesn’t do food (one of the nicer parts of being on the night shift), but I do miss the in office games of Heads Up or Uno/Skipbo tournaments. We’re back in office (have been since July 2020), but aren’t allowed to gather in groups and back in (provided to us) mandatory medical procedure masks. They’ve tried really hard to balance everyone’s personal comfort against not spreading Covid in the office (they even paid for vaccines, paid time off to get/recover from shots, and a free extra PTO day to everyone who went and got jabbed – which is 89% of the office), honestly I think they’ve done as well as anybody could expect in the midst of all this craziness of the pandemic.

      4. JB*

        Pizza at shared meals at work usually mean Dominos, which is serviceable but far from the best. The team morning tea spreads tend to represent the sales circular for the nearby supermarket (thank god I enjoy baking).

    2. Roscoe*

      But they still expect the free food, but also not having to deal with it. Talk about entitlement

      1. Former Young Lady*

        Ha, for sure! I’m guessing they’ve never worked in higher ed administration. After about the hundredth time you have to plan and execute a catered faculty event which you, yourself, won’t be invited to, you just get numb to this sort of thing.

    3. Me*

      I quite literally take the day off of our forced family fun holiday potluck is. I don’t trust the cleanliness of other peoples kitchens and making small talk between chews is at least the 4th circle of hell.

      Not interacting with coworkers except to discuss business is the greatest work from home blessing I have ever known and more valuable than a free meal.

    4. Lucy P*

      We never left the office but have not had any of these awkward meals since December 2019 using distancing as the excuse. I feel like I should be doing more of these morale booster types of things, but our group is so diverse in basic beliefs, religion, politics, etc. that these meals have never been enjoyable. Someone is always complaining about something, whether it’s the existence of guns or student athletes that have to miss school due to sporting events. It’s not good for digestion.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Less crumbs to fish out of people’s keyboards.

      Love: The IT department.

      (We don’t get called out to fix people’s home keyboards but I’m willing to be the WFH people’s ones are far less disgusting than some of the ones I’ve found Lund here)

      1. Caboose*

        Oof, you do NOT want to see my keyboard at home. It looks worse because it’s white, and I have a black cat, but…it is in bad shape. (It’s also one of those fancy clicky mechanical keyboard, so stuff gets trapped underneath/inside of the keys, making the whole thing a nightmare to clean. Some of the stuff stuck on it is a bit of cleaning slime that got trapped, somehow. The absolute betrayal of that incident…)

        1. Mollymauk Tealeaf*

          Just FYI if it’s a mechanical keyboard it’s pretty easy to remove the keys and clean it off from between them.

  4. idwtpaun*

    People can be obsessed with “fairness” in ways that really make them lose sight of the forest of the trees. We already have desperate employers writing NYT op-eds about how office culture is sacred and needs to be preserved and work from home is evil, I wish people wouldn’t feed that fire with silliness like this.

    If you want catered lunches and ice cream trucks, then you want to work in the office. Or you can wait until the ice cream truck passes by your street, while working in the comfort of your own home.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Or buy your own ice cream and eat it on your couch in your yoga pants because you’re working from home.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*


        The people in the office have to settle for popular flavors like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. You’re remote; you can stock any and every type of ice cream you like!

      2. UKDancer*

        Definitely. I dialled into a meeting the other day with another company and someone in their office had brought in doughnuts. My perk was being able to dial in and not have to trek across from my home to the place where the meeting was being held. However it did mean I had to buy my own doughnut. That’s the way it works. If you want the office perk you have to go into the office for it.

        1. Zudz*

          Sometimes, not eating 50% of a day’s calories in free office doughnuts unexpectedly /is/ the perk.

      3. idwtpaun*

        Now you’re the one being silly, everyone knows ice cream truck ice cream tastes completely different than the pint of Hagen Daas you buy at the store. You have to wait until you hear that ghostly tinkle of Mary Had a Little Lamb somewhere in your neighbourhood.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          The one on my old neighborhood played “La Cucuracha.”
          Not the association I wanted for a food truck!

            1. Clisby*

              The other day my son was walking up to our neighborhood corner store for a Pepsi, and I asked him to get me ice cream – ice cream sandwich, or the like. He came back with a pint of Haagen Dasz, because the store didn’t have any plebeian ice cream.

      4. anonymouse*

        Agreed. I think about how much ice cream I could buy because I’m not driving 50 miles a day and filling my tank once a week. Or getting an oil change every six weeks.
        OMG, let me stay at home!

      5. MissBaudelaire*

        Exactly! I get the ice cream *I* want and I get however much *I* want. And I get to eat it while sitting in my house and no one looks at me about it. This is my perk!

    2. Mockingjay*


      We’ve had several “but it’s not faaaiiirrrr” type letters in the Open Threads over the last few months. “Fair” does not equal “Same.” You wanted a perk: work remotely. You got it. Employee in the office: meal or dress allowance. They got it.

      Behind all of the “perks” is a company which is striving to keep employees happy and productive. People and situations vary, so it makes sense that different perks are offered.

      Somedays work reminds of when my kids were little and obsessed with the concept of fairness (difficult for young brains to figure out), and would count their fries to make sure one didn’t get more than the other.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        My friend’s favorite saying to her kids is “The fair comes around in August.”

        If everyone worried less about ‘fair’ and more about enjoying what they have, they’d be a lot happier! Really! I agree it shouldn’t be super skewed. But a catered lunch and free ice cream is nothing to get bent out of shape about. I agree that maaaybe the clothing stipend is a little off, if the at home workers had to buy their own printers/ink/paper. But again, sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          My coworker tells his kids the fair is in Pomona (LA County Fair).

    3. Clemsonuee*

      Yeah, it reminds me of an ex-coworker. We had a job that was mostly on the road (it was known going in that it was a road warrior job) and we were working at a customer site leading up to Christmas and the home office sent out some emails about the holiday party they were planning. I don’t think anything of it until said coworker comes to me and tells me how he “stood up for us” and sent an email about how we were in the field paying for their party and so forth. I didn’t even know how to respond. In his mind it was unfair for them to have a company party if not everyone was there.

  5. fiona the baby hippo*

    I worked in an office with a sizable number of employees full-time remote/WFH. There was frequent grumbling and attempts to constantly make things “even” (which, as Alison notes in her response, is practically impossible-remote employees could get an Uber Eats gift card but those of us who were in the office couldn’t wear our PJs to work). I think setting the tone of “different perks” now is not only right, it avoids a situation where, perhaps years into the future, someone is having to coordinate increasingly complicated perks to keep things ‘fair’

    1. Former Young Lady*

      Yep. My perks are that I don’t have to commute, wear “hard pants,” or humor water-cooler chat about reality shows. I can choose my own music, eat on my own schedule, and pet a cat anytime I want.

      In-office workers lose out on almost all of those privileges; like I’m gonna begrudge them a day-old doughnut or a slice of Hawaiian pizza?

      1. fiona the baby hippo*

        HA yes. people go crazy for free stuff, even when it’s not worth much. I once had a press invite to the Aspen Food and Wine Classic, and even those guests (who had flown in on private jets) were ready to stab ppl for a ‘swag bag’ of mostly crap.

        1. RabidChild*

          People go MENTAL for free stuff and I don’t understand it. As a marketing person, I’ve done about a zillion tradeshows, and I could not care less for the types of giveaways that people were willing to do violence over. And don’t get me started on, “You get to travel” comments either. Yeah, I get to travel, but I also never see daylight wherever I go because I’m working 16 hour days and never get comp time to make it up. Still want to complain?

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        Seriously. I get to have open beverages, eat whatever I want, use my own toilet, sit under two blankets if I want, and snuggle a cat!

        They can have the donuts and the pizza and ice cream. They deserve it.

        1. Liz*

          don’t forget a quick catnap at lunch if needed! i’ve done that more than a few times!

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                I think we found out who’s using Afternoon Delight for on-hold music!

                1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  How sad is it that I now have that song playing in my head (competing with the Def Leppard on my earbud – only one because the building fire alarm operates at normal people volume)….
                  And I’m only in my 30’s……

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I have to admit that Hawaiian pizza gave me pause. So many people dislike it with vehemence, I enjoy it, and it’s a shame to see it go to waste… but it’s not enough to walk back my stance that remotes shouldn’t be fixating on on-site perks that are perishable or for use on-site.

      4. That One Person*

        Agreed, though I’m guessing they’re seeing all this “free stuff” and are forgetting the benefits they get to enjoy at the moment. They’ve likely gotten used to the gift of no longer spending gas, wearing what they want, enjoying pets whenever, personal toilets, and personal fridge access. They’re seeing all the “new” and “free” others are getting, and want a little bit of it too. I can understand it, but they could definitely use a reminder of the things they’re getting on the daily in return.

        That said I do miss surprise visits and stare downs from my furry little one. I have to get through the day thinking of her and looking at pics until I get to go home and see her for realsies ):

    2. Redd*

      My husband’s office is basically debating this right now.

      His company is huge on face time and in-person collaboration. They want everyone back in-office full time by September. My husband works nights. He overlaps with one coworker in his department, for about two hours, and because they’re tech support any interaction they do is over Jabber. Other than that, he’s on the phone with coworkers in other cities/states.

      The manager initially told night shift they could stay remote, but has now walked that back because it wouldn’t be fair to other coworkers.

      In my husband’s eyes, it’s already unfair–day shift workers make similar salaries to his but get to maintain a normal sleep schedule, interact with others, take their lunch break while restaurants are still open, etc. They’re just different perks.

  6. Teapot Repair Technician*

    #1 Whether or not it’s fair, it’s inevitable that on-site and off-site employees will have different duties.

    If you’re given a choice to WFH or WFO, it would be wise to make that part of your reasoning (or at least be aware of it) when deciding.

    1. Washi*

      It’s definitely true that duties will be different for a job that involves in person meetings! I’m totally side eyeing the manager who apparently didn’t think this through enough to start coming up with a plan and communicate it to OP. What if the OP decides they want to be remote too?

      To me, saying that employees have the option of working from home but still have to come in for client meetings would be more than reasonable. (I say this as someone with a sort of similar set up, albeit in home-based healthcare where I do patient visits and then chart from home.)

      1. Spearmint*

        Although if some employees moved to other cities with their manager’s blessing (as it sounds like is the case for at least one of LW1’s coworkers), requiring them to do meetings in-person or risk losing their jobs would be unfair.

        1. turquoisecow*

          If the coworker’s job involves meeting with clients and they can’t meet with clients, then maybe they should lose their job. Obviously this varies by job role, but that sounds like an essential duty this person just wants to pass off to the OP so they can live in another city.

      2. Teapot Repair Technician*

        Yes, leaving up to chance isn’t great. Though “the duty falls to whomever is convenient” is not a new phenomenon in my experience, like when the person who sits next to the printer becomes the quasi-official printer tech support.

        While the WFH employees continue to live nearby, it’s reasonable to have them come in as needed. But in the long run, it would make sense to make the WFH and WFO jobs distinct roles with different official duties.

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      Yes, everything should always be free and nobody should get paid for their work at any time.

      1. StressedButOkay*

        Right? I also hit the paywall, went ‘rats!’ and came to read the comments section. Paywalls exist so Alison can earn revenue (same as having ads on her site) and as a frequent reader, I am not going to be mad about one of my favorites earning money!

  7. ENFP in Texas*

    If you want the perks offered to in-office employees, then become an in-office employee.

    If you want to be able to work in your PJs because you’re at home, then don’t get your PJs in a twist that your company is offering a perk to folks who need to buy new in-office clothes.

    Be thankful you’re not spending your money and time on a commute, and quit whining.

    1. anonymouse*

      This is a really great spin. Nobody who agreed to come to work in the office is complaining that the dress code is onerous, or that they “have to be in their seat” at 8 on the nose, even though parking is X distance away. They are not complaining that they don’t have a window, or can’t sit on the porch or have music playing as loud as they want.
      They aren’t complaining that they lose time commuting.
      it’s crazy!

