should I get rid of remote work because our in-office staff thinks it’s unfair?

A reader writes:

I am a department head for a state government agency. During Covid, our agency was considered a critical service. Our department has two distinct areas. To keep this anonymous, I’m going to use llamas as a stand-in. So let’s say we have one area where we accept llama farm documentation, record it, and put it on permanent record (Farm Services), and another where we record llama birth, marriage, and death records and sell copies of those to people who need them for various purposes (Registry Services). Our Farm Services staff have very little in-person interaction with customers and most services can be managed online or via mail. Our Registry Services have limited online capabilities to avoid llama identity theft, so during lockdown customers could mail in applications, drop them in a dropbox, or use a certified online service that charged extra but used special identification software to ensure safety and avoid identity theft.

Now that our office has been reopened to the public, our Farm Services division has a rotating work-from-home/in-office schedule where staff work in the office for two weeks, then have two weeks working from home. While working from home, staff are able to handle all of the online services and database entry, while in-office staff help counter customers and phone calls. Our Registry Services staff are all in-office all the time because the work that they do is not able to be done remotely. 100% of their work is customer-facing, and there is little to no back-office work.

This scheduling system has been in place for almost two years. I do regular meetings with staff to find out how things are going and get feedback on ways we can improve. Our agency also has anonymous surveys (done by an outside company) twice a year where staff can give feedback about work environments, scheduling, benefits, etc. In a recent one-on-one with a staff person from the Registry Services division, the staff person said that they think the remote/in-office schedule for the Farm Services division should be eliminated and all those staff should be required to come into the office every day. When I inquired further, asking how the remote schedule impacted this employee (was there a communication gap, was it causing issues with customers, etc.), the staff person simply said, “It’s not fair that they get to work from home and we don’t.”

Recent survey comments have said that staff appreciate the remote/in-office rotation and without it they would look elsewhere for work. Being in government, while we have decent benefits and our salaries are within market, they certainly aren’t at the top end of the market now and, with inflation, we are certainly at a disadvantage with salary bands being the way they are until our legislature takes action to increase them.

Do I take away the remote option for the other division as a matter of fairness? I can’t implement a remote option for the Registry Services division — it’s simply not possible. When staff are hired into this division, it is made clear during the interview and offer stage that these are in-person roles, 100% customer-facing. I will lose Farm Services staff if I eliminate the remote option.

Nooooo. Do not eliminate the remote option for people whose jobs allow them to work remotely just because people whose work must be done on-site don’t like it!

And really, you don’t even know that it’s “people.” It’s “person.” It doesn’t make sense to contemplate revoking a major benefit because a single person finds it unfair.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s more than one person. Let’s say a bunch of people on the Registry Services team find it unfair that their jobs can’t be done remotely while other people’s can.

You still don’t eliminate a benefit in that situation.

Some jobs can be done remotely. Some can’t. That is the nature of reality. Different jobs have different needs. You don’t yank a benefit because someone is upset that they don’t qualify for it. You shouldn’t, for example, yank family health coverage just because someone without kids doesn’t need it. You wouldn’t stop people from traveling to conferences that are necessary for their work just because other people’s jobs don’t necessitate work-related travel and they complain about it.

Different jobs have different needs. Fairness doesn’t mean “everyone is exactly the same.”

But let’s also think about where your employee who complained is coming from. Some people resent anyone who gets a perk they don’t, even when there’s a logical basis for it, and maybe that’s all this is. But it’s also true that a lot of employees who have been on-site throughout the pandemic are rightly upset that the burden has been significantly higher on them — whether it’s wondering where the concern has been for their safety while others stayed home, or dealing with members of the public who have become increasingly aggressive, or taking on more work in the office so others could stay home, or feeling invisible in conversations about changing work norms, or even just commuting when their colleagues haven’t had to. It’s also hard to watch one whole class of workers suddenly be handed something that can significantly increase their quality of life, while a separate set of workers is left out of that, even when there are logically sound reasons for the difference.

The solution to that isn’t to take away remote work for people whose jobs allow for it. It’s to think about ways to improve life for the people whose jobs don’t. Think about things like flex schedules, commuter benefits, paid parking, relaxed dress codes, and free or subsidized lunch (or breakfast!). Is your on-site staff taking on more work to make it possible for others to be remote? If so, recognize those things (including with money). And you can get creative with it — for example, what about additional sick days for in-office staff so they don’t feel pressured to come in sick (when remote colleagues might not need to use a sick day in the same situation)? Hell, let those days be used for bad snow too and call them Commuter Days or something; you’d be recognizing that people who work on-site have different circumstances from remote employees, but to the on-site workers’ advantage this time.

Different jobs will still have different needs. That’s just reality. It doesn’t make sense to pull a benefit from people whose jobs allow for it. But it does make sense to look for ways to maximize quality of life for everyone.

{ 306 comments… read them below }

    1. Anne of Green Gables*

      That is indeed much nicer than the phrase that stood out to me, which was “llama identity theft.”

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I immediately thought “llama identity theft” sounded like a good screen name for someone on here.

        1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

          I went all Dave Barry and thought “Llama Identity Theft would be a good name for a rock band”

    2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I also was pleased to know that they had a culture that supports stable marriages.

    3. Admiral Thrawn Rocks the Blue*

      You can never go wrong with llamas, but honestly, I’d like to see something done with pre-k and summer camps for baby llamas.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            Okay, it’s really rare for anything I read to make me literally laugh (even on this site!) but you managed it. I totally LOLd for reals!

  1. just another queer reader*

    Spot on! Thank you, Alison!

    I love the idea of extra sick days/ “commuter days” for onsite staff. Being able to stay home when sick or when roads are unsafe is a big deal!

    1. Aphrodite*

      I agree wholeheartedly, but as this is a government agency I have to wonder if the OP is going to have any flexibility to use any of Alison’s great suggestions. I suspect not.

      1. Eye roll*

        Probably some. I work for a government agency and the sick/commuter days and more pay would be a no. But management at our agency can allow “administrative” leave up to a point, including when weather makes travel hazardous, so we can travel slowly/not in rush hour/after roads are plowed. Or just when someone is uncharacteristically late with a reasonable excuse. That would be a reasonable “commuter” benefit for government work.

        And we have increased flex schedules, paid parking, relaxed dress codes, and the like. When more people were in-office pre-pandemic, the in-office staff also had regular meals brought in by management, extra supply budgets, and other perks.

      2. Feddy Fed Fed*

        I had the same thought you did about the government agency. I work for the government and they don’t even provide us with coffee here, let alone meals. If there are going to be any food related perks, OP will have to provide them herself out of her own pocket.

        Similarly, things like PTO and commuting benefits are “one size fits all” in my experience. It might be hard to carve put perks for one set of employees (even if they deserve them!). OP is in a tough spot here.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I work for local government, and they managed to pass some pretty great COVID leave policies. It wasn’t limited to use by in-office workers, but I imagine the people who needed to go to the office/interact with the public/provide health care services during the hardest parts of the pandemic had more “opportunities” to use it.

      3. Someone Online*

        Yeah, state government prefers uniformity. And a lot of those ideas would require legislation. Heck, most of our meals are pot lucks.

      4. Liane*

        I thought that about the money suggestion since OP mentions it’s a government agency and only the state legislature can change range bands.

        1. Emma*

          Money doesn’t have to just mean pay rises. For example, if some in office workers have been picking up admin for remote workers, it may be an option to increase their hours to account for that extra work.

          1. D*

            And here I was wondering if it was possible to shorten their shifts or something so they could still have the same amount of “life” to themselves after accounting for commute time!

            More hours after I’m already fully time, and if I’m getting paid enough to live on, is just not a perk!

            1. D*

              Adding on, I’m just imagining going to someone who has complained it’s “not fair” that other people get to work from the comfort of home sometimes, and telling them, “Okay, you can work even more (in the office only)!”

              I think I would quit on the spot.

            2. Hats Are Great*

              In my state this is generally all spelled out in union contracts. The union could bargain for shorter hours or higher pay for in-office workers or extra sick days, but agencies are pretty bound by the union contracts for working hours. (And my state’s employee unions were pretty successful at bargaining for good changes to sick-day policies during Covid, and are negotiating much more flexible sick-time policies into contracts now. I feel like both the unions and the agency management learned a lot about how they could introduce more flexibility and more appropriate sick time policies without losing work quality or quantity.)

              1. Buffy will save us*

                Same. I took over as manager for my department last year and I can’t do anything for people’s money. I can’t even get them promoted b/c downtown is dragging the process out so much. I am just really flexible with their time- approving all time off, allowing them the flex when really we’re not supposed to, and fighting administration on putting more work on their plates.

      5. thisgirlhere*

        This is likely the case, but I’m glad that Alison answers in a way that can apply to other situations. It won’t work in every instance, but it might work for someone.

        1. Becca*

          Yeah, I had the same thought and think the answer would have been better if that had been acknowledged (especially since OP had already mentioned pay bands lagging behind inflation), but I’m glad she put in those suggestions for those who could make it work.

      6. Head Librarian*

        I manage a small government department that has a hybrid office, and I agree that it would be hard to implement a policy that gave “commuter days” to onsite staff. However, I have found that my board is open to flexible scheduling and have restructured one onsite role so that the staff member can work four 10-hour days in place of a remote day. I still get people expressing that they feel it’s unfair that some staff can work off site more frequently, but I can’t make everyone happy.

      7. another govt agency*

        my thoughts exactly. Read this and wondered if it was actually about my state government agency. We have had these exact conversations with staff. What we’ve done – stress that some jobs can be remote, some can’t. Be very clear in hiring. Also, some staff moved from the in person jobs to the remote jobs, and that’s fine. We can’t offer a ton of extra days, money, or perks like lunches etc. We can offer flex time/compressed work week/etc. We have done that. You have to ensure coverage, but that is something. One area that has to be in person really wanted to come in super early and be done with the day by 3. Everyone wanted that, works for us. Also, we really looked at these areas to determine if absolutely any aspects of the job can be done from home. Maybe people work remotely 1 day every other week. It is better than nothing, and the effort went a long way. Also, if cross training is available – during the height of covid, we crosstrained the 2 teams, and then they did shift work in the office (one group on site for 1 week, the other onsite the next week). We’re trying to get them more money, but same issues with funding as the letter writer stated.

      8. Hats Are Great*

        My spouse’s agency quietly and off-the-record scheduled half the team to start an hour late and half to leave an hour early during their slow periods.

        Everyone understood that they could be required to report for full official hours at any time, and they were in-person customer-facing so it was in-office, like the OP. But they had certain times of year that were slower, and while they couldn’t do half-day Fridays or anything, they could quietly let the customer-facing team take an extra hour during the slow period, as long as all hours were covered and all work got done.

    2. Love to WFH*

      In our new COVID World, we need more sick days — not only because of getting sick with COVID, but due to a better understanding of staying home when mildly sick with anything.

      1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        As a government employee though, even a high level one, OP can’t control that. Federal employee leave is fairly generous, but not controlled at the agency level. The Office of Personnel Mangement handles all of that in coordination with Congressional mandates. Even Cabinet level leadership can’t affect it directly.