    2. mreasy*

      Yeah this is it, it’s ridiculous. My office has offered free lunch twice a week since reopening to those who chose to work from the office. I have come in on those days zero times, because I value working from home more than free lunch. If these people want the stuff, they have to decide that it’s worth having to be in the office. Why is this hard??

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Taking it to extremes: there was a guy at one place who complained to management that my having a free parking space right outside the building was really unfair because he had to park further away and pay.

      I’m disabled.

      Management basically told him to eff off.

  8. Tracy*

    I’m sure they have the option of attending these events, and they are communicated to absolutely everyone, correct? If you are able to come into the office for these things … please do so! It’s equally offered to everyone.

    1. NYC Taxi*

      It’s not a great look if they’re willing to come in for free ice cream or food when they don’t want to come into the office to actually work.

      1. KHB*

        I don’t know – this doesn’t sound so bad to me. We’ll probably end up doing something similar: Lots of people will decide to stay mostly remote, but we’ll all get together in the office every so often to see each other’s faces and chat in person, and there will probably be some form of free food involved. If an ice cream cone is all it takes to make you happy to put on real pants and schlep in to the office for the day, that’s a pretty good deal for the employer.

      2. James*

        It depends on office culture. In our office we used to have events specifically to bring remote workers into the office–it gave everyone a chance to meet the new people, and to chat with each other, and to generally interact in that semi-informal way that office people do when eating in a conference room. The value in making those connections and the random “Hey, while you’re here let me ask you about….” conversations more than made up for the cost of food.

        Even if no real work gets done in these conversations, you’re now a name AND a face. You offered me the last of the strawberry ice cream, and we chatted about our dogs. If I need someone to help out with some quick report reviews or drafting tables, I’m likely to send you an email asking for help (again, it’s culture-dependent; that’s how our office works, yours may be different). That’s how networking works, even in an office.

        I think that as long as your office accepts this sort of culture this can work in everyone’s favor.

        In contrast, if the WFH people are heads down, eat as quickly as possible then leave types, it won’t work so well. It’ll create resentment. And there’s the real risk of the office people all sitting together, while the WFH people are off to one side. A good manager will find ways to prevent that. I remember reading about the “Planet of the Apes” filming, where the actors in each ape costume ate with others in the same costume–gorillas with gorillas, chimps with chimps, and so on. It’s a natural human inclination, but a destructive one.

      3. Indigo a la mode*

        I actually would love to see my remote coworkers come in on those occasions, when we can socialize a bit instead of just working.

      4. Tracy*

        Well that is normal for my place of employment.

        We are a food producer and have been running all along. There are about 5 office people working remotely so whenever there is a “thing” they are always included and there is no pressure put upon them and not much in the way of awkwardness.

        Rest assured that the commute and travel time are not factors – we live in a more rural than urban area and a typical commute is 10-15 minutes.

    2. Snow globe*

      No, I don’t think people who typically work from home need to be invited to an ice cream social when the entire purpose of the social is to welcome people who are returning to the office full time. Having a remote worker show up just to get their ice cream and then leave would end up have the opposite impact as intended.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I agree. When the perk is a “get to know everyone in the company” ice cream social, they should be encouraged to come in.

      2. Indigo a la mode*

        I agree on the “welcome back to the office” party. But going forward, if they do a chili cookoff or Oktoberfest beer tasting or holiday party, I’d hope everyone would be invited so they could make plans to come in that day.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I think that is fair – in the far off future when Covid/Delta Variant/Lambda Variant aren’t major worries.

      3. GothicBee*

        Agreed. I do think that in the future if there are events that are intended for other purposes (e.g., “Thanks for the hard work” pizza party, Bob’s retirement party, etc.), it doesn’t hurt to invite remote employees if they are able to/want to attend. But the events that the LW mentions in the letter are supposed to be for the in-office workers, not everyone.

        1. StressedButOkay*

          Agreed! These were specifically events to welcome back returning folks to the office and help make that transition easier. Moving forward, if they have events for the office, make sure the remote workers are alerted but they have to understand – there are downsides to working from home. Missing out on things like this is one of them.

          As for the clothing stipend, okay, if the company has the budget, it might be nice to give the remote workers an equal amount to cover home office costs that they’ve taken on. But, come on, being remote IS a perk and benefit and acting like this is a sure fire way to have that perk removed.

  9. AnotherSarah*

    I would only caution that some employees may not be remaining WFH by choice–or at least not full choice. Childcare/schools are still in flux, many people have vulnerable family members, etc. This may not be your employees and may not be most, but it IS worth considering that some WFH folks might prefer to be in the office, but can’t right now. That’s not necessarily a reason not to continue as you’re doing, and I agree with the advice in general, but I do think it’s worth being aware of this.

    1. Leah K.*

      They are still getting a “perk” of being able to address they childcare needs, take care of medically vulnerable family members, etc. Flexibility is the perk in itself that not all employers are willing to offer. So, complaining about not getting free ice cream while not being forced to look for expensive backup childcare is bad form.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. Being able to flex while the schools sort themselves out is a huge perk. A lot of people are scrambling and honestly childcare woes have nothing to do with ice cream trucks at the office. I would take the flexibility well before a catered lunch.

      2. AnotherSarah*

        That’s fair, but you’re right to put “perk” in quotes there. Again, I think the advice is sound but it’s distressing to see no sympathy for the choiceless choices people are making. (And that includes people going back to the office because their apartments are too small for WFH, etc.)

        1. JB*

          “Choiceless choices”, huh.

          Maybe I’m biased because I’m currently cleaning up after a coworker who has been fully remote for the entire pandemic (forcing me to be fully in the office) and was apparently only pretending to do her work that whole time, and still isn’t coming in because she ‘can’t find childcare’. She’s told me that she can, actually – but it starts too early in the morning for her preferences. “What am I supposed to do, get my kids up at 6:45 to drop them off at daycare?”

          Well. That’s what my parents did when I was growing up.

          Meanwhile I had very vulnerable people in my family and I had to keep coming in the entire time. I never had a choice. Guess what? We found ways to work around it and keep everyone safe.

          I gotta be honest, “choiceless choices” just sounds to me like not wanting to face up to the other options.

          1. Lana Kane*

            I understand your frustration. But I think it’s good to remember that your coworker isn’t representative of the whole. A lot of people are faced with truly choiceless choices.

            1. AnotherSarah*

              Yes. How about my friend–my county has low vax rates, no more mask mandate, and she has an immunocompromised son. No daycare, no nothing for him. She’d love to go back. She can’t, because of…well…other people’s bad decisions. So she’s “choosing” to work from her bathroom, essentially. Sorry about your coworker, JB, but assuming no one is facing hardship because she wasn’t is…something else.

          2. Name Required*

            I’m glad you had the option to find it work, and I’m sympathetic that you are having to clean up after another coworker, but you do sound biased and unsympathetic if you are unwilling to believe that not everyone has the options available to you.

          3. Le Sigh*

            I say this as a childfree person — that problem sounds specific to your coworker and I don’t think it’s fair to project that onto other working parents. I wouldn’t be surprised if your coworker were a challenge to work with in other ways — and the choiceless choice thing doesn’t even really apply to them, since it sounds more of an inconvenience than anything.

            My office has a lot of parents (and some caregivers) with few or no safe options: daycares closed on and off when there’s a COVID scare; not being able to send kids to school or daycare b/c of immunocompromised family members at home; sending kids to school and crossing your fingers; kids who can’t attend school safely b/c they can’t yet get vaxxed and the school is in an area with terrible safety practices; trouble finding consistent nanny care (if they can even afford that) or family members who can only sometimes help. The usual systems weren’t great to begin with and have broken down, so parents (as well as many caregivers) are still having to scramble week to week, month to month as things change.

            Plenty of my coworkers are still getting their work done, just at stranger hours or with some adjustments.

    2. Washi*

      I think it would be fair to say “I am hoping to come back to the office in a few months when I get childcare sorted – can I apply for a clothing stipend then?” But that’s not really what OP is describing.

      1. AnotherSarah*

        That makes good sense. I’m thinking especially of people with sick and immunocompromised family members who are put in danger every time a household member steps out into our unmasked world. It’s distressing me to see a turn from folks getting sympathy for that, to…not. (Ice cream is different from clothing, obviously, but I suspect the “whining” is about other issues that are harder to pin down.)

        1. AY*

          I don’t really see a lack of sympathy or empathy for folks with sick and immunocompromised family members here. The reason *why* someone is working from home isn’t actually relevant to the question. A person working from home because of a immunocompromised spouse doesn’t need a stipend for work clothes anymore than a person working from home because she feels like it.

          1. AnotherSarah*

            Sure. Do people who started WFH 14 months ago suddenly need ice cream and clothing? I get that this is an incentive, but it is also a perk. I see the lack of sympathy as the commentariat assuming that people who want to WFH and are having feelings about other folks’ perks are entitled, lazy, spoiled, selfish…very few on here seem to consider alternatives. I get it. We’re all stretched. But it’s disheartening.

            1. AY*

              I don’t mean to be rude, but it actually is kind of entitled to expect a stipend for work clothes when you don’t need them in your WFH role. And yes, I feel very bad for people who are WFH because of circumstances they didn’t choose. It’s not fair. It sucks. But it doesn’t make OP’s company unreasonable for not giving them ice cream or a stipend for work clothes.

              1. AnotherSarah*

                AY, if you see my original comment, I agreed with the advice! It was a reminder for offices in general to remember that not everyone thinks WFH is a perk and not everyone is happy to have to do it. A year ago, I saw a lot of reminders that WFH would be bad for a lot of people–people experiencing violence at home, for example!–but maybe everyone’s forgotten that?

            2. Colette*

              Complaining that people who are in the office get welcome-back ice cream and a clothing stipend is like complaining that you don’t get presents on someone else’s birthday. It’s not about you.

              If you’re not getting what you need (e.g. appropriate computer equipment, a stipend for office furniture, etc.), then that’s worth discussing – but the discussion is because that’s something you need to do your job, not because someone else got something else.

              1. EchoGirl*

                I was trying to figure out how to phrase this, but you said it better. It’s okay for remote employees to ask if they can get help for expenses unique to working at home, but it should be its own thing, not a tit-for-tat thing with the clothing stipend.

    3. AG*

      I agree with this, if employees are working remote because they simply prefer it that is one thing. If they are remote due to extenuating circumstances I think it could be worth considering if there are some in-office perks worth extending to remote as well. For example, if there is an important meeting for all staff over lunch offer remote people the option of expensing their lunch as well. More casual food perks for office only. Currently this feels like incentivizing people to return to the office which is fine, but may land poorly with people who truly cannot go back right now.

      1. AnotherSarah*

        Yes. It’ll be worth figuring out what are “incentives to come back” versus “expected company expenses” (holiday parties, etc.) and making sure for the latter, WFH folks get something too (same as in the before times).

      2. anonymath*

        I can’t get on board with this. This is in part due to my 10 years of university teaching in which I initially tried to sort the “deserving” from the “undeserving” with respect to late homework and missed tests. That way lies madness. Why does the girl who got an injury from skateboarding get to miss the test while the girl who just had an abortion and doesn’t want to tell you about it doesn’t? Why does the guy who is vomiting due to a hangover get a free pass when the guy who is still struggling to figure out something that he will understand in three years is a sensory processing disorder not get a free pass? What about the liars? What about the people who don’t want to share their personal business with you? How deep are you going to probe the childcare problems, the money problems, the relationship problems that your employees have? Are you going to start making them bring in receipts to show they can’t afford daycare, when someone complains that the receptionist has to come in and put her baby in daycare while the senior engineer says she can’t afford it and it’s not fair?

        I know this is almost getting absurd — but teaching college students is that nuts (the examples at the top are merely tweaked for gender, not made up). Trying to sort out “prefer it” from “extenuating circumstances” is not a good idea.

          1. Simply the best*

            They are being treated with compassion. Everybody who wants to or needs to gets to stay home. Is that not enough?