        I’ve never worked for a state government, bug I assume it’s pretty similar. Some state agency is essentially HR for the entire state government and sets rules applicable to all state employees.

    3. ferrina*

      I wonder if a 9-80 schedule is possible (working 9 hrs per day, but getting every other Friday off). It’s helpful for taking care of some life admin.

    4. Marian the Librarian*

      I work for a company that gave us a Wellness day. “It’s too damn nice out to go to work”
      It was a great benefit even though I didn’t use it.

  2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    maybe just some official appreciation for the folks who have been in-office?

    Also, if there is significant turnover among the in-office-all-the-time folks, some adjustment to their pay may be in order.

    1. Smithy*

      If there was significant turnover with the in-office staff, then adjustment to pay might be relevant – but in addition to thinking about things like extra sick days or subsidized/paid breakfast, I do think it might also help to articulate what investments are needed by those who do have remote work.

      I don’t know if it is like this across all of government, but for nonprofits – this is more or less standard. When working remotely , while the computer and basic computer equipment is covered, my internet, “home office” (i.e. desk, chair, physical space where I work), and phone (i.e. using my personal number for work calls) I pay for myself.

      As a number of these shifts to remote work were made under unique conditions, it was hardly a shock that a nonprofit (or likely government) employer would have budget to cover a lot of these expenses staff wide. However, at this time I do think articulating what is expected that remote employees are expected to have in place and provide on a regular basis will both help avoid any misunderstanding when recruiting (i.e. I’m sure some employers do pay all/some remote worker internet – so to clarify what can or cannot be expected) – but also articulate that both models have separate perks and responsibilities.

      1. Yorick*

        This is a great point. I work from home for a state government and we don’t get any supplies or anything for office work beyond the computer equipment. Paper, pens, printers and ink, office furniture, internet, etc. are all costs that the employer has shifted to remote workers.

        They went so far as to send multiple mass emails begging people to come take office furniture that they may need for their work area or the furniture would be recycled. But only if you’re in office, it can’t go to remote workers. I don’t see any reason they can’t put a serial number on a desk chair or bookshelf and keep track of who took it home the same way they did with my monitors.

          1. Government Employee*

            The only way they could do this at my federal agency is a formal act of Congress. And I don’t think Congress is functional enough that that’s likely to happen in my lifetime.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I know my university has a whole separate property accounting unit that oversees this sort of thing. They have tags that departments have to put on furniture, equipment, etc. depending on the initial purchase value of the item, and these things are tracked and depreciated in a property accounting software. People who have high-value items have the item “assigned’ to them in the property accounting software, and the location of it is tracked. Each college / department is responsible for an annual audit of where all the property-tagged items are, and it’s a big pain. But it’s still a job that needs to be done when workers need the equipment.

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              My old ExCompany kept track of those assets and depreciated them as required (with the occasional in office yard sale for stuff that had to be replaced but wasn’t totally dead. There was a certain amount of bidding done on older laptops that needed to be replaced).

          3. Cafe au Lait*

            They can, but need to build a database in order to track. It’s not as simple as opening up a Google spreadsheet and saying “Lydia has computer, ID 123654789.”

            I am sympathetic, I truly am. But as a librarian I can see that “just track it, darn it!” isn’t as simple as it appears.

        1. Smithy*

          Our office has never made coming back to the office mandatory or necessary or set any days to it. However, I’ve noticed that steadily more and more of our younger staff are in the office 3-5 days a week.

          It started with a few staff who had a push/pull situation – one where their living situation was such that working from home a lot wasn’t ideal, but then also where our office comes with free gym access. Then knowing that some staff were there “all the time” made it less lonely for others to come in, but also made the onboarding for other junior/new colleagues easier.

          For a lot of people – working from home a lot isn’t what they want all the time or simply isn’t an option they can currently afford in a way they’d find desirable. And I think on some level, employers are trying to speak out of both sides of their mouths to only focus on the positives. Which if you can’t get those upsides – yes, that does sound unfair. But if you have roommates and weak internet that would only be upgraded if you paid for all of the extra costs and would have to work out of your bedroom that currently has no desk or chair……

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            I wonder if younger staff are sometimes rotating WFH days with their roommates or partners? I’m going to guess those same staff might also have living situations where it is hard to have 2+ people WFH.

        2. Zephy*

          In the case of “come see if you want any of this stuff before it gets thrown out,” literally whomst does it impact if that office chair doesn’t *quite* make it to the dumpster and instead whoopsie-doodles ends up in somebody’s trunk? The org has already declared it to be trash, the city dump is not going to ask for a manifest of goods when the garbage truck gets there.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            If you work for government it can be a very big deal. Even if it is going in the trash, if you try to take something home without going through the whole surplus equipment process it is theft. Although office straight to trash is rare because so many government departments sell their surplus equipment and furniture at auctions*.

            *If you ever need to cheaply kit out a home office or a new business watch for state and local government auctions. Things are cents on the dollar and often not that old or abused

          2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            You’ve clearly never worked for a really bureaucratic organization. There are rules for *everything* including how trash gets thrown out. We own it until the asset tag expires and we will keep it until the moment the assets tag expires, and then it’s someone’s job to take it to the dumpster, and how dare you put that person’s job in jeopardy by taking it to the dumpster (or your car) yourself. Assuming there wasn’t a plan in pace to sell it or donate it, in which case it might not even go to the dumpster.

            I’ve worked in places where I couldn’t even get to the dumpster, because that area of the facility was key card protected and people who weren’t facilites services couldn’t have access. This kind of thing is mostly at Federal Government and Federal contractor type places, but I’ve worked at a few huge multinational companies that weren’t too much different. With huge companies though, at least if you go high enough up the food chain exceptions can be made or pressure can be applied. Often with the government it’s pure regulation, and no one can make exceptions. It would take a literal act of Congress.

            1. Hats Are Great*

              Oh, I worked at a public school district that was similar — if something was COMPLETELY DESTROYED it could be discarded. But if it was even marginally serviceable, it would be sold at auction, partly because public school districts need every dollar they can get. And I mean things like bathroom partitions would be sold, not just desks and chairs. Yearly auction, lots of folks who went every year to see what kind of random stuff was on offer, even if they weren’t particularly shopping.

            2. Shan*

              Yep. Federal government staff here. We still have one of those big square tvs with a video slot taking up space in our store room because we aren’t allowed to trash it. Hasn’t worked in at least 15 years.

            3. whingedrinking*

              Or retail/food service. It can depend on your employer, but there are plenty of places where “so we’re throwing out seven whole pizzas, can I have one?” would be met with NO.

          3. Divergent*

            This is literally the level of “your taxpayer dollars are going to line the pockets of corrupt government employees by giving them fancy kickbacks” that the government is functionally designed to prevent.

        3. I am Emily's failing memory*

          These kind of scenarios make it clear my ethics are a little too dodgy for any kind of government job, because sending perfectly good chairs off to be “recycled” (knowing that plastic recycling is more or less a lie) feels worse vis a vis my ethics than marking the furniture “recycled” and leaving it unattended just outside the back door with a “please do not come to pick up those landfill-destined chairs home if you’re a remote worker” and an exaggerated wink.

          I know the way government personnel logic works is that any end-run around the rules for any reason is a slippery slope straight to Director Scuzzball making an end-run around the rules to get a new car and hot tub paid for by taxpayers, so they feel they must take a zero tolerance stance around stuff like this. But geez, I don’t think I could be content working in that kind of environment.

          1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            Don’t worry, they’ve anticipated you. You see once it’s ready for recycling you mark in in the computer as ready for pickup and then the recycling team comes to get it, And they mark it as picked up, and then when the actual recycling company comes to take it away it finally gets marked as out of inventory. The actual company get paid by the ton though, so they aren’t interested in giving it away, because giving away the trash would literally cost them money.

            I’m probably exaggerating slightly depending on the size and number of employees at a given location (rules are definitely laxer, or at least harder to enforce at a small Ranger outpost in the middle of a National Park than at a federal office complex in DC), but a lot of them are close to this level.

    2. Cody Cravensworth*

      Removed. Can’t do that here (although I know it was a joke). You’re welcome to repost without the murder part! Your perspective is one that’s valuable here.

        1. Cody Cravensworth*

          I don’t think it’s actually fixable for a group of people to watch their equals receive a benefit they don’t on a daily basis? There’s a massive quality of life difference between “pet the cat on my lap in the home office while I did data entry” and “came in-person to work to get screamed at by a grieving widow who needed her husband’s death certificate last week but didn’t realize it until today.” These jobs are not equivalent, and if they have the same title and pay rate for both sides, resentment and burnout feel pretty inevitable.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            They don’t have the same title though? Also, the people who don’t work with the public wouldn’t have to deal with being screamed at even if they were in the office.

          2. Aggretsuko*

            I totally agree. There’s really no way you can make it better for those people. Unless you paid them a lot, which, YEAH RIGHT. And frankly, not even that on some levels.

            1. Worldwalker*

              Would their jobs be easier if the back-office people were physically in the back office instead of WFH?

              Would the public scream at them less if somewhere, behind some door out of sight, someone was doing data entry?

              Would it be different if the back-office people were moved to a different floor, or a different building?

              What the Farm Services people do and what the Registry people do does not interconnect. The fact that the Farm Services people can do data entry from somewhere offsite doesn’t change what the Registry people have to deal with. The “unfairness” is envy. “If I have to suffer, then *everyone* should have to suffer.”

          3. Parakeet*

            Where did we get this idea, which I’ve seen in a bunch of places, that nobody who works remotely ever does anything grueling? At my last job, I got sexually harassed by members of the public, got yelled at by people in desperate situations who I couldn’t help, and assisted people whose lives were in danger, while working remotely. It wasn’t a well-paying job, either.

            In the LW’s case, as others have pointed out, the two job types don’t have the same title (and may not have the same pay rate).

            I think people who had to work onsite pre-vax-availability ought to get hazard pay for it. I also think that being able to work remotely is in fact a big quality-of-life benefit (though judging by the fact that some people have been actively eager to go back to onsite work, I don’t think that view is universal). But let’s not pretend that there are only two kinds of jobs: grueling, difficult, underappreciated ones that are all on-site, and easy, comfortable ones that are all remote.

            1. Hats Are Great*

              Because I’m remote, I’m expected to be available way weirder hours than my in-office, same-title peers. Not MORE hours, but WEIRDER hours. We work with clients all around the world, and it’s just assumed that the remote people will handle the awkward time zones.

              I don’t mind, really — I like being remote, and I like talking to far-flung clients, and I don’t really mind taking a very late or early meeting, so I’m okay with the trade-off. I’m a little more chaotic and I like being able to adjust my schedule, while some people prefer a very regular daily schedule. But every now and then I’m hauling my butt out of bed at 5:45 am and getting video-meeting presentable for a 6 am meeting with someone on the other side of the world and I’m like “Ugggggggggggh why.”

          4. Worldwalker*

            Except they’re two different jobs.

            Farm Services deals with paperwork and is all back-office stuff, and Registry Services deals with the public. Whether or not the Farm Services people are in the office or at home, they’re still not going to be dealing with the public, and Registry Services still is.

            It’s not that one group is being arbitrarily allowed to work from home and the other is not — it’s that one type of work can be done from home, and the other type can’t be, and each group is doing a different type of work.

      1. Cody Cravensworth*

        I don’t think it is welcome here, actually! I’m very angry at powerful people, but there’s this wild alchemy that happens where whenever you approach a powerful person, they’re not ACTUALLY powerful enough to help you or change anything. This comment section has a bunch of professionally-oriented and successful white women—way more of the top 10% of American income earners than any actual room I’ve ever stood in—and it’s not a coincidence that they were about to start a pile-up on some idiot whose joke made them uncomfortable with their own systemic complicity. It’s not that your readers forgot that their safety is built on the backs of lower-paid people. It’s just rude to keep reminding them when they’ve already decided not to do anything about it.

        1. Sunny days are better*

          You’re right about the fact that powerful people may not be powerful enough to change things, and many of the people who ARE powerful enough, are not interested in making things better for a lot of people, they are just interested in more power.

          Some jobs just can’t be done remotely – so when you have people in those types of jobs, who don’t necessarily make a decent salary, people may want to make things better for them – but as you alluded to in your comment – don’t have the power to do so – and the people who would have the level of power – just don’t care.

          It’s a sad commentary on our society – and the pandemic just magnified it.

        2. Fives*

          It was welcome except for the murder comment. Even if it was a joke, I don’t feel like those jokes should be made, particularly in this climate.

        3. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Look. I’ve also been working in person for the entire pandemic. I had somebody spit in my face because we ran out of covid tests. I’ve been on the receiving end of the same abuses and lack of safety that you have. I’ve been terrified and frustrated. I’ve had panic attacks at work. I get why you’re angry. You have a right to be angry.

          But when you make jokes about murdering a coworker who’s allowed to WFH while you can’t, that crosses a line. It’s not okay.

          Your perspective matters, it’s important, and there are a lot of people here who need to hear it. But yelling about how we all don’t care because we’ve decided not to isn’t going to help anything.

          1. Fives*

            Thank you. This is more eloquent than my reply. I’ve been in office most of the last couple of years and I just couldn’t respond right to that.

  3. ABCYaBYE*

    Wholeheartedly agree with Alison. Do not take away the remote option. It works for that division. Just because it doesn’t for the other doesn’t mean that you need to take it away. You have data showing that people might look elsewhere for employment,. Do you want to put yourself in a position where you lose good, trained employees over something that someone feels is unfair?

    1. Anon and Now Remote*

      I’m that division where I can be fully remote, but other people with the same job title as me can’t be remote (think electronic filing and bill processing versus medical office front desk). During the pandemic I was in office the whole time (because we needed backup staff if somebody was out sick – and we all got cross trained to do the essentials of everyone else’s job). But now, boss decided to send some of us permanently remote, but all with the same job responsibilities as pre-pandemic. I’d probably look for another job if I had to come back in permanently- because my job can be done completely remotely without the in-office staff having to do support for me.

      The folks in the office got one other employee to spread the work (and buffer sick days), and new equipment, and bigger desk spaces. Those of us that went home got the old equipment (which has to be returned when we leave the job). The only things we all got to keep were the extra sick days and pay increases.

      Work isn’t always about everybody has all the same things – but that everybody is getting the support that they need to do the job to the best of their abilities.

  4. Bacu1a*

    As someone who works in state government, I feel like a lot of these options aren’t feasible to implement (or at least formalize). I think anything that can just be done on the office level without needing higher level authority would be the easiest (allowing as much flexibility in scheduling and dress code as possible).

    1. LMN*

      Thank you, I was waiting for this comment! The complexity and inflexibility of state adjustments like this is insane.

      My head went to how this person could create priority opportunities for transfers over to openings in the remote division, as long as still complying with civil service rules. Another thought would be process mapping entire workflow. Can the in-person team “trade” certain tasks, so that both groups are working one week on, one week off? That could be accomplished likely without JD changes, especially if engaging the Union reps in both groups.

      1. Local Government*

        I work for city government and we’re union, so there’s no way to get this through without a major adjustment, approval from city council, etc. Government work has its benefits; flexibility and quick changes are not some of them.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I absolutely agree.

      Alison’s answer doesn’t address that all state employees get the same benefits like sick days based on a formula that does not currently include whether they work in the office or not. That could possibly change but not quickly and one person cannot make it happen. It would need to be statewide.

      Also I bet taxpayer money can’t be used to pay for breakfast or lunch for employees either.

      State, federal, government managers have little influence on codified benefits like that.

      What the LW needs to do is make sure the in office Registry team did not pick up anything from the WFH Farm services team.

      Make it clear this benefit is there because the job duties allows it and that is “fair.” Lots of people can and do WFH, the complainer just sees that other team daily.

      Perhaps if possible hire new farm services team members from the registry team. Although there may be state agency rules NOT to favor internal hires so this may not be possible too.

      1. Tacos McSalsa*

        My wife works for a state agency – there is zero room for anything like a lunch to be provided to the employee. It would be catastrophic for some yokel to find out that one one-thousandth of one cent of his taxes went toward her two slices of Domino’s carry out special pizza.

        1. The Person from the Resume*

          Exactly. A government organization cannot pay for a lot of things Alison suggests an office should pay for for employees as perks and as standard things.

          They can’t pay for holiday parties at least not most of them. When in the military our unit holiday parties had to funded by the unit’s fundraising club which existed to allow for us to have holiday parties and even then tickets were not free.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          At one of my previous jobs the microwave in the staff kitchen died and finance would not approve purchase of another one with city funds. The head of finance recommended that we hold a bake sale to raise money (to be clear, he was recommending that staff bring in baked goods and sell them to other staff, not to customers or members of the public).

          The idea of bringing in regular paid meals for staff in a government office is absolutely not going to happen.

          1. e*

            That feels a lot like paying for it *twice*. The time, energy and cost of cooking or getting stuff to sell *and* then the cost of purchasing to raise money for the microwave.

            I understand its a “nice activity” to make the blow feel easier but it just feels worse than everyone chipping in a few bucks to get a new one directly (which still isn’t great either).

            1. Divergent*

              In my (gov’t) office, if we had to pay to replace the microwave, they’d make a list of people allowed to use it and then take it away if people not on the list used it. A bake sale makes it feel more like public property. I suspect mine is a little extra dysfunctional though.

              1. Governmint Condition*

                We did the collection thing and left out the two people who never used the microwave. I was one of those two. Until the day came and I had a dental situation limiting my diet and requiring me to heat up some soup. Then came the expected complaints.

        3. Tupac Coachella*

          I hate how true this is. We want government employees to be friendly, efficient, knowledgeable, and available, but heaven forbid any tax dollars be spent making their work lives any more comfortable than the bare minimum. At some point we need to trust that people like OP can offer their staff an occasional appreciation lunch or chairs that don’t hurt their backs or “I Heart Llama County” t-shirt without blowing the whole budget. Sometimes the little things go a long way in retaining employees, and that’s how taxpayers are going to get knowledgeable, efficient service from people who don’t hate being there every day.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Also, it sounds like the biggest problem is that the data that needs to be used by the regisrty is too sensitive for remote access. Having worked with those kinds of systems, they are never 100% of my job 100% of the time, so their *MIGHT* be a way to let the Registry staff organize their schedules to get at least 1 WFH day a week per person. It could be their admin or report writing or whatever day. In the Before Days, our state vital statistics office did this

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          Maybe, but that does not address the fundamental issue that some jobs can be dome remotely and some can’t, and there is nothing unfair about it. I work in government communications, and my job can be remote. Meanwhile, my oldest friend is a veterinarian. There is no way she can pull your cat’s tooth or set your dog’s broken leg remotely. Fairness has nothing to do with it.

          Frankly, this person mostly needs to adjust her expectations. If you want to work remotely, you need to find a job that can be done remotely. That’s all on top of the reality that some people WANT to work on site, while others are happy with a hybrid, in addition to those who like working remotely, and there are jobs that lend themselves to any of these options. Making everyone do one thing, or changing what people are doing regardless of their job (because one person complained) is not the solution.

          Further, this isn’t a suffering contest. All the other people don’t have to be made unhappy just because one person is unhappy.

    3. anne of mean gables*

      Yes I work in government and agree. My office is dealing with a similar dynamic to LWs. It’s a genuinely hard problem – we do not have the ability to increase pay or benefits to balance the demand of being on-site. Additional complicating factors are that our remote workers complain that they do not get to take part in on site parties/team-building (which I have very little patience for, tbh), and the fact that none of our jobs truly require being on-site. It’s a bit of a quagmire for morale right now.

      1. Unregistered Llama*

        If people don’t like being in the department that works in the office, they should apply for a position on the other team and vice-versa. Ideally, they would be able to pair up and trade. You could treat it as an opportunity to crosstrain and give your staff more options to cover maternity leave.

        1. The Person from the Resume*

          Trading jobs like that would also not allowed in the government either. There are rules about hiring and who must get advantages in the hiring process.

          In the federal government, you cannot “be promoted.” If you want a promotion from GS-13, apply for GS-14 job and if you get it you’re promoted. But again the process has hiring rules about who is favored and it’s not usually the internal person already in that office.

          But I agree the solution is to tell the whiner that if they want to work from home they should apply to WFH jobs in the agency when they come up and outside. Because the non-work from home role is not going to change.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, it’s interesting how government jobs work differently from private sector ones. But what’s true in the US isn’t necessarily true in other countries. I work for the government in Finland, although because we charge (at cost) for our services, only about 30 percent of our operations are financed by budget funds. But we get employee perks, including free coffee and free end-of-year parties.

            Luckily for us, most Finns are reasonably happy to pay their taxes (which are withheld by the employer, so we never see the money), and our government is seen to work reasonably efficiently, so people tend to think they get value for money as well (single-payer health insurance, free tuition up to a master’s degree, good schools, long parental leave and unemployment insurance mostly paid for by social services, etc.)

            Most government agencies will also jump through hoops to avoid laying people off. Even when positions are eliminated through technological change, the employees affected are offered training to do something else instead. It’s also sometimes possible to get both internal and external (paid for by the employer) training to switch fields completely. I’m comms adjacent, and we have some employees who started out in HR, or as an SME doing our core duties and switched to comms mid-career.

    4. Divergent*

      Different government agency, and I want to reinforce this lack of formal options. Plus where I am we are lucky enough (?) to have a union so we have specified hours for our work, including non-customer-facing, which means any flex time is in violation of the union contract. In practice there is some leeway, but it’s all risk being taken on by management in opposition to the union.

    5. MigraineMonth*

      I don’t know how long it took to get the options in place, but my government job provides subsidized parking, free annual bus passes, guaranteed ride home, and similar perks that primarily help commuters. So while paying for an office lunch may be out of the question, commuter benefits might not be.