    4. hbc*

      This kind of view is the only thing that kept me from going nuclear on a couple of employees in a similar situation. We gave the option of working four 10 hour days rather than our standard 5-8 to decrease the number of people onsite. To incentivize it, we paid for the lunch break of those doing 4-10s. Cue “It’s so unfair, we work the same hours!!”

      I mean, I get it that it sucks if you would like to take advantage but are prevented by a personal situation. (Though in my case, it was a side hustle they didn’t want to give up.) But in the end, you’re still saying that Option A is better for you, so all you’re doing is arguing that the second choice should be worse for others at no benefit to yourself. That’s something that will be remembered by managers and colleagues.

    5. mark132*

      Really what you’ve hit on here is life isn’t “fair”. FWIW, I’m much happier since I got better at realizing this. Yep it’s not “fair”, and play the cards I’m dealt.

    6. Meep*

      Yup – the in-office folks get the perk of free meals and stuff, and the WFH folks get the “perk” of – remaining alive? Making it possible for their family members to not die?

  10. Ann Furthermore*

    Good god, people are never satisfied. I started a fully remote job before COVID hit, and it is every bit as glorious as I ever dreamed it would be. And if the tradeoff is that I miss out on some catered lunches and a clothing allowance, then that is more than fine with me. What I’ve gained — a better work/life balance, more flexibility, being able to be home when my daughter leaves for and returns from school, being able to listen to music all day without bothering anyone else, not to mention the amount of money I haven’t had to spend on gas, work clothes, lunches — I could go on and on — is worth way more than any amount of catered lunches or bowls of ice cream.

    Returning to the office is going to be a huge adjustment for many people — perhaps even for some of those who are looking forward to it. Be thankful that you were allowed to choose to keep working remotely and keep enjoying all the perks you’ve opted to continue taking advantage of.

    1. Well...*

      Idk, I paid way more money on my heating bill than I would have if my apartment had been empty 10hrs/day. Plus I had to buy a new chair, ergonomic setup for my laptop, etc etc. I walk to work, so no commute costs there. I didn’t buy new professional clothes but I did invest in and wear out comfortable home clothing.

      It’s different for everyone, and where I live I’m still waiting on my second vaccine, so I actually can’t go back to work rn and I’m missing it.

      Ofc whining about perks bugs me too. The only perk in my job is travel, which… Is gone. But like WFH isn’t necessarily saving everyone money.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        No, it’s not. It has for me, but I get that’s not the case for everyone. But the LW said everyone was given the choice to either stay remote or come back to the office, and now those who have chosen to stay remote are complaining because they want the perks that those in the office are getting. And I’m willing to bet if they had come back to the office, they’d be complaining about the perks the remote people were getting that they were missing out on. Lots of people are being forced back to the office when they’d rather be remote. The LW’s company is being pretty generous letting people choose which option they prefer, and that’s being lost on those griping about missing out on catered lunches and ice cream.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          That, I think, is the key here. Employees were given the choice of what to do, and people are whining because they made their choice and don’t get all the perks of every option. If the employer said “everyone back to the office, here’s a stipend for clothing and some free ice-cream as a reward” they’d be screaming blue murder about having to go back and the ice-cream wouldn’t mollify them.

          There are likely people coming back to the office who really aren’t looking forward to the commute or work clothing, but are doing so because they don’t have a good work from home setup (space, internet, quiet), or because they don’t find working at home as effective as in person. Are they demanding to be allowed to work in PJs, or bring their cat to work with them, or asking for a cot in the office for naps?

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I think there is a divide between saving money and not for those that had people at home vrs those whose house was empty all day is worth remembering/mentioning. But also everybody’s situation is different – and what we don’t know is why these people who are complaining made the choice to stay home, but they did decide to continue work from home. That means you are also choosing to pass on any perks that the people who are in the office are getting.

  11. PT*

    You’re not being unreasonable BUT. Is your company saving money in overhead having a team at home? Less office space, smaller heating bill, less internet bandwidth? Are they providing their own desks, pens, printers, notepads, post-it notes that your in office staff gets for free?

    If that’s the case your WFH people should be getting something to offset those costs of the company’s that they are now paying out of their own pockets.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Or the company may have had to lay out expenses regarding network/VPN infrastructure. Our VPN pre-COVID was much less robust and worked well enough for the smaller % of people that used it. We crashed it when the state went into lockdown. The company needed to quickly upgrade a lot of equipment/software to facilitate everyone’s remote needs. I think it is perfectly reasonable to not give a perk to a FT remote person who elects to stay home.

      1. Name Required*

        Compensating a WFH employee for business expenses such as pens, notepads, etc. is not a perk, regardless if a VPN system had to be upgraded to accomodate the increase in WFH employees.

      2. Yorick*

        That upgrade was necessary to continue business, so it’s a business expense. WFH employees’ office furniture, internet, pens, notebooks, printer ink, etc. are also necessary for business. So they should be reasonably compensated for obtaining those items.

        I’m now footing the bill for my employer, who saved money by downsizing our office and sending people to telework. (Sure, I could elect to go back full-time so technically I’m choosing to continue teleworking, but it’s really not a choice since there’s no space for me). I’d be pretty mad if people who were going back got reimbursed for clothes when I can’t be reimbursed for the desk, chair, etc. that I had to buy.

        1. Anon for this wfh*

          Yeah, my company only does wfh, and pays minimum wage. And feeling salty about that, as I have put out a lot of money (oh, but i can claim it on my taxes *eye roll*) for this job

    2. Anhaga*

      This is one thing I wondered, having worked for a company that gave us no financial support for buying WFH equipment AND paid us terribly for the field we were in. Having now worked for a company where we got equipment-related financial support even for temporary WFH situations, I am all for ensuring that WFH individuals have financial support in terms of buying work-related equipment equivalent to what they would have at the office.

      That, however, is *very* different from free meals and ice cream, which are really piddly things in comparison to your company ensuring you have a decent computer.

    3. Teapot Repair Technician*

      That’s a good point, but if anything it supports the idea that it’s not about fairness, it’s different expenditures for different purposes.

      If I had to WFH, it would cost maybe $1000 to furnish a home office, and maybe $100/month thereafter for increased internet and utility bills. I don’t think it would unreasonable for me to ask my employer to reimburse me for that. But it would be outrageous for WFO employees to demand an equal amount in the name of fairness.

      1. High Score!*

        Her employees don’t HAVE to work from home. They are free to choose. I’m happy to pay extra for utilities to WFH bc I can control the thermostat, no one else eats my food, I can cook a healthy lunch everyday, work in yoga pants (best thing ever!!!), don’t have to waste my life commuting, I can eat lunch with my family, let the repair man in, only need one family car instead of two and so much more.
        Yeah, those who choose to go in can have some food and a clothing stipend with my blessing.

    4. KHB*

      My concern about this is that it’s equivalent to requiring the in-office employees to pay rent for their own offices (“You get $X more if you work from home” is the same as “You get $X less if you work in the office”), and I think we can all agree that that’s not right.

      Reimbursing WFH employees for business-related expenses that they actually incur (e.g., office supplies) is fine. Giving them (and only them) a cut of what the company saves from having a smaller office footprint is another matter.

    5. Kesnit*

      What I pay in gas every week driving to and from work is far less than what I spent on office supplies and Internet while I was WFH.

      1. Mannequin*

        That still doesn’t make it right for a business to offload the costs of doing business on to their employees.

  12. NYC Taxi*

    Instead of whining about stupid “perks” they feel like they aren’t getting they should be more focused on making sure they stay visible and relevant enough for advancement opportunities, new projects etc. that would be easier to give to in-office employees.

    1. SarahKay*

      Well, the complainers are certainly doing their best to make themselves visible….

    2. SoloKid*

      I’ve never worked at a place where those kinds of relationships were fostered without in person interaction.

      I love the perks that WFH 2 days a week bring, but professionally, the remaining 3 are truly when I get the best face time and troubleshooting done.

  13. Mommy Shark*

    My only question would be if there was stipend offered for building a home office when everyone went remote? Since it is a choice of going in office vs working remote, you could say someone has to juggle the choice of purchasing a home office setup or purchasing work clothes, so to reimburse neither is fair cus there is a balance between the two. But I can see why someone may feel unhappy with just the clothing reimbursement. Not saying I would be, but I can see how some might be.

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      I agree with this. If there wasn’t a stipend to set up an office back then, maybe now is a good time to give a flat fee to everyone: clothes for in-office folks, equipment rebate for the WFH folks. A lot of people have definitely had to spend money to make WFH work.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        If the point is encourage people to work in the office, not from home, this is not a good idea. I’m not saying that objective is a good one – just that if that is the objective then the incentives should be organized to encourage that, and not equalize perks across all employees.

  14. Feline*

    Being transparent about the incentives to return to work helps. “Found out about it” sounds like they tried to slide a perk in without making it known generally. Treat it as the incentive it is. Instead of a stipend for clothing, call it a return to office bonus. People who choose to stay home will understand they aren’t entitled to it then.

    As someone who has stayed home for health reasons, I appreciate that kind of transparency from my employer.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      Instead of a stipend for clothing, call it a return to office bonus.

      This sounds good, but if it must be used on clothes it needs a more specific name than that – otherwise it’s misleading to recipients. “Oh, they call it a bonus but I have to spend it on what they want – that’s not a bonus.”

  15. EPLawyer*

    Re hot desking — I hacked up a hairball at that one. I mean I guess with rotating staff it probably works. But it is just basically telling your employees we don’t see you as individual people, just interachangeable butts in seats. Can’t they at least assign desks for people on the days they are there? Just ick. Could be my knee jerk reaction to hot desking.

    The coverage employee – definitely push back. One of the perks of working from home is not getting out of client meetings. You shouldn’t have to take all the meetings and then have the extra work of condensing the info down for forwarding. If the job entails client meetings then everyone needs to do their own meetings. THAT’s fairness. Unfair is expecting the person who likes being in the office to do all the client meetings.

    1. Mommy Shark*

      yeah I’m full time remote and still have to attend onsite client meetings. Remote doesn’t mean you never see anyone – it means you’re not required in the office.

      1. NYC Taxi*

        At my company we’re under a WFH model based on what our day looks like rather than set days or number of days a week – No client meetings? WFH. Need to interact with people directly, client meetings etc? Be in the office.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I had a similar setup. Sometimes I could call in and sometimes I had to drive in. If a big meeting fell on my remote day, I was expected to shift my schedule to accommodate (even if I drove home immediately thereafter).

      3. turquoisecow*

        I don’t have clients to meet with, but as a remote employee, if I go into the office, it’s for meetings. Sometimes I call into them, but I don’t get out of them entirely. If client meetings are part of the job, remote working doesn’t mean you just don’t do the job.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Hot desking: Yup. I would have to be desperate before I took a job that included hot desking. As for this particular case, I suspect that Alison is right that a “quiet section” would prove popular. This amuses me, as it also contradicts the “spontaneous collaboration” argument for why everyone needs to be in the same building. As a practical matter, however, enforcement would be a problem. Some commuter trains have “quiet cars” and some commuters think this is great, as it makes it easier for their telephone calls.

      1. SarahKay*

        I’m with you in your hatred of hot-desking! Thankfully I’m in an office attached to a secure production area so the company can’t get rid off the office, or share it with non-company people, which means the chances of having to hot-desk in my current role are slim.
        For the commuter trains, I loathe the Quiet Carriages and never travel in them if I can help it. I don’t care about people being loud on a phone, but them doing it in a quiet area makes my rule-following blood boil with fury.

      2. KHB*

        There’s nothing contradictory about a job that requires quiet concentration sometimes and spontaneous collaboration at other times. (And as long as coworkers are respectful of which mode anyone’s in at any given time, it works fine.)

        But being seated next to someone on a totally different team making loud phone calls all day long is not that. That’s just a distraction that doesn’t benefit anybody.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Before the pandemic, with the workers quiet in order to accommodate the LW, they might go crazy when the LW wasn’t doing something requiring concentration. How would this work with a “quiet section,” where presumably everybody is there for the quiet? Spontaneously collaborate in a whisper? Or use hand signals to attract someone’s attention to come away from the quiet section? That’s not exactly spontaneous. That’s just asking for a meeting.

          1. KHB*

            You’re acting like this is some kind of insoluble problem, when plenty of workplaces have managed to strike balances that work for them. It sounds like OP had an arrangement that worked for her before the pandemic, and it’s just the employer’s lazy hot-desking policy that’s throwing a wrench in the works.

            Depending on the specifics of the situation, maybe a general “quiet zone” isn’t the best solution – it’s just one possibility that Alison suggested. Another possibility would be for each team (or maybe just OP’s team) to have its own dedicated section, so that people are sitting next to people who do similar jobs and have similar needs.

            Also, “quiet zone” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “no talking ever.” On most trains I’ve been on, the rules for the quiet car are to keep conversations to a reasonably low volume, and if you need to make a phone call, go somewhere else. Maybe something like that would work in OP’s office.

      3. High Score!*

        My employer did numerous employee surveys and do many people wanted to continue to work from home that they are using hot desking and moving to a much smaller office BUT there are quiet areas, adjustable desks for standing or sitting, a “coffee shop” area for those who enjoy that environment, labs, meeting rooms, windowed “booths” for private phone calls or 2 person meetings and various conference rooms. And individuals get to decide when they need or want to come in.
        So hot desking isn’t always evil. Our company is saving money and giving employees the flexibility they want.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Serious question: How does one “spontaneously collaborate” in this environment, where the person you want to ask a question of might be anywhere?

          1. Le Sigh*

            If the person you’re looking for is in the office, send a Slack, call them, or get up and walk over to the person you’re looking for and ask to chat in one the meeting rooms? My office wasn’t hottdesking before the pandemic, but it was open office and that’s how we handled it.

            If they’re WFH or remote that day, just Slack them and ask to Zoom or chat via phone about something real quick.

          2. A Person*

            It might be that one doesn’t! And it might be that at this particular company, that wasn’t one of the arguments for the arrangement.

          3. Teapot Repair Technician*

            In my experience, “spontaneous collaboration” typically happens when you serendipitously find yourself with a coworker in the machine shop, or in the break room, or hanging around after a meeting, etc.

            That said, with the way things are going, I think people who value “spontaneous collaboration” need to start thinking about ways to make it happen online.

          4. James*

            Several ways.

            First, ask when you happen to encounter them. This may mean putting off the question for a while, or getting asked totally random questions all the time.

            Second, email them. They will see it when they see it, but they usually eventually se it.

            Third, if it is important, call them.

            This is coming from years working on a job site where people randomly pop in from different states. Happened this week, twice. In an open office it happens more. It may work for some people, especially in roles where sharing information is critical. Doesn’t work for most office roles, though.

          5. teapot analytics manager*

            You basically can’t spontaneously collaborate. We did this setup previously in my job and it was a nightmare – you could never find anyone and so we all ended up doing part in-person, part telephone meetings for every single meeting.

            Hot desking is the absolute worst option and the only people who like it are the senior management who don’t have to do it.

    3. rl09*

      Yeah the concept of “hot-desking” seems inefficient to me. Typically, I would think you’d want your teams seated next to each other every day, so they can easily collaborate, ask questions, etc. If you need to go chat with someone in person, do you have to message them first to figure out where they’re sitting? And if you don’t need your teams to collaborate in-person, then why even come back to the office at all?

      1. EPLawyer*

        Just the lost time in figuring out where your pens are in the drawer and the stapler, etc. Even which side of the desk the phone is on. Also setting up your mouse, keyboard, monitor every time the way you like. Because everyone sitting at the desk will have their own quirks on set up. But hey you saved money on space right?

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Mouse, keyboard, and monitor: I would have thought that everyone would be using laptops, which they bring with them on in-office days. Am I completely wrong about this?

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I definitely work better with an external monitor, docking station and peripherals like a real mouse instead of a touchpad. Standard docking stations are becoming the norm in my office, but it does require a minute or two of setup each morning.

          2. iglwif*

            You’re almost certainly right that people are using laptops they bring with them, but people who use laptops often also use a mouse, an external monitor, and/or an external keyboard!

          3. EPLawyer*

            I use an external mouse with my laptop. It’s easier on the hands. I also have a stand for my laptop that raises it a bit. I started using it for Zoom Court so I didn’t have to raise my desk to be seen clearly and then was writing with my arms raised up. But I started not lowering it because nnow my laptop is at a more comfortable angle. So I would have to get my mouse out each day, unfold my stand, fiddle until it is the right height, etc.

          4. SarahKay*

            When I was at my desk at work I had two monitors, a keyboard, a mouse and a wrist rest. Plus a drawer holding coffee, mug, tampons, pens, snacks etc, with two pairs of smart work shoes underneath that I changed into once I arrived at work. During the WFH period I took home the two monitors, keyboard, mouse, and wrist-rest. (The drawer contents are mostly in my kitchen and bathroom, and I’m sticking with comfy shoes.)

            Also, working directly on a laptop is shockingly bad from an ergonomic point of view. If you’re typing comfortably on the keyboard then the screen is much too low. Or you put the laptop on some sort of rest at which point you’re trashing your wrists instead of your neck.

          5. Pointy's in the North Tower*

            I have a laptop. I also have two external monitors, an actual mouse, an ergonomic keyboard, a printer, and a scanner, not to mention all the other things I need to work. I also have my monitors set a height and angle comfortable to me, which every other person hates and is uncomfortable to them. Hot-desking isn’t a thing in my office, but if it were, I’d need a dedicated desk in order to do my job.

      2. Colette*

        Some places have hot desking with parameters like “team A and B hot-desk on the 3rd floor, team C and D are on the 2nd floor.

        I would hate hot desking if I were in the office every day. If I’m in once a week or less, it makes a lot of sense. (In the OP’s case, where she’s in multiple days a week, I’d hate it.)

    4. gbca*

      I dunno, I can’t get behind the idea that everyone should get a space if they’re in the office a couple days a week. It’s wasteful of resources – not just money, but also from an environmental perspective. Similar to other tradeoffs with WFH/WFO, I think if you get to have a hybrid setup, you accept that you don’t get a dedicated/unshared space. That being said, a hotdesking setup needs to be done mindfully – for instance, keeping areas dedicated for teams so they can be near each other rather than a total free-for-all.

    5. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, I understand that hotdesking can work well in some circumstances (teams of consultants who usually spend 90% of their time at client sites is one common example), but it sucks as a general policy. My company is temporarily hotdesking as we all come back to the office part-time and also prepare for an office move, and I agree that it doesn’t make me feel valued as an employee.

      If people are in the office multiple days a week, every week, true hotdesking seems bananas. You need a wider range of options including stable desk sharing arrangements, reservable desks instead of on-the-fly “touchdown” spots, designated storage for personal belongings, a clear exception process, etc. There are so many people who have needs that are no big deal when they have an assigned desk but that would require special accommodation under hotdesking – lumbar support cushions and special chairs and footrests and such are obvious examples. Some people are happy with a “have laptop, can work from anywhere” approach, but it really doesn’t work for everyone.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Stable Desk Sharing Arrangements. that’s what I was looking for. You have an assigned desk, but on the days you aren’t there, someone else is assigned that desk. So you know where you are working every day. Hopefully you can work things out with your fellow desk sharers (remember the letter from the person who shared a desk and the others left it a disgusting mess and somehow the boss decided the OP was SOLELY responsible for keeping the desk clean?)

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yeah, my team is all planning to pick stable days that we’re in each week, and it feels like true hotdesking is just unnecessarily disruptive in that circumstance when we could pretty easily arrange sharing with people with complementary schedules. If people need more flexibility to come in more days some weeks than others and to change their days around on short notice then maybe you need a more flexible arrangement, but going all the way from “each person has an assigned desk” to “get here early if you want a good spot, and someone else might grab it while you’re at lunch!” is not the only option.

        2. Le Sigh*

          I could maybe do this if I had to come in X number of days a week. I’d only be okay with hotdesking if I only had to come in once in awhile or as-needed, and my reason for being in the office was both clear and necessary. Otherwise the disruption would be too much.

    6. mark132*

      I used to feel that way, but I’m mostly over it. Perhaps because it got “beat” out of me. My employer was moving my assigned desk every 2-3 months. After a while, I had pretty much taken everything home, especially after I got a little “rolling file cabinet” and a table rather than a cube. So to me it really doesn’t seem a big deal to hot desk if I only come in once a week. If I do have to start coming in more often, I have no intention of bringing in any personal possessions.

      1. mark132*

        btw forgot to add, I would refer to the “rolling file cabinet” as a “shopping cart” sometimes to VPs.

    7. GothicBee*

      For me it’s the cleanliness issue that makes me hate hot desking. I worked at a call center that did hot desking and any sickness spread like it was a preschool and everyone was chewing on keyboards (granted the fact that we had to share headsets didn’t help). I ended up bringing in antibacterial wipes so I could wipe down the station I was at before starting work every day. I’d definitely be asking about cleaning procedures since covid is still a thing.

      Regarding the other issues with hot desking, I wonder if the LW’s company would be willing to use a scheduling system of some sort to reserve a desk, and which could also indicate whether that desk was in a quiet area or a collaborative/louder area so that people could choose what they need.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Urgh. I once had a temp job where they didn’t have enough desks, so they told me they’d have me sit at the desk of “whoever was out that day” and figure it out when I showed up each day. Great way to pick up whatever surface germs Home Sick Today left behind… (this didn’t last long because someone got fired and a desk opened up, but it was pretty ridiculous as a plan to start with).

  16. Jam Today*

    So churlish! My perk for not going into the office anymore is that I don’t have to sit in my car for an hour and a half to two hours a day. We did get a small stipend early in the lockdown to buy something for our “home office” setup but in general I consider it an enormous perk that I can sleep later, laze around on my couch drinking coffee and reading Twitter in the morning, eat lunch on my back porch, and go out for a stroll while its still light out at the end of the day.

    (But if my company wants to throw me some cash to buy more house-jammie bottoms and work-clothes tops, I will take it!)

  17. Smithy*

    While I think that Alison’s language is great for the team – I do think that this is a case where trying to approach this more organization wide might also be helpful. Because while the option to work fully remote is clearly a perk to some, it may also be an opportunity to share the investments the organization has made in making full time remote an option. Whether that’s around IT, extra in-office administration, etc.

    Ultimately, having those direct conversations with your team may be helpful – but I think this is also something that might benefit the whole org to address together.

  18. Van Wilder*

    This sounds like a messaging problem. I think the WFHers are hearing “we are feeding the office employees because we appreciate them more” or “we say we support WFH but we’re going to treat the in-office employees much better.”

    Maybe something could be tweaked in the communications… “…to ease the transition for those returning to office…” Or, if the complaints are widespread enough, maybe a communication addressing the issue head on, emphasizing the differing perks of home vs. office.

    1. Unpopular opinion*

      I agree. When I read the letter, my first thought was that the author didn’t think remote work was real work so everyone should come back to the office pronto.

      I don’t care for the clothing allowance. Appropriate clothing is an expense you incur when you take a job with a dress code. I also don’t care fir the sudden assignment of the word perk to WFH. Wrangling spouses and kids and pets at home while working is challenging, especially for women.

      And now I don my asbestos trenchciat

      1. Mannequin*

        I totally agree with you on the sudden assignment of the word “perk” to WFH arrangements.
        Has everyone forgotten that a little over a year ago, when he pandemic forced a sudden, society-wide WFH situation for most of those whose jobs could sustain it (as well as many that had to simply find ways to make do), everyone was predicting the Sane New World where ‘butts in seats’ mentality would become a thing of the past because we were seeing it in action.
        Suddenly, the mentality is “WFH is perk enough!”, to the point that many people don’t even mind subsidizing the costs of business that the employer rightly SHOULD cover for them. It’s not ok for an employee to have to shoulder the costs of a home office because remote work means they save on commute time/$, office attire, meals out, or what have you and I find it frightening that so many people have been tricked by our society into thinking it’s a fair trade off.