  5. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    The person who feels that your current arrangement is unfair is free to seek employment elsewhere. They can also pursue an internal transfer to a team that has the remote option. I fail to see how taking away remote work would make things better or more fair for anyone.

    1. AD*

      In fact, taking away remote work might lead to attrition or higher turnover — or a more limited applicant pool, if those position(s) needed to be filled again. It just does not make business sense to make policy decisions like that based on the whims or emotions of one or two staff members.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Plus adding more people in the office could add more germs to the office, so it would make things worse for everyone in some ways.

    2. Brett*

      Although this is not true of every government agency, when I worked public sector both of those options were extremely difficult. Internal transfer were simply not allowed. You had to apply just like any member of the public, and on top of that your manager had a veto over your transfer which was frequently exercised.
      The leaving gets more complicated. This has to do with the frequent use of pensions and for every pension plan there is a sweet spot for leaving. Before that sweet spot, you can leave and take a lump sum payout and not loose much in deferred income.
      Get past that sweet spot, and you lose so much deferred income that you need a very large (in my case, ~80% at 7 years) raise to be able to leave. On top of that, government employees frequently have significant post-employment restrictions that make it difficult to leave (e.g. my former employer restricted me from working for any other state or local government agency within the 9 county metro area).

      1. Rosemary*

        So, those sound like incentives to stay (or at least not leave). That doesn’t mean the option to WFH for another department should be taken away, just because others can’t.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Even before the pandemic, I was working for a library system where staff in the branches were scheduled based on the branch’s open hours, while staff in the administration office who did things like accounting, marketing, and ordering books, could have more flexible schedules. Staff in the branches started complaining it wasn’t fair that Persephone in the cataloging department could work a 9-80 and have every other Friday off, or Apollo in finance could work 6:30-3, when they had to work whenever the branches were open. So our director told admin staff that they were required to work schedules similar to what branch staff worked. Admin staff was extremely unhappy about it, and several of them quit.

      Different jobs are different, and when you insist on treating them the same when that doesn’t make sense, you’re going to lose good people over it.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I work at a research hospital and when the pandemic first started and we (IT) finally got permission to work remotely, a lot of nurses complained that it wasn’t fair, which I found ridiculous. There’s reason I work in IT and not as a nurse. Some jobs just aren’t able to be done remotely, and it seems obvious that different jobs have different requirements that are obvious when you go into that field.

  6. Mayor of Llamatown*

    At my last position, I worked in a call center as part of support (think QA work, IT tech, training – never took calls, work didn’t require it). At the beginning of my time there, no one worked from home. They eventually started letting call agents work from home, with the appropriate infrastructure/set up to support the work and provide for security, because they had outgrown the actual building and it was cheaper to send people home than to break the lease and find a new worksite. Working from home was opt-in, and about 75% of people took it. The other 25% stayed in-center for lots of reasons, but it was their choice.

    The staff working in support, however, were NEVER allowed to work from home. We had to be in the office, except on very rare occasions (like needing to be home to let in a maintenance worker, for example). It had to be pre-approved. No one had a standing remote work arrangement for even a single day per week. The reason we were given: it was “bad optics” for the people who worked in the center if we weren’t there with them, plugging away.

    Again, these were people who just didn’t want to work from home and chose to work in the building. The people who worked from home (again, the vast majority of employees) had no clue whether or not we were in the office or not, they were emailing or messaging us on Slack.

    The entire support staff left within two years. I took a job where I’ve been fully remote for five years now.

    1. Flash Packet*

      Shortly after he started, our new CEO started beating the drum for everyone at Corporate to come back to the office 5 days a week, even if our jobs can be done fully remote.

      We’re a manufacturing company and it’s clear that he had gotten the “It’s not fair!” whine from the folks in our warehouses and plants, because he literally said, “We should all be back in the office because the people who make and move the things we sell have been coming in 5 days a week this entire time.”

      And… yes?

      They also work three shifts a day. In order for everything to be “fair” does that mean Accounting, Finance, and Legal should be in the office from 10:00 PM to 6:30 AM? And the warehouse/factory people have to wear steel- or carbon-toed shoes, which can be uncomfortable, plus neon safety vests, which are unflattering. Why not require that of Corporate employees, too?

      We have a twice-a-year employee engagement survey and, apparently, I wasn’t the only one to point out the stupidity of “Job A requires XYZ, so all other jobs in the company must also require those things just to make sure we’re fair.” The CEO backed off the “fair-sies” messaging and switched to “our awesome culture” that will supposedly implode if we don’t communicate with each other via Teams when we’re in the same building, vs from separate locations.

      1. Sleeve+McQueen*

        Exactly. Just because some people in an organisation work on an offshore mining rig, doesn’t mean the entire company needs to.

  7. Engineer on the Dark Side*

    Could the two groups be cross trained such that there is a rotating schedule for all groups to have remote work / in-office work? Essentially two different teams able to do both functions. The teams working remote do the farm services work and the in-person do the registry work. The key thing is that both teams are expected to be able to do both jobs.
    Make it optional for anyone who wants to be in the office all the time they can do the registry work.
    Maybe this won’t work but at least you can make an effort to provide more options for flexibility.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I think it probably depends if you are the same title and grade. If the registry team is a different job class than the farm team, I can’t imagine any government I have worked for (and I have done city-federal) allowing it.

        2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          I could see a smaller local government having more flexibility here, for the same reason smaller companies are often more flexible about workloads. If there’s three people in the municipal tax office, they probably all handle all inquiries. At the state level though there’s a huge difference between say, an income tax issue and a commercial property tax issue. Or even a personal
          Tax return vs a commercial tax return vs an estate tax return.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      What about setting up training for the inhouse staff to prepare them to apply for the other department when there is an opening there? Obviously I can’t know if it’s a logical career path.

    2. Sharon*

      This seems like the best solution, especially if they are all officially classed as “level 2 clerk” or whatever. Or perhaps you can move toward this solution gradually as you have staff turnover – post any new openings as “Level 2 clerk for Farm Services/Registry” with a hybrid schedule.

      Actually, I think it’s bonkers that your Farm Services employees are being asked to commute for 2 weeks straight, and then work at home for 2 weeks straight. What’s the rationale for that?

      1. Roland*

        > I think it’s bonkers that your Farm Services employees are being asked to commute for 2 weeks straight, and then work at home for 2 weeks straight. What’s the rationale for that?

        Sounds like have some work that can be done from home and some that can’t. How is this different than being in the office 2-3 days a week?

    3. NeedRain47*

      People aren’t likely to want this, even if it is possible as far as classifications, which it likely isn’t. If you’re hired to do one job that suits your interests and skills, but are forced to cross train on something totally different, chances are good you’re not going to stick around.

  8. Jessica*

    Ha. If you think the fact that I do my job duties and you do yours is unfair, wait till you see the CEO’s salary.

      1. anne of mean gables*

        We have GS5’s and SES working in the same department…that’s a reasonably big spread. Not corporate levels of income inequality, sure, but we have directors with second homes and staff with 20 years of service who are earning what I would consider nearly a non-livable wage for our area.

  9. bamcheeks*

    Is there a route for a Registry Services team member who really wants to go remote to move to the Farm Services team? Are they totally different skillsets / needs or is that something that could be facilitated?

    And if that means you’d struggle to hold onto or recruit Reg Services team members, there’s a clear case for better compensation or benefits for those team members.

  10. Alan*

    I love this so much. Unfortunately, my own employer, while complaining and wringing hands because people are leaving and they can’t find people to hire, is tightening down on remote work. So we come in 3 days a week. Everyone still Zooms, they just do it now from their offices. I see no one. All it does is take an extra hour or more out of my day to commute. Because on-site work is “better”. If you want to retain employees, you need to be smarter.

    1. Gigi*

      PREACH. I supervise an office with 80% telework, which is great. But I was looking for ways to make the days in the office more worthwhile, and not just a commute plus a day full of Teams meetings. That plan is on hold, because now suddenly the C suite is concerned that people will take away our office space. Sigh. All these people are going to bleed to death from self-inflicted wounds.

  11. ThatGirl*

    This is a little tangential, but I’m kind of fascinated by the “two weeks in, two weeks out” idea. Why that instead of, say, a 3/2 split (you could do one group MTW one ThF and alternate??) I’m sure there are reasons, I’ve just never heard that one before.

    But yeah. Don’t make people come to the office just because someone is unhappy. That way lies deep dissatisfaction.

    1. Jeebs*

      We did the alternating 2 day/3 day schedule in my department during early COVID (to increase distance between people when sitting in the office, and to create two distinct contact groups to minimize exposure if it were to happen).

      For me, personally, it was a nightmare, because having a changing schedule like that week-to-week was just extremely stressful to keep track of, especially because I needed to plan my own work around which days I would be in office. I’m sure other people would handle it a lot more easily, especially if it’s just a question of ‘on days I’m in the office I take customers, on days I’m out of the office I work on the digital backlog’. But that could be one reason.

      I would bet, though, that it goes to payroll and location codes. Everywhere I’ve ever worked, payroll is submitted in two-week chunks, and working remotely requires you choose a different location code (divided by state) than days you worked in-office, even if you live and work in the same state – I guess so they have records demonstrating that yes you were remote but you were indeed still in the same state. It might be easiest in their software or whatever to select one location code for the whole pay period.

      1. NeedRain47*

        We also did a really badly planned rotating schedule that still required everyone to come in every day. It was ridiculous. But point being, we didn’t then and still don’t indicate working from home anywhere on our virtual timecards. Payroll doesn’t care. So this may or may not be a factor.

      2. Governmint Condition*

        We do this, and I have the same issue with changing schedules. So I decided to just do 6/4 to maintain the same schedule every week. They are allowing this because they no longer consider the remote work program to be part of the virus response.

    2. turquoisecow*

      My company did a half in office, half out situation with each group doing a week at a time, and a deep cleaning on the weekends. The theory was that if a Covid spread happened, it would only take out half the company at a time.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I understand segregating work groups — I don’t understand the 2-week version. But again, there probably are reasons.

        1. Becca*

          One reason is because some of the staff is always there, so if it were just switching days then one of them could get everyone else sick more easily. Although I agree that week to week would be a lot less stressful for me compared to having to keep track of which day is which.

        2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          It lets people have a rhythm to their weeks, that they can settle into. No having to remember what day of the week tomorrow will be. Ask anyone who works with variable scheduling – retail workers, supermarket workers – and they will tell you that not knowing your schedule for next week until the schedule is put up is a major pain.

          1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

            Meant to add, I don’t know that there’s any specific benefit to the company, but a benefit to the workers is ultimately good for the company.

    3. atalanta0jess*

      Seriously…if you get rid of remote to make one person happy, you’re going to find that you’ve made a serious miscalculation, because you’d have a whole lot more unhappy people afterwards!

    4. Lenora Rose*

      Less whiplash from constantly changing tasks, maybe? it sounds like the in office work and the at home work even in the department are different pieces of the job, so for most people, it might work better to have to mentally change gears less often.

  12. Eeyore's Missing Tale*

    Don’t take remote work away. OP, since you’re in government, you’ll have to get creative with perks because some of the perks Alison suggested aren’t going to fly. In my area of state government, the state will not pay for free/subsidized meals or any sort of monetary reward. And extra sick days/ bad weather days, good luck.

    I wish I had some ideas of how to reward them, but I don’t. My institution has all but banned telework while our sister institutions allow it. Once I finish my degree, I’m probably gong to start looking around and seeing what else is out there.

    1. Colette*

      Honestly, I think one of the most important things you can do is be honest about why they have to be in the office, and clear about what the difference between the teams is.

      1. Jeebs*

        Agreed. And if it really is just this one person who complained, I’d bet everyone else fully understands and this is more of a personality issue. Some people are just a lot more sensitive to what they see as disparities in fairness and sometimes need more time and explanation to understand that in real life, making everything fair isn’t always possible.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      At my university, if there is a closure due to weather, it applies to everyone across the board. My position is fully remote, but if the university closes due to inclement weather, it is closed for everyone, and I am not allowed to be working.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        For me, this is where the fairness evens out at my organization.

        If you can WFH on a weather day (in other words have the setup and equipment to do so), you are required to. You do not get the day off. The day off is to prevent commuters from driving in dangerous conditions not to give everyone a day off.

        And I know the feeling of seeing office closure announcements and feeling jealous while I work from home, but I don’t think that it’s not fair and the system should change in order to be “fair.”

  13. BPT*

    In general I think that it’s often appropriate, in cases where part of an organization is allowed to be remote or have WFH options and part are not, for people who must work in person to have higher salaries as a benefit to offset the benefit of working from home. People who have to be in office all the time have fewer options in where to live (so can’t move farther out to a cheaper area), often have less personal time in their day (due to commute), and usually have those additional in-office tasks.

    I don’t know if it’s possible here since it’s a government job, but if there’s any flexibility (say, starting in-office employees at a higher step level in their salary band), I think that would be a way to incentivize in-office staff. Organizations who do this could even offer it to employees who could be remote, giving them a choice of higher salary or remote work.

  14. Hills to Die on*

    Why feed into the bitterness of one person? Just because their job can’t be done remotely, nobody else can have that perk? I would not entertain that negativity. In fact, I would consider this good info about them in hearing anything else they had to say going forward. It’s odd.

    1. Gracely*

      For real. This is a “misery loves company” scenario if ever I saw one. Do not let one person drag down the morale of an entire other department.

    2. Vio*

      Security Guard: I can’t sit down while doing my rounds, therefore the receptionist and bus driver should not be allowed to sit down on the job
      CEO: I have to wear a suit for work so the olympic swim team should have to swim in full business suits
      Thief: I get locked up for taking other peoples money so the politicians should be locked up too

      ok so that last one actually has a point…

  15. Neon*

    If I worked on-site the last thing I would want is for a bunch of employees who could/should be remote bringing all their possible Covid and flu germs to work in the interests of abstract “fairness”.

    1. Colette*

      Yeah, bringing them all in full time increases the risk for those who have to be in the office every day.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        In my office and where I live in general, those complaining about remote work (and to be clear, we’re talking about folks who are not even employed by my company as we’ve been back for quite some time now) are the same folks who believe Covid to be at best a cold, at worst a “dem0crat conspiracy theory” typically followed up with racist dogwhistles. I strongly doubt that they care about the risk.

        Myself having longer term damage done by Covid caught from my office before vaccines were a thing – I spend a lot of time not listening to idiots.

        1. Vio*

          I was lucky enough not to catch Covid until after my fourth vaccine. It didn’t last long but it was still extremely unpleasant and even a couple of weeks later I still have a lingering cough and some lethargy. Even if that was as bad as Covid got (and even now it can still be a lot worse) it would still be something to avoid if at all possible. Even before the pandemic did anyone really enjoy working with colleagues who were full of cold?

    2. Mim*

      Yes, this! It is in the best interest of people who have to be on-site to have fewer people around. Heck, it is in the best interest of every person who has to commute to work to have fewer people on the road or bus or train or whatever their mode of transportation is. Yeah, I would choose fully remote in a heartbeat over a less crowded commute to a less crowded office. But if my job required me to be on site every day, I would certainly welcome a less crowded commute and a less crowded office due to co-workers and workers in other organizations staying home when possible.

      Of course, vanishingly few people seem to care about covid anymore, and anti-science propaganda seems to have hurt common sense and responsible practices regarding other communicable illnesses, as well. So I don’t know how many folks in this llama agency will recognize or care that they benefit from having fewer co-workers in the building at any given time. But if any of them do care about that, it occurs to me that another perk that could be offered is decent masks. Or reimbursement for their own purchase of decent masks. Or both. (Masks on-site could encourage more people to wear them, but having a reimbursement option would better cover the folks who are already serious about their mask wearing and have certain brands/styles they know fit them best. I say as an everyday mask wearer who has a bear of a time finding masks that fit me properly.)

  16. old curmudgeon*

    While Alison’s suggestions for alternative perks would be effective for many private-sector or non-profit employers, state government employers don’t have ANY flexibility in terms of what they can offer. All salary, PTO, holidays and related numbers are established in the state’s Comp Plan, which is rooted in statute and cannot be altered by any individual agency or manager. Hell, in my state, they even govern how many square feet a cubicle is allowed to be at every pay grade, and I have seen representatives from the personnel management division go around with tape measures to make sure that nobody has a single square inch more space than they are permitted to have.

    I work with a few folks who I could absolutely see being the Registry Services staffer who complained about perceived unfairness. And I get it – it sucks that they can’t work remotely.

    But I can also tell you that in my state, both within my agency and across the board at most other agencies, there are record numbers of job postings open, many offering remote work options. In my state, up until this year, all job postings had specific time limits for applications (e.g. 10/17/2022 – 10/28/2022). Nowadays, no more than a handful of job posts are end-dated; most simply say “Until position is filled,” and I have seen postings remain up for MONTHS while the agency struggles to find a candidate who both meets the criteria and is willing to work for the statutorily permitted pay.

    All of which is to say that if someone really thinks it’s unfair that they are required to come in and work in person while others can work remotely, they have many, many options that would accommodate remote work instead. And quite honestly, in my experience, folks who whine about “unfairness,” expecting management to penalize the apparently favored group are generally the ones I’d most like to see go find another job anyway.

  17. Observer*

    OP, I’m hung up on this: “Do I take away the remote option for the other division as a matter of fairness?”

    What exactly is the “fairness” involved here? These are two different departments with different functions, and therefore different policies and needs. Are you going to cap the pay scale for one department out of “fairness” to another department even though the first department has much higher educational requirements? Are you going to stop issuing masks to the Registry services staff, because the Farm services staff don’t need them? If you have Registry staff that actually need to go on site, are you going to refuse to pay for their transport there because other Registry staff don’t need transportation while at work?

    I could come up with a bazillion more examples, but I think you get the point. Sure, it’s important to keep equity in mind when looking at benefits and setting up working conditions. But never giving a group benefits or improving their work conditions because you can not to that thing universally is not equity.

    I agree with everything that Alison said. I do want to highlight the point that you actually don’t know that most people have a problem with this. It’s just as likely that you have one person who is the proverbial crab in a bucket.

    1. Here for the Insurance*

      A+ comment.

      I’d add that if OP’s #1 concern is making all her employees happy and thinking things are “fair”, then she’s setting herself up for failure. You can’t make everyone happy. You just can’t. There’s always, ALWAYS going to be something that someone dislikes. You’ll drive yourself insane trying to forestall that.

      Also, has it occurred to OP to wonder about the other employees and what they think would be “fair”? Cause I guarantee being forced into the office for the sole reason that someone else’s job can’t be done remotely won’t be seen as “fair” to those being forced.

  18. Governmint Condition*

    Since this is a government agency, many of Alison’s suggestions would not be legal, at least not here. Flex schedules, commuter benefits, paid parking, and free food all have to be collectively bargained for. The same goes with extra money or extra PTO. Although the writer is a department head, I doubt that they are involved in union contract negotiations. (If they are, then all of this can be on the table.)

    But the problem that the LW may be facing is that if these are unionized employees, the union may ultimately want all employees to be treated exactly the same. Something my union has been pushing for. (I hate to say it, but I think my union would prefer everybody in the office over half the staff working hybrid office/remote. It’s hard when less than half of the members have remote-compatible jobs.)

  19. Lacey*

    This is a great post. A former coworker of mine just had a major perk taken away from her because one person complained. She’s a stellar employee, fixes tons of problems, always willing to do more than her fair share and the perk actually makes it possible for the company to offer more to their customers.

    The perk is also the only thing that has kept her at this job until now. But short sightedly, they’ve removed it.

        1. Lacey*

          I don’t want to get specific, because she does still work there & one day I might still need my old manager as a reference.

          But, it’s not something that negatively impacts anyone else at the office – or that even could negatively impact them (like dog allergies might).

  20. Troublemaker*

    Surely the relevant criteria for the state is whether the employee resides within the state, not whether the employee is physically within the office while performing job duties? But I know that many state governments do not respect employees.

    1. Hello Sweetie*

      If they have to handle physical records to do the job, those records are most certainly not in their homes or coffee shops. They aren’t keeping stock at their homes to print off certified copies of vital records, KWIM?

    2. Governmint Condition*

      We have out-of state employees working hybrid schedules, so my state does permit out-of-state remote work.

  21. Llama Llama*

    I work in accounting. The first week of the month, there is no way I can take off because of stuff that only can be done at this time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday. I hate working those days, but it won’t make me feel any better if everyone in my office had to work those days too.

    1. SarahKay*

      So much this. I’m in the UK, but working for a US-owned corporation, and the way my company is set up I’m usually doing month end close on all the Monday bank holidays. Out of 100-ish people based at my site I am the only person who has to work on the bank holidays. But it’s never occurred to me to think it’s unfair, because I chose that job; I knew the trade-offs and accepted them. And making other people work it too, just in the name of ‘fairness’? Oh hell no.

  22. Sara without an H*

    Do not, do not, DO NOT suspend an established benefit just because some disgruntled employee thinks that “fair” means “everybody is the same.” You will not make that person happier (they’re constitutionally incapable of it) and you’ll piss off the rest of your team. (I’ve seen this happen in libraries, which have an exaggerated view of the virtues of “fairness.” It didn’t end well.)

    I realize that you work in government, so you’re probably limited for what you can do for your in-house Llama Registry team. Relaxation of the dress code and flexible scheduling are the most likely measures that are in your control as manager and would undoubtedly be popular with the team. You might check with your administrators and some peer managers and ask for suggestions. But see if you can come up with something that would be received as acknowledgement of their contributions.

  23. L.H. Puttgrass*

    “It’s not fair!” is a six-year old’s argument, and if that’s all someone can say it deserves the Princess Bride response: “Who said life is fair? Where is that written?”