      2. Pomegranate*

        I think once it becomes a choice to work from home and not a pandemic era need to work from home, then it is a perk. Clearly, employees in this case have an option to return to the office. Those that chose WFH should not be wrangling spouses and kids, but have designated work spaces and childcare arrangements.

        1. Catwoman*

          but have designated work spaces and childcare arrangements.

          Right, because that’s easy for everyone.

    2. Popstar*

      I agree. There’s no way to know exactly how the “choice” was presented to employees from this writer’s letter, but I’m guessing based on the WFH employee reactions that it was initially presented as a neutral choice, i.e. you can choose based on your preference and we will support your choice either way. It turns out that actually the company prefers in office employees over remote ones and is actively incentivizing (or I would argue rewarding, since this is after they made their choice) those who chose to work in office. I would imagine if the company was up front about this when they gave employees the “choice”, and said “you can choose to work either remote or in person, but we would prefer you to work in person and we will be providing x,y, and z perks to incentivize those who make that choice”, that a) more people would have chosen to work in person, and b) those who chose to still work remotely knowing that information would go in understanding the company’s stance and the perks their co-workers would get. This company is making it clear that remote workers are less valued than in person, and while there may be a good reason that is the case, openly displaying a preference is certainly not a good way to manage your workforce and keep happy, productive employees.

  19. Midwestern_Scientist*

    People really will whine about anything! Tell them to Google equity vs equality. Whether you look at the picture of people picking apples or trying to see over a fence, maybe a visual illustration of why not everyone gets the same perks will help.

  20. MechE*

    Give the remote workers a gift card to Lowe’s or Home Depot so they can buy some concrete and lumber, build a bridge, and get the heck over it.

  21. Aphrodite*

    “Guess what? We are offering you the choice of working remotely or working from the office! Here’s what you get depending on what you choose:

    Remote: No commute, the ability to walk the dog or throw a load of laundry in the washer during lunch or a break, your own refrigerator, no having to bring lunch to the office, more casual attire.

    In-Office: Free lunches and ice cream, clothing allowance, free access to managers, no Zoom meetings, social engagement with colleague.

    Take your choice as the benefits do not cross over.

    1. Rayray*

      Can I just mention another perk of WFH would be using your own bathroom? Not having to listen to my coworkers relieve themselves and also that it’s clean and doesn’t smell ? Not to mention the privacy when you need to go #2

    2. Fish Microwaver*

      Not to mention no lunch thieves, fish microwavers, fingernail clippers, bathroom hogs, oversharers etc.

  22. JC*

    Eh people working from home still have extra costs, desk chair maybe a printer, often buying their own office supplies, and if a company is truly happy with people working from home why make it out like the office group is the preferred group of workers?
    The ice cream and food thing doesn’t seem like a big deal to me but an extra stipend for one group when the other has probably had extra costs too seems crappy

    1. LurkNoMore*

      No commute, no parking, no tolls, no wear and tear on your car, casual (in-expensive) wardrobe, no wear and tear on your nicer clothes, less makeup, hair products, shoes, gas, etc….and you’re talking about office supply costs???

      1. nonbinary writer*

        I mean not everyone wears make up and uses hair products, and some people have very inexpensive commutes via public transportation. Paying for faster internet and higher electricity usage can easily outweigh the costs of a few button down shirts and a metro card — it really depends on the person. I don’t think that the WFH employees are in the right in this circumstance, just saying that not everyone has the same financial factors in making that decision.

      2. Name Required*

        Yes? Whether in office or work from home, if an employee needs access to supplies to do their job, then they should not be expected to incur the costs for the business. If an employee doesn’t want to wear nice clothes or to commute, they are welcome to work from home. They’ll still need access to pens, computers, phones, etc. regardless.

      3. Susie Q*

        The hair makeup and clothes thing isn’t true either. All of my customer and senior facing calls from home are on video. I have to do my hair, makeup, and wear business. I had to buy more maternity business wear for my calls.

      4. Ana Maus*

        People required on video calls are just as likely to wear makeup as they are when they’re in the office. Same with hair products. From reading AAM over the last year, some people are still working with dress codes even as they work from home.

        And heating/cooling and electricity go up when they’re being used all day. More toilet paper gets used.

        A lot of people have had to increase their internet packages to be able to work. While staying home may be less expensive, the gap is smaller than you seem to think.

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      If people were assigned WFH or WFO, I’d agree. But it sounds like these people made a choice based on their preferences. If, knowing there are additional perks, employees want to change their mind and WFO, I’m sure that’s an option. If they need to WFH due to child care issues, again, they can presumably get that stipend when they eventually return.

      Also, these people have been working from home for 1 year+. They should, by this point, already have an office set up – something the people returning to the office also had to do before returning.

      1. Roscoe*

        Exactly. The choice was theirs to make. They just want to have the best of both worlds

      2. Washi*

        Yeah, after a year I was kind of assuming all the employees had figured out what they needed to make remote work happen and everyone had incurred those costs roughly equally. And if being in the office is a superior working environment to home, they are free to return!

  23. J.E.*

    The complaining is just making them sound like they want to be in the office for social time and when they want to be, but then be home the rest of the time when actually doing work. People are never satisfied so don’t try to please all the people all the time.

  24. chewingle*

    People who weren’t WFH before the pandemic are suddenly realizing it’s its own perk.

    That said, if employees have *chosen* to go back to the office, they probably don’t need an eased transition. And if a clothing stipend isn’t something that is typically given to new employees (frankly, it should be), veteran employees really don’t need it, either. But also…I don’t care. Give them all the things. My office will have cake day, catered lunches, and other fun things during the work week. I, on the other hand, will not be sharing a communal bathroom, thank you and goodbye.

  25. Salad Daisy*

    Ice cream at work, OK. Free lunch at work, also fine. A clothing stipend? Not OK. Even remote people need to wear clothes and I would imagine going to a Zoom meeting naked would not be appropriate, or even in pajamas. Alternatively, are the remote workers getting a stipend to cover the cost of extra electricity, extra heat in the winter, and so forth?

    1. Person from the Resume*

      There’s a difference between the clothes you need to wear into the office and the clothes you wear in your own home where there are no video meetings. The clothing stipend is fine.

      See the people who have posted on this web site and other places about buying new clothes for the return to the office. Often because they gained weight and need an entirely new wardrobe for the office.

    2. Renata Ricotta*

      I seriously doubt the employees are only clothing themselves because of work. It’s pretty unusual for people to live fully in the nude, free from all clothing expenses, unless required by a job. In other words, they have “home clothes” already and would regardless of their job. That’s not true for office wear.

    3. Lynn*

      I agree. I have been with my company for 20+ years. I spent 10 years working in a remote office. Then 6 years traveling (which meant I worked from client offices and, all too often, hotels). Finally, I have been WFH for the past several years, with travel to client locations on request. For the entire time, remote employees have, on the whole, felt like they were treated as less important than main office folks-sometimes reasonably, sometimes less so. That is the lens I view this all through.

      I think that some perks are perfectly reasonable when limited to office-based, or even partially office-based folks. Others, IMO, cross the line into treating your remote employees as less valuable.

      Personally, I would find the clothing stipend to be something that crossed from the “reasonable perk I would expect to be left out of” to “why are remote employees being treated as less valuable.” I don’t get a stipend for the costs of additional AC/heat, electricity, the higher grade internet I pay for than I would need for personal use, etc.

      I do think it can be a tough line to walk and a lot of companies are going to be trying to figure out how to make remote employees feel valuable, while still thanking the folks who are back in person again (or who never ceased, for that matter). Because where I draw the line in my head may well not match where anyone else would draw it, and there are always folks on both sides who are going to feel that they are being mistreated by how things have been allocated.

    4. Stuffs*

      I think it does matter what type of clothing is required in office. At my very casual office, I wouldn’t need a clothing stipend for going back in, but it would be a very appreciated perk if I needed to wear suits everyday.

      It is also worth banding together to request compensation for increased expenses due to working from home. There are opportunities for solidarity across WFH and in-office folks as both try to negotiate changes during this time of transition.

      1. EchoGirl*

        That was my thought too. If it’s a casual office like most of the places I’ve worked, a clothing stipend would probably be excessive because there’s just not that much difference between what you wear to work vs. at home. On the other hand, in a place with a stricter dress code, then helping people make what could be a fairly abrupt adjustment makes sense, especially since more formal clothes tend to be (IME at least) a lot less forgiving of changes in body size.

    5. Polly Math*

      I will just add that I have attended more than one Zoom meeting in my nightgown. A, they have no business starting so early, and B, it totally looked like a navy blue T-shirt onscreen.

  26. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    In some situations employees can incentivize in return. I just applied for a job that is within commuting distance of my home, and quoted them two rates: my regular rate for remote work, and $10/hour more for in-office.

  27. NerdyKris*

    I’m reminded of one time years ago when someone I knew realized she had a meeting the next morning and no work clothes that fit anymore.
    I have been thinking about tens of thousands of people realizing this alllllll year. I just had to buy all new pants myself. Thankfully it was because I lost weight.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      I started to go on interviews as I’m casually job searching.

      No, the dress that fit me prepandemic does NOT fit the same.

      My PCP said she had a whole slew of people saying the same things.

  28. Lucious*

    This may be a controversial take,but I’m of the thought fairness is going to be a pain point with hybrid WFH/on site setups. Human social dynamics data is clear. 80% of what we communicate is with body language. People relate better to one another in person.

    Fairness is going to be a sticky point when people the management sees every day get promoted over people who aren’t on site. What happens in the next downturn if/when remote workers get laid of ahead of on site staff?

    Sooner or later companies will face these questions.

    1. J.E.*

      Yes, it’s going to bring up lots of questions, but I also think the remote vs. in office debate is also one part of debate about the work culture and policies in general in the U.S. Working from home is a nice perk, but we also need things like nationwide maternity/paternity leave policies, healthcare that isn’t tied to employers, better childcare options. People are fed up with the low pay, poor benefits, overall culture, that maybe the questions around remote work can lead to even bigger changes.

  29. lilsheba*

    Gotta agree with everyone here, working from home IS the perk, and missing on a few lunches/donuts/whatever is fine by me….I don’t care. It’s well worth missing out on those when I don’t have to commute, and have the comfort of my own environment. Although with the clothing thing, it seems silly to even have a dress code now. We have proven it made no difference in work quality.

  30. Lecturer*

    Tell them if they are that desperate for 1 lunch and 1 ice cream they are welcome to come back to work

    1. Rayray*

      Yep. My company has people in office and at home. They had an ice cream truck recently and to be honest, literally nothing was stopping any of the work-from-home people from coming into work that day to work and get ice cream too.

  31. Phony Genius*

    Why do I have a bad feeling that if the CEO hears about WFH employees livid about being “left out,” their solution will be to simply end the perks?

    1. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      This letter reeked false to me, like an anti-WFH manager or CEO wrote it to then be able to cite it as “see, you guys are never happy anyway so everyone just go back to the office.” Hiring a whole ice cream truck for only 5 people? Fishy.

  32. Delphine*

    Make sure you’re covering work expenses for WFH folk. Otherwise, I don’t think there’s any reason to extend office-specific perks to people working from home.

  33. James*

    I think part of the issue is that WFH has traditionally been seen as a perk in and of itself. Prior to Covid it was–it wasn’t something companies normally did, and in many companies it was only something you could do after building a sufficient internal reputation.

    Unfortunately Covid has made it now normal. It’s considered on par with working from an office. After all, many have been doing it for a year or more now. So I can see why they would object to folks in the office getting perks they don’t. They view the perks as extras offered for office employees, while the management views it as balancing out the benefits WFH inherently has.

    At the end of the day, though, the perks aren’t much. Free ice cream is cheap enough–the first time will be a bit of an expense, but after that satiation and “I’m on a diet” will reduce the cost. A catered lunch is a normal part of work, not really a perk; it’s no different than providing food to any other meeting. The clothing allowance sounds nice, but at the end of the day I doubt it’ll cover much. To give an example: my company provides $125 for boots every two years, which means that with the requirements we have for work boots I’m out $75 each time I buy boots, or I buy cheap boots that last a year. You just can’t get good boots for the amount they provide.

    Every choice has costs. Sometimes they’re not ones you realize up front, sometimes they occur after you’ve made the choice. That’s life. Yes, it’s reasonable to try to treat folks fairly, but “fair” and “equal” are not the same thing. And what I consider fair may not be what you consider fair, which complicates the issue.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      Yeah, the clothing stipend kinda makes me think it’d cover a top or something. Not a shopping spree to refresh their whole wardrobe.

    2. jen*

      May or may not be applicable, but playing devil’s advocate a bit. Everyone seems to be assuming that those who work from home choose the easier path, wanted to wear more causal clothing, etc. This may be true. That stated, I think it is important to consider WHY people are choosing to work from home. For many, possibly even most, it’s for the perks that have been noted already. However, companies seem to be varying WIDELY in the covid precautions they say they take and are willing to enforce. My company has been HIGHLY conservative (even now though our area is doing well). Other companies, not so much. It’s one thing if someone is choosing remote because they like the freedom and flexibility. It’s a different thing if someone is choosing remote because they are high risk, live with high risk family members, and/or have kids at home too young to get the vaccine.

      The OP’s company may be taking the appropriate precautions, accommodating people who are high risk, and enforcing that, in which case I completely agree with AAM. On the other hand, if the company is being more lax, going on the honor system about vaccine status, etc and that has lead someone to choose to work from home because it is safest, I could understand frustration at not getting some of those perks.

  34. Ana Gram*

    I want the perks that WFH people have. Like, no commute (and no commuting costs), more free time, the ability to do some chores at home over my lunch break, not having to buy work clothes, being able to work outside on nice days, etc. Oh, I can’t have that because I work in the office? How unfair.


    1. Not Second Class*

      I love this idea of doing chores during my lunch break. Hell, I love the idea of lunch breaks. Too bad it can’t happen all the time. It assumes one actually has a lunch break, for one thing. When you’re in 5-6 meetings a day, lunch is usually inhaled at the desk IF one of those meetings ends five minutes early.

      I’ve had in-office, remote, and hybrid jobs well before the pandemic. Some of us don’t get that much control over how we spend our time due to work demands. The assumptions about what remote people are up to other than working drives me batsh*t.

      1. Susie Q*

        “The assumptions about what remote people are up to other than working drives me batsh*t.”

        Agreed with this sentiment. It’s a dated sentiment that is used by “butts in seats” middle managment.

      2. Us, Too*

        saaaame. News flash: I don’t do very many “home/personal” things during my work day because… I AM WORKING. Just like I did BEFORE the pandemic, I still do laundry and dishes and what not before or after work. Also, I absolutely DO NOT get the entire clothing argument because the requirements for how I look on a video conference are every bit as high as how I look in person (or low, in my case, LOL). That said, WFH means I need to work a lot harder to manage sound levels, background professionalism and so on compared to in the office. I have to be my own IT and so forth. It’s just different.

  35. Tuesday*

    These people are annoying. I’ve worked from home for years, and I would never complain about stuff like this. Way to build resentment among your colleagues.

  36. introverted af*

    I do think it’s important that the company be adequately providing for WFHers needs – at a bare minimum, the tech they need to do their job. I can definitely see how people would get grumpy if their coworkers are returning to the office and getting fun stuff while the company isn’t providing for business needs (aka not fun stuff). These other things described in the letter are temporary perks for returning to office, and will presumably go away or stop over time. However, it is important to make sure that for future social events you give people the opportunity to participate wherever they are – if you chose to provide remote work to your employees, you can’t just choose to leave them out of all future social events.

  37. HelloHello*

    Re: the in-office perks, you don’t have to provide things to your remote workers but I’d argue a healthy workplace would offer some sort of equivalent benefit, especially if you’re giving in-office staff a sizable stipend for wardrobe, etc. My office provides us a monthly stipend to help cover internet access and will occasionally send delivery gift cards or snacks, often aligned with a team building events, and it has absolutely increased my job satisfaction. If they were only willing to give benefits like that to in-office workers I wouldn’t outright complain about it, but I’d feel at least a bit less satisfied with my job, and potentially worry they don’t *really* want people working from home and I should keep my eyes out for places with more remote friendly cultures.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, when I’m talking to employers/managers, I do suggest stuff like that (and have a past column on it somewhere that I’ll see if I can find). It’s a smart way to build morale. But from the employee side, complaining that you’re not getting exactly what the in-office people are getting does come off very differently.

      1. Us, Too*

        I guess it depends on the company culture, though. My current employer is super open to hearing criticisms and suggestions for improvements, and it’s completely normal to talk about this stuff. And, depending on how it’s framed by the employee, it may not be “complaining” exactly. “It’s not faaaaair that so and so gets x and I’m not..” Yes, that’s a complaint. However, “my total comp has gone down by 20% due to differences in the strategy for comp for WFH v in-office. Is there any consideration being given to revisiting that approach to see if it can be made more equitable?” That sounds like a constructive conversation starter to me. It’s also hard to not see gender disparity here. My “choice” to WFH was as much about desperation for the situation with having absolutely NO support for childcare and so on as it is my “desire” to WFH. Women are disproportionately going to be forced into these situations due to social inequities re: child care, and then when we point out that the comp is less now, it’s considered complaining. The comp IS less now for me personally and I’m producing the same amount as before, if not more. I dunno, but this whole thing seems more complicated than just positioning this stuff as whiners vs. in office etc.

  38. Brett*

    For the ‘How can I find jobs that aren’t remote?’ person, it is possible they may need to re-evaluate what industry they are working in.
    The “remote with no concrete plans of returning to an office” is becoming increasingly common in software development, with many companies planning to transition to permanently closing offices. I am sure there are other industries in a similar situation. If the LW is in one of those industries, they are going to find that limiting themselves to in-office jobs will severely limit their opportunities as well as have pretty significant risk of still going back to full remote once the company figures out the best way to unload their existing properties or terminate existing leases.

  39. Pool Lounger*

    My partner’s company occasionally sends remote employees gifts cards for Uber Eats or otherwise finds ways to pay for their lunches, usually as a bonus for an annoying project. It’s not expected, but always a pleasant surprise.

  40. Lavazza*

    Is it about perks, or is it about feeling excluded?

    I worked from home before the pandemic for geographic reasons – the main office is in another country. Seeing colleagues get to do parties, trips, lunches, trainings etc that I physically can’t do can be difficult. I also have to work harder to build relationships and get manager time. (and I have a VERY good manager who tries to take care of remote team members.)

    It is perfectly possible for companies to find ways that include remote workers while also giving different perks to those in-office. It isn’t nice to feel overlooked or forgotten.

    Also, the idea that remote working is pure perk seems off to me. It has good and bad sides just like being in the office.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Also, the idea that remote working is pure perk seems off to me. It has good and bad sides just like being in the office.

      But if employees are able to choose whether or not to WFH, they should consider in-office perks as part of that equation.

      1. Us, Too*

        The “choice” part is tenuous IMO. Kind of like how so many woman “chose” to leave the workforce during the pandemic because they couldn’t stay in it and also handle their familial obligations. I found myself in a similar situation. I’d much rather WF office, but had to “choose” remote work because of the logistical nightmare of parenting during a pandemic and having no help/support in the region around my local office. :(. I moved to be closer to family so that they could help me and I could keep working. I don’t particularly LOVE WFH, though. It was just a necessary evil for which I’ve taken a major comp hit and career side track probably.

      2. Teagan*

        But then isn’t the reverse also true – those working in the office chose to be there when they could have chosen to work from home. Why should they get perks for that if, presumably, it’s what they wanted? The letter writer says that the point is to let them know they appreciate them coming back. If working from home and working in office are equal choices, why is one more worthy of appreciation? It could seem like they’re saying, “Yes, we said you could choose, but those who chose to work in office are the ones who chose correctly.” I’d be interested to know what this employer would have done if their entire workforce had chosen to work remotely. This would all make more sense to me if the in office employees didn’t really have a choice and their roles required at least some time in office, or if they had volunteered to come back to meet some minimum % in office (which is a bit different from a free choice).

  41. Not Elizabeth*

    Hmm. Yes, there are built-in benefits to working from home — I hesitate to call them “perks” because they aren’t incentives offered by the employer to encourage people to WFH; being able to do your laundry and walk the dog just goes with being at home. (As others have pointed out, WFH is the perk; the employer lets you WFH as an incentive to keep working for them instead of finding another job where you can WFH.) And there are built-in benefits to working at the office, and yeah, it seems reasonable that an employer might prefer people to work at the office and therefore offer incentives to do so.

    But when the incentive is ice cream, that’s more than just a perk — that’s a treat. I can understand the WFH folks feeling slighted and left out.

  42. Rayray*

    My company is doing some perks for those of us in office. I’ve been in office the entire time since I was hired a year ago. Due to the mayor my work, I can’t bring things home (sensitive secure paper documents I handle). The company has done similar perks like paying for lunches and we even had an ice cream truck too. Each department and individual team got to handle WFH or work in office. There’s a wide mix of what people are doing. My department specifically has brought in catered lunches every other week as a perk.

    Personally, I’d love if I could work from home or even hybrid if my position allowed as some on y department do. While free lunch or a free ice cream cone is great, I wouldn’t feel entitled to it if I got to save 45 minutes a day of commuting plus all the money I spend on gas. We dress casual so business clothes allowance isn’t a thing, but if I could wear sweat pants or shorts while I worked, I wouldn’t need or want more stuffy business attire.

    The problem is definitely entitlement and acting unreasonably. If you want the lunches and clothing allowance, work in office and you’ll get it.

  43. Akcipitrokulo*

    I’d choose to stay remote, and 100% support the little perks for those returning.

    Different situation = different perks. I would choose being able to swim at lunchtime over getting catered lunch, and being able to wear my choice of clothes over having a clothing allowance – but that’s me, and I do like quiet.

    Your employees have a choice of perks. They can’t choose perk package A then moan that they also want their pick of perk package B.

    1. Rayray*

      This is a great way of looking at it as two separate perk packages. If Package B with treats and clothing allowance is more appealing than package A working remotely, take package B.

  44. Us, Too*

    I work for one of the giant tech companies that provides absolutely ridiculous perks. Just an example of what I received as part of my total comp that is available onsite: ALL meals and snacks/drinks provided (organic, chef prepared), on site laundry services, unlimited gym access, onsite doctor, dentist, therapist, psychiatry, optometry/eyeglasses. A hair salon/manicure place. Bike repair. Private (free) buses with wifi so I can work or relax during my commute. Unlimited office supplies, printers, tech support, etc. If I needed something I just walked up to a vending machine and scanned my ID and the item popped out. Emergency child care for when my daycare options fall through/kid is sick/etc. The list goes ON AND ON. Oh, swag was all over the place: t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, etc. Again, all free. I literally got 3 different $200 jackets in a single year! The stuff I wear at home for my job is identical to what I’d wear in the office so clothing is moot – we wore whatever we wanted to work, really. If I had to guess I’d think that all this together is probably worth about $50k/year minimum. The food budget per person was something outrageous like $30k/year. And now I work from home. Yes, it’s got some perks like being able to do housework during the day if I choose. But… my total comp has gone down considerably and my costs up despite having an internet stipend allowance and a home office allowance. The biggest concern I actually have is just how few remote positions are available for me to move into – my career mobility is much diminished with this org which is something that I did NOT anticipate. And the whole “not being able to schmooze with important people in person” aspect can be tough. So, while I’m not complaining I think the comp structures for these need to be considered more carefully and adjusted accordingly.

    1. Mannequin*

      “my total comp has gone down considerably and my costs up despite having an internet stipend allowance and a home office allowance.”