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

      There is always a person who thinks “fair” means equal across the board — like a kid who counts everyone else’s number of M&M’s to make sure someone else’s bag didn’t come with one more than they got. It would be one thing if some of the Registry Services division were allowed WFH and others in the same division weren’t, but to demand a different division with different job functions have the same schedule is pretty childish.

    2. SarahKay*

      There’s also the other Princess Bride response, which is used by a friend of mine when his small daughter complains “It’s not fair!” (and which sprang to mind when I read OP’s letter): “You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means”.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        That also works well!

        There’s another Princess Bride line that would seem to fit—but if my manager told me that life is pain and anyone who says differently is selling something, I’d probably start looking for another job. :)

  24. Delta Delta*

    I think one thing we’re seeing is that some people enjoy working on-site and some people enjoy working from home. Both are totally valid feelings. But if someone who prefers working from home has a job they can’t do at home, they either need to deal with the fact they have to go to the office or find different work, and vice versa. But for heaven’s sakes, don’t take away a perk from a different team because one person finds the situation unfair.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, this. I’m actually pretty happy with hybrid. I get to see my coworkers about once a week, and I get my work done more efficiently the rest of the time. My job doesn’t require any synchronous collaboration and only very little asynchronous, so there’s no directly job-related reason for me to go to the office. When I go it’s for in-person meetings and to socialize/network with my coworkers. I have my manager’s approval to take up to 90-minute lunches (unpaid) and 2 up to 30-minute coffee breaks with coworkers when I go to the office, because that’s how much she values networking and socializing for community building purposes (and my grandboss and great-grandboss do as well). When I WFH, my lunch breaks are rarely longer than 45 minutes, most of which are for walking outdoors, especially this time of year, to deal with my SAD, and I tend to spend my coffee breaks reading AAM, with a coffee cup by my side.

  25. Triplestep*

    My work involves office planning and design – I’ve done it for decades and I am now doing it for a large global company. So in my social news feeds I see new links every day to articles about how companies are finding it hard to bring employees back into offices. Having consumed A LOT about this topic I can tell you: No one has offered a compelling reason to be back in the office, which is why staff does not want to come back in. “Because we say so” is not a compelling reason.

    For at least a decade before the pandemic, research showed that people can be as productive – often more productive – at home. It also showed more longevity on jobs and job satisfaction if WFH was offered. The days of offering this as a “reward” are over. People are figuring out that “come back because we say so” means “come back because we don’t trust you” even after they have proven their trustworthiness, loyalty and productivity during the height of the pandemic. And those companies are going to pay the steep price for maintaining this attitude. I predict this is the next wave of articles I’ll be seeing in my news feeds.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I’m an attorney, and while I generally have a heavy courtroom practice, I (and many others) have become very adept at remote court hearings. They have significant advantages at times. But there are still dinosaur lawyers and judges who can’t conceptualize of doing anything other than the old ways.

      I recently had a hearing involving 4 parties (so, 4 parties, 4 lawyers). We started the hearing online and ran out of time. We were ordered to appear in person the next time. Well. One lawyer just forgot, and showed up online, and so did his client. One lawyer was in person, but her client did not appear (for legitimate reasons), so there’s no reason she needed to be there. I appeared in person, by my client happened to be in federal prison, so he was remote. Four of the five witnesses appeared remotely, also for legitimate reasons. The end result was that those of us who were there were without clients, and the one in-person witness could easily have appeared remotely but thought he needed to be in person. We ended up with the big in-court screens going, and 3 people on individual laptops in the same room so when it was our turn(s) to question witnesses we were visible. It was a ridiculous show, and all because we have a dusty old judge who thought we all had to be there. tldr (too late I know) – there aren’t always reasons to be somewhere in person, and forcing it on some but not others can become an unworkable, unwieldy mess.

    2. Carlee*

      The people who want to be fully remote should get jobs that are fully remote and stop complaining.

      There’s been a major realignment in how people work and *adjusting* to it (rather than moaning about it) is a much better solution.

      FWIW, I loathed working from home (which my company still gives me the option to do) but most folks (including myself) work from the office full-time… the big incentive to return was free on-site childcare. Now THAT is a “perk” that results in people happily returning to work (aka I save $3600/month, not paying for off-site childcare for two kids).

      1. Esmeralda*

        Many (not all) jobs could be remote or hybrid if thought were put into how to do it.

        My sister is a clerk for a federal court. She is 100% remote (ADA accommodation). It wasn’t easy to set this up, but turns out there’s software and hardware etc that makes her work at home secure. She can’t do it anywhere but at home. But she doesn’t have to be at the court. She is still their best employee.

        You’d think this would be an example of a job that can’t be remote at all, but in fact in can be fully remote.

        My own job in higher ed is now hybrid. I performed that same job completely work from home at an exceptionally high level for almost 2 years. We have lost employees who are not happy at being back in person, when we were demonstrably excellent completely remote. (It was a fight to get even hybrid schedules.) We are having a hard time replacing them, because people can make more money, and work remotely, doing similar work outside of higher ed.

        I don’t see why people should not at least ask for remote work for themselves. And if it’s possible for the work to be done remotely at least part of the time, employers would be smart to allow it.

        Saying, quitcher bellyachin and find a remote job if you don’t like it — well, that’s a pretty narrow view of the situation.

        If you’re an EMT, well, yeah. If you’re a govt bean counter, maybe not.

      2. Triplestep*

        My point is that people who want jobs that are fully remote WILL FIND find jobs that are fully remote, because those are more plentiful now than they were pre-pandemic. If their current companies (which were kept afloat by having them work from home after telling them their jobs could not be done remotely) don’t start demanding they return to the office for no good reason, those companies will be spending a lot of money on hiring. Plus they will be competing against companies who ARE offering more remote jobs.

  26. Free Meerkats*

    I’m in government (local, not state level) and we returned to the office not because it was necessary to do our jobs, but because of ‘optics’. There were a couple of citizens who decided their purpose in life was to make sure that no tax dollars were wasted by allowing those city workers to laze around the house instead of working. Now that we’re all back in the office, they’ve found other ‘waste’ to complain about. Our groups’ manager and superintendent told us that he order came down from the Mayor’s office that everyone had to be back in the office while acknowledging that the groups whose work could be done remotely were effective during the WFH time.

    And as far as the ways to improve the lives of the people who can’t WFH, the only ones even a Director level person in government has a chance of implementing would be the relaxed dress code and maybe flex schedule. I can only imagine the uproar from the no tax waste people if it came out that the city was giving us food!

  27. doreen*

    I do not disagree with Alison’s suggestions but do want to point out that the LW is a department head at a state government agency. Which unfortunately means that extra days off , flex schedules , relaxed dress codes, paid parking and agency subsidized breakfasts are not likely within their control. They may not even be something the agency head could control – when I worked for a state agency , the agency head could have relaxed the dress code or allowed flex schedules but not the breakfasts or extra time off or paid parking. As a manager , I couldn’t even allow my staff to have flexible schedules because someone far above me decided that the only flexibility allowed for most non-field staff was that they could have a set schedule with a starting time between 7 am and 9 am.

    I would suggest that LW show appreciation in whatever official way is possible. I wrote commendations for the on-site staff who ended up taking on extra work because that was really all I could do.

  28. Government Employee*

    I mean no disrespect to Alison, but as a government employee, I know almost everything she lists here would be flatly illegal in my agency. Public and private sector are very different environments, and I think it might be beneficial to get an expert in government jobs to help answer questions like this.

    1. ?*

      Yeah, it’s a good generic answer for people who work in the private sector and have a similar issue, but it’s not actually helpful for OP. In general I wish answers about government/academia/healthcare/education/manufacturing/anything that’s not a corporate job had a little more specificity and nuance to them. Especially regarding remote work, many fields just don’t work the way a lot of AAM posts and commenters seem to think they should.

  29. CatCat*

    A lot of the suggestions don’t seem realistic in government. “Getting creative” has little applicability, in my experience. Legislation and regulations dictate so much. Even more complicated if collective bargaining is involved. (It is certainly worth looking in detail at bargaining agreements and laws though and see what’s in there if the agency hasn’t examined that stuff in a while to see where there may be some room for more flexibility.)

  30. BRR*

    As someone who recently had their number of WFH days drastically reduced because other people couldn’t WFH and “it wasn’t fair,” I will say to only take away Farm Services’ WFH days if you want to kill morale and possibly have massive turnover. I can’t remember if it was a response to a letter or in an open thread, but someone said fairness is making sure each person is best equipped to do their job.

    I think in general when it comes to coworkers having something that you don’t, you should be happy for them instead of trying to tear them down.

    1. Elia*

      Yeah, if my WFH days were reduced or eliminated, I’d quit my job. They’re pretty much what allows me to function there, since it’s a high intensity environment and I was teetering on the edge of burnout in early 2020. WFH has been a retention tool for me!

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        If I was required to start coming to an office my resume would be flying into a ton of mailboxes. Working in-office puts me and my household at greatly increased risk of Covid, and one of my roomies is immune compromised. Their “fairness” would risk someone’s life.

    2. Another happy they are not a manager*

      As someone who also works in the public sector, having inconsistent hybrid and WFH policies, is an equity and morale issue. For the people whom the LW’s unit leadership deems essential to be in the office, having a commute, dealing with the general public at their worst, and dealing with in person office politics is hurting their morale. It’s probably better for overall morale to take another look at the WFH policy and its effect on declining employee morale and staff climate.

      Having the WFH people in office more allows for more cross training on both ends, assuming that the job titles and duties are similar. The WFH people could learn from the in office people and vice versa. It’s good for having backup in event of people being out due to illness, vacation, or having to cover positions for longer periods of time.

      My workplace is facing a similar problem because of staffing issues. Multiple units are concerned that they don’t have enough staff to stay open and the people who could help out as backup are already strained and burnt out. The solution would be to start cross training others, including salaried staff largely working remotely.

      1. allathian*

        It’s not inconsistent because the jobs are different. Sure, some things can be cross-trained for, and I’m fortunate that I work in Finland, where a summer vacation of up to 5 weeks is completely normal. Sure, work slows down in the summer, but it doesn’t stop completely. But long vacations and long parental leaves mean that employees have to be cross-trained.

        That said, I’m not sure it’d be reasonable to expect that people who work in, say, comms, are cross-trained for working in the registry office. At my governmental agency, our archives are exclusively electronic. Someone has to check the paper mail that does come in, scan it, and put it in the locked bin to be securely shredded. But our registry office has 5 employees, so they can take turns doing that. During the lockdown, each of them had one day at the office and the rest WFH each week.

  31. Dinwar*

    This is where the concepts of “equal” and “equitable” come into play.

    “Equal” means everyone has the same thing. Everyone comes into the office–whether it’s necessary or not. Everyone has to work 8-5–whether it makes sense or not. Giving everyone on the team free meals when meetings occur, regardless of whether they are in the office or not, is equal.

    “Equitable” means an attempt is made to make things fair. This means NOT treating everyone equally. If someone is in a wheelchair you put in ramps. If someone is having a major surgery you give them extra time off. If someone lives 50 miles from the office and the work can be done remotely, you let them work remotely.