      You’ve hit the nail on the head right here. Despite a year+ of the pandemic showing that remote work is a viable option in many jobs/industries, people still act like just getting to WFH itself is enough of a ‘perk’ to make up for any increase in personal costs or loss of tangible/intangible benefits that those still/back in the office get to partake in.

      1. Us, Too*

        It’s hard for me to understand how anyone thinks working from home is a PERK. I mean, it’s literally doing the exact same job minus the office support structure. In a lot of ways it’s actually more difficult. Sure, I picked it, but there were a lot of factors in that having nothing to do with what I actually WANTED and more to do with coping with the demands of being a parent during a global pandemic in an area with zero support structures for my family. :( I think I probably chose the “right” thing but if I could have stayed in the office and made that work, I would have for sure. :(

        1. Simply the best*

          Presumably what you wanted was to provide for your children. The perk is you have the opportunity to do that. As opposed to all of the parents living through a global pandemic in areas with no structure to support them who don’t have jobs that allow them to work from home. Who instead had to quit their jobs or pay astronomical amounts of money for care or put their children into situations that they were not 100% okay with safety-wise.

          A perk doesn’t have to be ice cream and parties in order to be a perk. Sometimes it’s just a convenience other people don’t have.

  45. Hiring Mgr*

    The whole Remote vs Onsite thing is so tired.. People have been figuring this stuff out for decades…How about we all join “Team Flexibility”

  46. ellevee*

    I agree with the comment bringing up the question of feeling included. I’m always remote and we have a headquarters with limited staff. My division has hybrid meetings and the office staff always get food, and on those meetings we have to sit there on Zoom and wait for 10-15 minutes while the in-person folks get their ice cream or Chick fil A or whatever. It’s annoying and wastes our time because we can’t take part. I don’t necessarily want the perks just for fairness sake, but I would appreciate them having the in-office staff come early to get their treats and then the remote people can sign on when it’s not annoyingly in your face.

    I’ve also appreciated things like, our VP arranged a coffee run with the in-person team and he told all the remote folks to sign off early and go buy ourselves coffee with our purchasing cards. That was nice and appreciated.

    There are ways you can navigate it that don’t leave people feeling annoyed or left out, and also not getting too unwieldy logistically.

  47. I should really pick a name*

    Maybe just wait a bit longer to find a non-remote job.
    A lot of companies are still figuring out how they’re handling the return to the office. If you wait until most employers have already moved back, it should be easier to find an on-site job.

  48. MyLlamaPeggyHill*

    Is returning to the office being ‘incentivized’ because that’s the preference? The language in the letter makes it seem that way, so maybe that’s what the WFH folks are picking up on. Theoretically if one chose to go back in, one wouldn’t need an incentive, so I’m thinking the outcry isn’t really about ice cream. I’m not saying the WFH people are handling it well, but if the goal is to make remote work a choice, maybe call these perks something other than incentives and make sure everyone knows that you’re not trying to make one option seem more attractive than the other. Frame it as the company doing nice things for people who are making a big transition.

    1. Kaiko*

      Yeah, this. If the company is “incentivizing” the return to the office with free food and clothing cash, they’re framing it as their preference, and sending that message to all employees, both on- and off-site. For the OP: if the company really doesn’t prefer WFH or in-office and will leave it to employees to decide, why incentivize one and not the other?

      (For the record, I would totally be miffed if the return to in-office was framed as a personal choice, and then I lost out on some pretty sweet benefits, including a bonus. Is there any way to budget time and money for those choosing to work remotely and ensure they get some kind of upgrade as well – decent chairs, good webcams, some kind of office art?

      And I also agree that if you’re buying lunch for the team, the team includes both in-office and WFH members, not just those in the office.)

    2. AY*

      Maybe it is the company’s preference to have everyone in the office? I do wonder if we’ll see companies offer WFH in order to attract/keep the best talent but also offer in-office perks to encourage people to come in.

      1. MyLlamaPeggyHill*

        Quite possibly it is, in which case the in-office employees may very well be getting a better deal to ‘incentivize’ people to go back. I mean, that’d be the whole point, right? If that’s the case, the company should be upfront about it so folks can decide whether to go in, find a new role, or accept that they won’t have access to the same benefits and social opportunities. If it’s not the case and the original letter was just poorly worded then I hope the WFH employees remember what my mother told me: Just because someone else is getting something doesn’t mean anything is being taken from you.

  49. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    The free ice-cream etc come under the category of “people will always find something to complain about” and doesn’t really warrant any further response, imo.

    A stipend for office clothing for those coming back to work on-site though… I’m a bit doubtful about that, if the company didn’t provide anything similar (and personally I don’t think they should, but I know people disagree) when people were forced to WFH for additional costs of equipment, heating and power etc. (Depending on OP’s jurisdiction there may also be a tax liability for the returning employees if they are given additional reimbursement for something like clothes that aren’t “necessary” for the office the way a uniform would be.)

    1. El l*

      Yeah, this was my thought too. Food for those attending a company function – in this case, the Welcome Back party – is one thing.

      But clothes are pretty much each person’s responsibility.

      If you want to give a bonus to incentivize people to come back – though it sends a slightly mixed signal about “work from home is cool” – that’s a reasonable business decision. But I don’t think clothes should have anything to do with that, unless we’re talking a job with an official uniform.

  50. KaciHall*

    I used to work in the call center for a major car rental company. Most of the contact agents were work from home; HR, IT, accounting, collections and s couple other departments were primarily in house. We would get, 5 or 6 times a year, company provided breakfast. Sometimes it was fresh donuts. Sometimes it was a company that came in and made fresh pancakes with this awesome machine/ griddle thing that automatically poured the pancakes.

    No one wanted to come in the office for those kind of perks. (Though now that I live in a small town and work for a tiny, dysfunctional company, i REALLY miss food trucks that were scheduled to come to the office on a daily basis. )

  51. not that kind of Doctor*

    When we got sent home en masse last spring, we got perks. Not just the no commuting and no wearing pants; we took home whatever we needed from the office or could buy on the company dime anything to make our WFH setup more comfortable. My boss hand-delivered holiday gifts to our doors.

    There’s another group of employees who had to stay on-site: we have a factory, and that work doesn’t travel. Those folks had their work lives disrupted while the building was rearranged to make space between stations, add partitions, etc. They had to wear masks all day, every day, and they couldn’t take a break to buy groceries in the middle of the day when the lines were short. The handful of times they got pizza and ice cream, exactly no one begrudged them.

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      Midday grocery lines near me are no longer short, because other remote workers started thinking the same thing! Meanwhile, that trend has actually helped shorten the weekend lines.

  52. Green great dragon*

    I’d say in general, companies should consider whether remote workers are consistently missing out. If office staff get free food regularly while the company expects home workers to pay all their extra electricity/internet/equipment, that’s going to hit morale. But there’s no indication this is happening here – it’s a one-off thing to welcome/encourage people back, OP’s company is doing a nice thing.

    1. Willis*

      This. If these were general perks that WFHers were missing out on, I’d agree that it makes sense to look for something equivalent to give them. Like we’re having an all-day team workshop with lunch? Sure, provide some takeout or something to the WFH folks. But these are specific incentives/rewards for the people coming back to the office! Pick that option if lunch and a few free pairs of pants mean that much to you. People are just too much sometimes.

    2. Mannheim Steamroller*

      Meanwhile, remote workers DO get to avoid the numerous costs of commuting (e.g. fuel, wear-and-tear, tolls, public transit fares, stress).

  53. ZiggyVed*

    The approach I take is this- if someone who normally works remotely wants to participate in an onsite activity, they absolutely can and I make sure to encourage this. But, they don’t get to show up just for the event. They are putting in at least a half day onsite.

  54. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

    I’m just laughing in my head making up a scenario here. The employer caters a pizza lunch, and gets the discount (like the schools around me used to get like Pappa Johns for around $5 for a large) so everyone gets 2 slices, so let’s say $1.25 cost to the company and a coke can from the warehouse store let’s give that a value of $.50. So here people at home is a $1.75 for you to get your own coke and pizza!

    And what if Bob is out on vacation on pizza day? Does he get the $1.75 to make up for it? Do we save him two slices in the fridge for when he comes back? What if Joe wants to bring in cookies he made the other day? Does he need to mail one to everyone?

    I can understand the stipend issue, I would issue that as an all or none, especially if it is a significant amount. But things like the free office coffee or the ‘welcome back to the office ice cream,’ its just something you’re going to have to miss out on.

    1. Rayray*

      Excellent point. When buying food for a group, the cost per person is much less. We get similar perks and got Costco pizza the other day. It’s about $9 a pie and figure everyone gets 2 slices each it probably is about $2 max. Guess the office could send over a Wendy’s gift card so they can get something off the value menu.

  55. Go Bucks*

    Wow. You are putting sand in the oil because you didn’t get a $15 free lunch and a $3 ice cream in exchange for working from home. Sigh. People.

  56. Chris*

    All I could think while reading this is that I’m glad I don’t have to turn down work provided food now that I’m working from home. In office I would avoid the kitchen when there was free food to simply avoid all the question…”You don’t like X” “C’mon have some ice cream!” “Oh, no wonder you are so fit”. Ugh! This comment has less to do with incentives and more to do with the human obsession with food, health, and everybody having an opinion about what everybody else eats.

  57. Bookworm*

    Yikes. I could say maybe a small stipend to cover a lunch or part of a lunch but working remotely is the perk. If I had to return to the office I’d like those treats and understood what they were about but would still want to WFH.

  58. scmill*

    I started working remotely years before COVID because I was the only one in my department left in that site. I had to do some coaxing, but I ended up with the full kit: a big monitor, standard Steelcase chair, business phone line and business internet. That last was critical since our team was scattered all over the USA and India, and we needed to have reliable phone and internet to work together. When one of those went out, instead of arguing with my carrier, I just let my 500lb gorilla employer enforce the SLAs.

  59. Yeah*

    I feel like you have to balance things. Sure it’s nice to have some return to the office perks but to continue those afterwards means you value your at home workers less. If they’re doing the same work at home then they need to be valued just as much. Just because you drive to work and have a butt in seat doesn’t mean they deserve WAY more than your at home workers. (a clothing perk really?) My husband’s company has a significant number of remote workers. They receive the same perks either mailed to them or they are allowed to expense lunch on the catered lunch days. It’s great you’re welcoming your workers back but it seems you’re going overboard and telling your in office workers they are valued more.

  60. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Did I misread something here?

    Most comments are referring to “catered lunches” (plural), even though OP seems to have stated that there was only ONE catered lunch. That’s analogous to when one boss held a pizza party (while I was on vacation) or another brought in bagels for his birthday (during Passover). I still knew that the bosses appreciated all of us, even though I couldn’t share the joy those two times.

  61. Sad Desk Salad*

    Oh COME on. You’re saving on transport, commuting time and stress, lunches, and work clothing, and you’re jealous of the efforts that your company is making to try to make things more equitable? Heck, if you want those perks, go back to the office, or else sit down in your PJs with your cat curled up in your lap and enjoy the fact that your company actually gives a hoot about employees’ work environment.

    1. James*

      Like I said in another thread, the honeymoon phase is over. Folks are starting to see the downsides to WFH.

      The reality is that there are pros and cons to either choice. If you’re in the office you’re likely to get free food on occasion because there are more people there and it’s more efficient to provide free food to large numbers than to send out gift cards or something. If you’re working from home you can dress however you like, while office folks need to follow certain fairly strict guidelines. Ultimately it’s a question of which costs you prefer to pay and which benefits you prefer to get.

      In a year or two–once this choice becomes routine in the onboarding process–we’ll look back on these discussions as antiquated. Right now things are in flux and we as a culture are still in trauma mode, so we’re reacting rather than considering.

  62. pcake*

    For me, working from home is THE best perk. Let the people who have to drive to the office have ice cream.

  63. Fuzzy Kittens*

    Based on what I’ve witnessed lately within my own team, I can totally see them acting this way if they chose to be remote while others came back to the office.