    In terms of work, you should be looking at what’s equitable. If the jobs can be done remotely and people want to work remotely (not everyone does), let them work remotely. For folks who need to come into the office, maybe give them some extra perks to make up for the fact that they need to commute–even a small gesture, like biscuits on Fridays, can mean a lot.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, and that’s all very well for the private sector. But unfortunately the public sector has different rules, especially in the US. In general, I support unions and workers’ rights, but unions tend to look at things from an equal rather than equitable viewpoint, which is unfortunate to say the least. And small perks like biscuits on Fridays are probably out of the question in that environment.

  32. JustAClarifier*

    A major pet peeve of mine is when leadership hear feedback from one person and sincerely contemplate changing everything based on that one piece of feedback. This is why data matters – instead of honing in on this one piece of negativity, the letter writer should look at the context of the rest of the feedback. It reminds me of a former boss I had that rolled out a new highlights reporting method and then did a poll on it. After the poll, he told me that he was going to remove the new method and go back to the old method (which took 10x as long and was clunky, hand-coded in the early 00s.) I said, “Why are you going to remove the new method?” and he said, “We had negative feedback.” I asked for the data, reviewed it, and visualized it for him. There were three people out of the entire organization that didn’t like the new method. Upon further digging into the survey data, they revealed that it took them over 30 minutes to enter their information into the new method because they were not very tech literate. We trained them and boom, no issues. My boss was going to revert everyone on the feedback of three people until he learned he needed to take that feedback in context.

    Allison’s response is perfect here, and I’d really, really like to encourage others – leaders AND individual contributors – to make sure that you think critically and consider the context of the feedback along with bias.

    1. irene adler*

      If the independent survey service isn’t digging into the data they provide (i.e., quantitating it), then maybe it’s time to ask them to do this when they provide their results. Or find a survey service that does.
      Nebulous survey results help no one. And can result in some very bad decision-making.

    2. Dinwar*

      “A major pet peeve of mine is when leadership hear feedback from one person and sincerely contemplate changing everything based on that one piece of feedback.”

      From a leadership standpoint it makes sense, however. Usually things need to build up to the point where someone is rude enough to make a statement. Not that I would consider someone voicing an opinion as rude; rather, we live in a society that doesn’t like lower-ranking people making waves, so the speaker feels rude speaking up. What this means is that if one person complains, most of the time we can assume there were ten people who agreed but didn’t speak up.

      The obvious failure mode for this is the person who realizes that by complaining they can exercise outsized control over the organization. And reasonable steps should be made to prevent that.

      As for data, where are you going to get it? Again, most people won’t speak up–even in an anonymous survey (mostly because such things don’t exist; the boss can ALWAYS identify who you are). The obvious failure mode is simply refusing to respond, or if responses are mandatory to give the answer you think will keep the boss off your back so you can work.

      At the end of the day there’s no perfect way to make these calls. At best you do your best, from a position of sincere desire to facilitate the work of everyone, and accept that part of being “leadership” is taking blame when things don’t go the way the staff want them to. (And for the love of all gods known and unknown don’t read the company chat logs, and if you do don’t get offended by people griping!!)

      1. JustAClarifier*

        I think this is where context helps, yes? Because in this case, the leader knows it was one person and they complained that it isn’t fair. If one person out of many have problems, that does not justify an entire course correction because that one person had the “courage” to speak out about this. If this organization – and mine – had done a survey and had the data, fixating on the very few and changing course for those reasons is not the right approach. As a leader myself, when I encounter this kind of scenario, that is my cue for follow-up – investigating the survey data; running scenarios or possibly follow-up calls for information and feedback on this topic to facilitate trust and an open communication flow. If people are afraid to speak up about something, that is a problem in and of itself with the culture of that organization or of that leader.

  33. Keymaster of Gozer*

    While I’m in the UK and technically we’re not government (although we’re taxpayer funded and we used to be a government agency) I think I can input on this:

    We too, have a divisive split between those who can work from home and the ones who really HAVE to be on site and it’s to this day a frequent cause of fights on our employee forum (which I have the joy of moderating sometimes).

    We cannot do anything about it, because we can’t implement benefits without going via the budget board (UK government red tape ahoy) or the unions (we have 3). So we’re pretty much down to trying to keep the peace without any means of really doing it.

    This fight often occurs when the people working from home/office complain about something they need and the on site staff fire back that we don’t know what ‘real work’ is…it gets really ugly.

    What stops the fights? Each and every time a senior person in management steps in to say ‘this is the way things are and are not going to change’. It can come across as very schoolteacher telling off a unruly class but…it does work.

    (For a few months then we go through it all over again)

    SOme things you cannot solve. Hurt feelings are one of them.

  34. Josephine*

    Alison’s advice is great for the private sector, but having worked in government since 2004 I can say that it will not work for government. You cannot offer some government workers things like extra days off period, and certainly not some and not others. And salary bands means you can’t offer money to some either. The sad thing about government is that when someone complains about something that others are getting, often the result is that everyone loses out. At one point I trained a group of new government employees who were going to do a very specialized job, so I had them in a classroom setting for several weeks before they went off to their permanent jobs. One Friday afternoon after a long week of in-class training, I let them go at 3pm instead of the typical 4:30. And I warned them not to say anything to anyone about getting to leave 1-1/2 hours early. I told them that in government, if you see that someone is getting something and you don’t think it’s fair that you aren’t getting it too, do not complain. Because the only result will be that everyone loses out. Sad, but so, so true.

  35. Qwerty*

    If this had been a scenario where multiple people were complaining, I’d check in on relations between remote vs in-office staff. Are the remote staff being respectful of those who have to work on site?

    There has been a lot of complaining by remote folks about their in-office days, with some people acting as if it is beneath them or a massive inconvenience being inflicted on them, when their jobs were on-site pre-pandemic. This stirs up a lot of resentment in folks who have completely in-office jobs, especially the ones who never got to go remote even during lockdown.

    The way to handle it would be to keep your ear open and discretely talk to offenders. Usually people knock it off it with a gentle reminder. A few become more obnoxious – but I’m guessing these people are like that about other topics too.

    But considering doing away with a perk because one person complained that he wishes he had it? Nope, too drastic of a response.

    1. Zap R.*

      “There has been a lot of complaining by remote folks about their in-office days, with some people acting as if it is beneath them or a massive inconvenience being inflicted on them, when their jobs were on-site pre-pandemic. This stirs up a lot of resentment in folks who have completely in-office jobs, especially the ones who never got to go remote even during lockdown.”

      Yup. I don’t know why people who come in for five hours every Tuesday think I want to hear about how tough that is.

  36. fish*

    One thing that jumped out to me, that no one else has mentioned yet:

    “Our Registry Services have limited online capabilities to avoid llama identity theft, so during lockdown customers could mail in applications, drop them in a dropbox, or use a certified online service that charged extra but used special identification software to ensure safety and avoid identity theft.”

    So…you did have a way to make Registry Services online. Can you not continue that in some way? Customers will appreciate it too.

    1. Qwerty*

      I took that to mean that workers were still on-site, but just the public wasn’t coming in. It’s how the government buildings near me operated – all of the official systems were not on the internet for security reasons. So a request/application might be submitted online, but the work done by the employee still needed to happen at the office. Kinda like how you can do everything online for a pharmacy but the pharmacist has to actually be on site to fulfill the orders.

      Even if that wasn’t the case, to implement the 50% remote option (to meet this employees “every gets the same thing” request), the majority of requests would need to be coming in from the online portal. And since it is a coverage based position that works with the public, they’d need a large enough staff to give full time coverage while having half the staff remote.

    2. doreen*

      If I am understanding this correctly , the fee for the “certified online service that charged extra” was paid for by the customer and may not have increased the Registry Services online capabilities. For example, if I want to order a birth certificate , I can order from the Bureau of vital Records in person ( by appointment) or by mail . Either way requires photocopies of ID. Or I can order on-line through a third party vendor, which will verify my identity using documents that I upload – but that method is more expensive than the other two.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      When you serve the public you have to serve the people who don’t have smart phones, computers, and high speed internet at home. Or who don’t know how to use them. It’s an office where customers come to desks.

      Also the mail and drop box options means someone is in the office collecting them and either working on them in the office or using the mail or a delivery system to get them to the people woring from home which may not be secure or feasible.

      1. fish*

        True! But I assume some people will want online services, even at a higher cost, which could free up Registry staff to work elsewhere at least sometimes. And, some people can’t come to desks during the workday! So both types of service are equitable.

        But as Qwerty notes above, they may still need to be onsite to do the work, no matter where requests come from.

        I just hate to see places that successfully innovated during the pandemic walking that back because they want to get back to the old ways.

        1. Keeping My Expectations Low*

          My spouse works for federal government with personal data and is WFH — work-issued computer, accessed through a VPN, and tight IT constraints. This was happening even pre covid. Not everyone is 100% remote. Maybe a schedule where there are a certain number of customer-facing days in office and a certain number of processing application days remote (3/2).

    4. Erin*

      I thought this might be part of it too. My agency went completely virtual for months. It was very inconvenient due to having to move large amounts of physical files to and from workers’ homes. But it was implemented. The agency then tried to come back when the pandemic had subsided somewhat and say that type of work wasn’t portable and wouldn’t be eligible for occasional telework in the future– frustrating for people, and the union eventually bargained them into submission. Maybe the front facing workers are wondering why there’s no longer any flexibility for them in dealing with the public all day when there appear to have been some options devised during the worst of COVID.

  37. Cyndi*

    Okay, but when I had a job in the early (pre-vax) Covid era where leads/managers and permanent employees could WFH but contractors (who did the same job as perms) had to work on site, that was actually nonsense, right? They told us it was to make training/onboarding easier, but the leads went WFH a few weeks after I started and almost never answered emails, so we pretty much trained each other and hoped for the best.

  38. KatEnigma*

    In a government job, LW has no way to give them extra money or extra sick days or probably even lunch unless LW pays out of pocket, though…

  39. MissMeghan*

    I also appreciate the difficulty in applying some of the suggestions in a government office, but I wonder if there are ways to prioritize the physical environment for the people who are there all the time vs. half-time? I’m thinking about offices vs. cubicles, who has to share desks, who has the ability to have more privacy at the office, etc. Those might be additional ways too to make life a little easier for the 100% in person folks, if in fact there are any global issues that need to be addressed and it’s not just one person unhappy in their current role.

  40. Velociraptor Attack*

    OP mentions that “in-office staff help counter customers and phone calls”. How much lifting is Registry Services doing for Farm Services when they’re working from home? Is it possible to set up a system to at least forward those phone calls?

    If there’s a decent amount of in person traffic, it might make sense to change up the Farm Services schedule a bit. Right now it seems like they are all 2 weeks in, 2 weeks WFH, maybe it needs to be split so at any given point half of them are working from home and half are in the office. That might lessen the load on Registry Services and lower some of the resentment without taking away a perk for Farm Services.

    1. Samwise*

      Only if farm services workers can actually do the registry services work. Or where doing the registry work does not create a time crunch for farm services workers.