  64. YoungTen*

    Talk about trying to ‘have your cake and eat it too”. Not having any sort of commute is a big money-saving perk. As for the work clothes bonus, it’s actually very considerate. Not trying to be funny here but wasn’t the #1 complaint of lockdown the extra weight some gained? 2019’s work clothes may be a bit more snug in 2021. Pj are more forgiving LOL! Just saying.

  65. LQ*

    I think that the obsession with everything must be equal exactly or I’m going to pitch a fit is why some workplaces are demanding everyone come back. It’s too much work to fight with every single person who’s going to pitch a fit about why does Sally get to work from home when I don’t. Because Sally is more productive at home and you did half the work last year you did the year before so you aren’t. “But it’s not FAIR!”
    Ok then everyone has to come back.
    Until people stop thinking that everything I want plus everything everyone else gets is the only definition of fair there will be a lot of arbitrary rules that are bs because people don’t want to have every single fight.

  66. Emily*

    Esmeralda: No one is forcing OP’s co-workers to work from home. If they want the in office perks, then they can go back to the office just like if the people who went back to the office wanted to keep the work from home perks, they could have chosen to work from home. For example, if the situation were reversed and the people who chose to go back to the office were complaining because they could no longer wear pajama pants while they worked the response would be that if wearing pajama pants while they worked was so important to them they should have chosen to work from home, not that they should suddenly be allowed to wear pajama pants into the office. For the people who chose to stay working from home, if there are certain office supplies they need to work from home, then they can address that with their employer, but the things they are complaining about right now are ridiculous.

  67. questjen*

    For LW 3, when you say “I have a disability that means auditory distractions can severely limit my ability to focus”, I bet you’re talking about misophonia? If that’s the case, I have it too (as well as misokinesia) and faced a similar situation about 4 years ago when my company switched to an open office floor plan. I was told by HR that in order to qualify for any ADA accommodations, I’d need to get a note from a primary care physician, an audiologist, and a psychiatrist/psychologist. All 3. (because the ADA definition is that it has to be a condition that “substantially limits one or more major life activity” and my employer felt that I was exaggerating it). After all that, the only accommodations they’d allow were a pair of headphones — which I already wore without issue before so there was no point in making it formal. I could almost swear that they put me in the busiest spot out of spite after that, too.

    If you can, look into headphones that are rated for studio recording artists. I bought a pair of over-the-ear Sennheisers that worked really well. There are also hearing aids available that can tamper certain frequencies for us, sort of playing white noise at a low level right in our ears BUT they’re super pricy. It may be worth a visit to an audiologist that specializes in misophonia if you want to hear about such options. I myself am also experimenting with RO DBT therapy to take a bit of the edge off the rage (I’m supposed to focus on the “Big 3 + 1” skill this week, if you want to google that. It seems to be helping for when my husband is tapping his foot and I want to rip his head off).

    And finally, I just want to say that I’m really really sorry this is happening to you.

    1. EchoGirl*

      It could also be something like a sensory issue or ADHD; I have both and auditory distraction is a big issue for me. In my case it’s not because the sounds themselves are necessarily unpleasant (although hearing people talk on the phone is a pet peeve of mine — probably a holdover from a previous job), but because those sorts of things grab my attention (grabbing it away from what I actually mean to focus on) to an extent that, from what I understand, is atypical; a combination of having a brain that processes all sounds as equal (SPD) and being prone to losing focus in general (ADHD) will do that, I guess.

  68. Us, Too*

    I reread the letter and wanted to call something out: “We’re not doing that, because the whole point of these perks is to make the transition back to the office easier for people and to let them know we appreciate them coming back.” Just to be clear, the ENTIRE team is experiencing a transition right now, not just the people returning to the office. The half that is staying home is going to experience change as well when half their colleagues return to the office, changing the team dynamic and communication norms again. So I think the bigger issue here isn’t a single lunch or ice cream but failure to recognize that the entire team is impacted by this situation, not just the people changing seats. Also, are you voicing appreciation for the people who are continuing to work from home? If not, why not? Aren’t they contributing equally? Why call out a special appreciation moment for people who “choose” to return? I’m not getting this. Why not thank the ENTIRE team for their flexibility during a tough time and commit to supporting them as they need going forward, including ensuring that everyone is included in key moments? :)

  69. CouldntPickAUsername*

    here’s my question though, has anything been done for the work from homers to cover the increased cost of their electricity/heating/internet bills and such during the pandemic when they had no choice but to work from home? I do realize the intent of helping bring people back into the office but I don’t think we can ignore that there has been cost on the WFH side too.

  70. Jessica Fletcher*

    When you incentivize coming back to the office, especially with CASH, you can’t also pretend you’re neutral and fine with half your staff choosing to remain remote. If it was truly fine that they remain remote, you wouldn’t be trying to attract people back to the office.

    Just admit you prefer in-person employees. And don’t be surprised when your remote workers find other jobs. It’ll be better for them anyway, since you’ll probably favor in-person employees for promotions, etc.

    1. Thea*

      THIS is exactly what I’d been trying to figure out how to say!

      The perks and stipend make sense I’d say they needed to have a certain amount of staff onsite at all times and tried to get volunteers by offering this. But if it’s just fine either way and is really just an option they offer freely, it’s almost a passive aggressive dig at the wfh group. Also as people deal with the risks of returning to e office with a pandemic ongoing, maybe some would love to go back but have high risk health issues, still juggling childcare, things like that it might just feel really exclusionary

    2. Forrest*

      Yeah, this is the bit I don’t get. The at-home employees, IMO, aren’t complaining about standard benefits of working in an office, they’re complaining about stuff which LW specifically says they’re doing to “incentiviz[e] people to return to the office”.

      If the original message was, “We’d prefer people to return to the office, but we’ve decided to offer WFH as a perk”, that’s fair enough. If you choose working from home, you know that working from home IS your perk, and the organisation considers it a cost but one that’s worthwhile. But if the message was, “Genuinely up to you! We don’t mind!” followed by, “The people who picked Option B are our favourites now!” then people are legitimately upset! It’s the work equivalent of someone asking you if you want pizza or noodles for dinner, up to you, I don’t mind, and then sulking all evening because you chose wrong.

  71. Lily of the field*

    I was able to work from home exactly zero, and I drew exactly zero in all those unemployment benefits, plus I got ONE Covid bonus, of right about $150. Yeah, I am not exactly seeing how this is unfair to those people who made FAR more than many did, while getting to stay home, or those who worked at home, and did not have to worry about getting sick every day. I get zero perks for doing my job. I get a paycheck. And it is getting…difficult to listen to so much resentment, while no one acknowledging how hard it was for those of us that worked straight through the pandemic, especially those of us in retail or food service. Too many people think people like me do not deserve any better, and it sucks.

  72. Satoru*

    Some responses here are cracking me up.

    “It’s like kindergarten when either you invite the whole class to your party or you invite no one.”

    Or when those who complain that colleagues getting vaccinated can have an extra day of PTO per jab (2 total) when they won’t get vaccinated themselves. “It’s not faaaaair. I’m not getting vaccinated but I should still get the extra time off because others are getting extra days off.”


  73. WritingIsHard*

    Re: #3
    I’ve previously worked in an office with hot-desking and it was such a pain!
    We had laptops with docking stations and two monitors, so if you ended up at a work station you’d never used before it could take a good chunk of the morning to adjust the monitors to display correctly. You always had to log into the phone, which could occasionally be a problem. And then if you needed to talk to a colleague, you’d have to figure out where they were sitting! Usually people would try to sit in the same spot, but then if someone new was in that day it could throw the whole office out of balance. And heaven forbid you came in on an afternoon shift when the morning shift hadn’t left yet…
    For the most part, I’m the type of person who can work almost anywhere. This particular office was an open newsroom and radio studio, so you’re already dealing with a certain level of distraction. But if I was frustrated, I can’t imagine how challenging it would be if you have a disability or just need a certain kind of environment to be productive.

  74. inky*

    I’m really surprised how vicious people are being about the wfh wanting perks. Granted, the specific ones in the letter are things that are harder to do equivalents for, but this painting of all wfh employees as entitled, whiny babies is harsh.

    The company I worked for did offer wfh people the same or equivalent perks, when they absolutely did not have to. Most of the time it wasn’t anything big, but it really was more about being recognized/seen. Even if you prefer to work from home (and I do, though I’m in office now), not actually seeing any of your coworkers so easily leads to just being forgotten.

    And, if the cost isn’t completely unreasonable, maybe it’s worth it to build loyalty and goodwill. I generally like the company I work for and think they do good work, and I give my full effort every day. But does the fact that they decided to give every employee who didn’t attend the (completely optional) holiday party, for whatever reason, $25 coupons for doordash mean that I’m a little more likely to put in an extra hour of work or talk them up a bit more or be a little more likely to stay? Yeah. It would have been super easy and completely reasonable for them to say ‘sorry, it’s a party. Don’t come, don’t get anything’. That they choose to be generous means a lot (to me at least).

    (The holiday party is far from the only thing they also found a way to offer wfh employees, but it’s the one I think almost anyone would think expecting that perk wfh is unreasonable. Hilariously, half of us couldn’t use our coupons that day because the sheer volume of us all trying crashed the site.)

    1. Bunny Foo Foo*

      I’m really surprised how vicious people are being about the wfh wanting perks. Granted, the specific ones in the letter are things that are harder to do equivalents for, but this painting of all wfh employees as entitled, whiny babies is harsh.

      Well said. The letter read to me like the company the LW works for really doesn’t want people to WFH, but doesn’t want the responsibility and consequences of making it mandatory. All the talk about how WFH is the perk makes it sound like people aren’t working from home, but goofing off. Like several others, I was hoping we could get away from the butts-in-seats mentality.

      The food doesn’t bother me as much as the clothing stipend does. To me the stipend says to WFH employees” You are less valued.

      I’m not saying WHF employees should get a clothing allowance, but if the company has budget to hand out perks there should be something for everyone. Everyone wants to feel seen and valued.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      It’s the kind of thing where I think it generally comes off as a bit rude and entitled to be like “well they got lunch, where’s my lunch!” in response to everything the in-office people get, but at the same time really good companies will do what they can to make everyone feel included!

      I think the line is between perks that are specifically “thank you for coming back to the office,” which it sounds like most of these are, and perks that are intended to be more general–like if there is a celebration for the company hitting some goal then it would be nice to find a way to include remote employees who contributed to that too.

      Before all this pandemic stuff I had a boss who worked remotely, and one coworker on our team worked in an office in another state. Whenever there was a big team celebration they tried to make them feel included by sending them a treat (and the remote boss would occasionally mail me treats too which was nice of her!). But then of course for something like a Halloween potluck or random birthday cakes, we just had that in the office and they didn’t participate.

      This was a long rambly way to say: It’s fine for the office folks to get some perks that the remote people don’t, especially if it is entirely up to the employees to choose which they are. BUT just make sure you don’t start totally ignoring the remote employees long term. It’s good for overall company morale I think to make sure they are included on occasion and don’t get made to feel like they are less important or valued.

  75. SassyAccountant*

    LW #4. Where are you finding these jobs? All I find are non-remote jobs!! If I find so called “remote” they’re only remote temporarily so still require you to live near the office so you can go back when they are ready!

  76. Alyssa*

    My company also offered us the option to work up to 5 days remotely, and I gladly signed up for those 5 days. Granted, after they offered they seemed to resent those of us who wanted to be home 4 or 5 days a week. But as far as I’m concerned, you can keep your lunches, ice cream, and business clothes, and I’ll be happily productive from home.

  77. MCMonkeyBean*

    I am 99.9% on the side of yes–give those perks to in-office people and people who are choosing to stay home have a lot of perks of their own.

    I will say, this sounds like quite a lot of things in a very short period though! I assume that’s temporary to try to make a big show of support for the in-office folks so that’s probably fine but I would just keep that in mind and not go totally wild showering all the office people with a ton of extra perks all the time. I assume that’s a given because that would get super expensive but I still just want to mention that even people who are usually level-headed about this might start feeling a little irrational resentment.

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