      We had a couple months without a receptionist/admin. Everyone in the office is capable of doing the basic admin/reception tasks. So we covered the most important tasks. It added to everyone’s workday, because I can’t be writing my TPS reports when I’m on the phone. So I’m working on those reports at home. They have to get done.

      I am deeply deeply appreciative of our new and capable admin. Who does the “registry services” while the rest of us do the “farm services” that won’t get done if we’re also doing “registry services”.

  41. Nick*

    Alison really knocked this one out of the park. Outstanding advice and I will take it under advisement for myself.

    1. Fed for Life*

      Actually I think this one is a strike. Government jobs don’t allow for many of the solutions Alison offered unfortunately.

  42. Megan*

    I like Allison’s suggestion of finding other benefits for the on-site staff. I think the problem OP is likely to run into is government jobs are highly controlled in terms of budget and what benefits they are allowed to offer to whom and in terms of what they can or cannot spend money on. I’m guessing red tape rules on benefits and spending might greatly limit what additional perks they’re allowed to offer the in-person staff.

  43. Zap R.*

    All I know is that my job got way more difficult and my pay stayed exactly the same. I’m glad people are enjoying WFH but for those of us who can’t, things are rough out here.

    1. anon24*

      Sure, but that doesn’t mean I feel that everyone should lose WFH privileges. I worked emergency healthcare throughout the pandemic up until a few months ago. Obviously there’s no way any part of my job could be completed from home, and I was exposed to covid on a daily basis, mistreated, and even assaulted. It was rough and I struggled with my mental health for a time. That doesn’t mean whenever I talked to my friends and family who got to WFH I didn’t tell them how happy I was for them that they had a system that worked well for them and that I genuinely hoped their employers would allow it to be a permanent change, while also admitting that I was just a tad jealous. Besides, the more people staying home meant less traffic on my commute :) Personally I think anyone and everyone who can possibly WFH should get that privilege and the rest of us need to be ok with that.

      1. Zap R.*

        Where did I say that everyone should lose their WFH privileges? Wanting my life to suck less doesn’t mean I want other people’s lives to suck more.

    2. Observer*


      I get it, but what is the relevance to the OP? If the OP had asked if the Registry staff were just a bunch of whiny babies for not liking that they have to come into the office, your response would be on target. But otherwise, all this comes off as is beating people over the head with your struggles.

      I say this as someone who needs to come into the office even though I don’t really think it’s adding much value.

      1. Zap R.*

        All I said was that WFH has made life harder for in-office employees and we haven’t been compensated for our increased labour, which Alison even pointed out in her response.

        The person complaining in OP’s letter sounds like they’re being a jerk but it’s not a stretch to think other people at the company might be feeling frustrated.

        And you know what? Maybe this site could do with more low-level employees beating people over the head with our struggles. There are certain types of jobs that are overrepresented amongst the commentariat and sometimes pink-collar workers/blue-collar workers/service industry workers/people without Masters degrees need to be able to have the floor for a minute.

        1. Don't Forget to Mute The Zoom*

          Preach! As usual, this is an echo chamber of people who have had the benefit of working from home and do not want to lose that benefit. It doesn’t matter than the moral of those left to deal with the public feel used and poorly compensated. They will write 1,000,000 comments just to share over and over again how on-site people just need to get over their frustration. It is EXHAUSTING.

          1. Observer*

            Preach! As usual, this is an echo chamber of people who have had the benefit of working from home and do not want to lose that benefit.

            No. A lot of the people calling this out are not remote. I happen to be one of them.

        2. Colette*

          WFH made life harder for some in-office employees, but by no means all – and there’s no indication that it’s relevant in this situation.

          (And given that we are still in a pandemic, some people working from home makes everyone safer, including those who have to go in to work.)

          1. Spiritually Out Of Office*

            Just to clarify: we are still in a pandemic so those that have been forced to report in person for the last two years and increase their exposure just need to shut up and keep doing it, right?

        3. Sylvan*

          And you know what? Maybe this site could do with more low-level employees beating people over the head with our struggles. There are certain types of jobs that are overrepresented amongst the commentariat and sometimes pink-collar workers/blue-collar workers/service industry workers/people without Masters degrees need to be able to have the floor for a minute.

          Can’t +1 enough.

          1. Zap R.*

            Keep WFH in place but have a chat with the on-site workers about challenges they’re facing? Offer some sort of perk or benefit to the on-site staff? Pretty much everything Alison mentioned.

  44. SometimesCharlotte*

    Do they really have to be customer facing 100% of the time every day? Do they have non-customer facing tasks they complete regularly? Is it possible that they could save up those tasks to do them from home one day per week?

    1. Observer*

      What the OP describes can’t be done at home at all- it’s not just the customer facing stuff. The documents that they need to process can’t be taken home.

  45. Apt Nickname*

    This is something I was discussing with my children lately- the concept of fair vs. equal, and how equal isn’t always fair. If my 9-yr old can understand that, surely an adult can.

  46. Former Retail Lifer*

    I work in property management. I can do an occasional work-from-home day, but the majority of my job needs to be done in person. There are some roles at our corporate office that became remote during the pandemic and have stayed that way. There’s no need to force those people back into the office because *I* can’t work from home. That’s the nature of my job, and if I don’t like it, I can look for a remote job.

  47. Khatul Madame*

    Fair does not mean equal!
    Given the limitations of a state government office with regard to additional pay or benefits like parking and food, I would… do nothing. If the complaining person leaves, they lose one person. If they take away remote work from the other group, they’ll lose a bunch of people.

  48. Riot Grrrl*

    Part of the recommended solution is to do nice things for onsite people to sort of mitigate the (necessary) unequal treatment.

    But does anybody else remember the letter from the person whose onsite staff was treated to extra perks like (if I recall correctly) lunches and massages–and offsite people were invited to come in that day if they wanted said perks? I remember there being a ton of hostility leveled at the idea that onsite people would get perks of any kind. Am I remembering that right?

    1. Samwise*

      yes. But similarly — just because some people are mad that other people get a perk, doesn’t mean the perk should go away.

  49. not a player*

    I spent 15 years in my stage agency job getting to where my work isn’t butt-in-seat mandatory, mostly due to health issues and an aversion to driving in snowy/icy conditions. If that changed because of people who knowingly took jobs that do require butt-in-seat, I’d be quiet rage-quitting while I sorted out an exit strategy. There would also be complaints up the food chain about the unfairness of having to work to requirements that had nothing to do with my job, and any other rules lawyering I could manage.

  50. Brett*

    One thing about that setup… the farm services staff do counter work and respond to phone calls when they are in office.

    Presumably this work, if not done by farm services staff, is done by registry services staff. In other words, farm services is augmenting registry services when they are in office.

    This would translate into there being less work for registry services if more farm services staff are required to be in office. Is it possible that this is less about “fairness” and more about workload for the registry services staff?
    Is this a sign that registry services is understaffed and what you really need is more people in office to do in-office work? If so, then you really need to hire more people for registry services (if possible) rather than make your remote people come into the office more.

    1. Colette*

      Not necessarily – since farm services are in for 2 weeks and out for 2 weeks, presumably there is someone in the office every day and they trade off who is in and who is out.

  51. nnn*

    Two other things to think about:

    1. Could there be a pathway for promotion or transfer from Registry Services to Farm Services? So people start out doing their time on the front lines, and then as they gain skill and experience have opportunities to move to the back office and work from home sometimes?

    2. Would there be a customer service argument and/or a financial argument for making Registry Services more online? I know it’s currently not secure, but there are always security innovations, so maybe you could head in that direction in the longer term?

    Obviously I can’t tell through the internet how applicable either of these things would be since we’re using a fictitious metaphor to talk about something I’m likely unfamiliar with anyway, but, in general, morale would be improved with a sense that everyone will have more opportunities to work from home in the future, rather than a sense that they’ll have to come into the office forever and ever.

    1. doreen*

      It may not be possible to make Registry Services online, even if it’s made more secure. The LW talks about Registry Services selling copies of birth , marriage and death records and there might be a lot of things they can do remotely. They can probably answer phones remotely and maybe look up the records remotely – but printing the certificates most likely requires security paper. The agency is unlikely to give each employee a supply to take home (for security reasons) and even if they went along with that, are they going to give each employee a postage meter as well? This wouldn’t just apply to vital records- it would also apply to motor vehicles and any other agency that issues licenses or certificates or anything else not printed on plain paper.

      1. UDR*

        There were agencies in my state who did exactly that, the security paper is tracked and has unique barcodes which are scanned in to an online database for each certificate issued.

    2. Observer*

      Neither suggestion is in the power of the OP. And, given what the OP describes, getting any of this on line is going to be a fairly costly and complicated endeavor.

  52. Fikly*

    Fair is not the same thing as equal.

    If it was, then everyone would be allowed to park in handicapped parking spaces. But then there would be no point to them.

    1. Spiritually Out Of Office*

      That’s a poor comparison. The ability to work from home is not an accommodation but a benefit. Those that are WFH are not fundamentally more in need than those who cannot.

  53. Vice President of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    Maybe encourage Registry Services team members to apply for Farm Services vacancies as they arise.

    Otherwise, the only way to make this “fair” — as the complainer defines it — would be to have everyone rotate between the teams: two weeks in office with Registry Services, two weeks remote with Farm Services. (I don’t see this working well.)

  54. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Here’s something I don’t see elsewhere in the chat yet. Employees who partially work from home are assigned a desk partner to share one. Employees who work on site get assigned desks– and they’re the primp ones. Maybe slightly newer/larger spaces, or away from the copier, or near a window.

  55. Spicy Tuna*

    Years ago, the company I worked for was consolidating hundreds of local offices into several regional offices. However, certain client-focused roles were going to stay local due to the need to handle certain client issues in person. Those employees in non-client focused roles were given ample time and generous relocation services to facilitate their move to the regional office if they wanted to keep their jobs.

    I worked in a client-facing role so I was staying in the local office along with a handful of other folks (maybe 15% of the office). I was the only person in the office who was single and child-free. I was badgered on a daily basis by many of my co-workers who had to move to keep their jobs. They thought it was unfair that I got to stay while they had to sort out relocation of their families and take their kids out of school, etc, etc. Meanwhile, their roles were completely different than my job! They wouldn’t have been able to just pick up my work without significant training (and vice versa).

    Decisions are made for business reasons that are not always fair to everyone.

  56. Drama Llama Llama Ding Dong*

    Is there any way to rotate staff between the two departments? Maybe 2 weeks in the client-facing field, 2 weeks on-site in the back-end department, and 2 weeks remote in the back-end? Side bonus would be more people cross-trained!

  57. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    Can you go back to the person complaining and ask whether they should cut that person’s pay to be “fair” to the lower-paid staff? You’re a state government agency, not an anarcho-syndicalist collective.

    1. NeedRain47*

      Right? I’m concerned that the OP is listening to someone who’s focused on making other peoples’ lives worse instead of making their own better.

  58. Silly Janet*

    I would love to see an update from the writer that Alison linked to about how they were the only one who worked in the office and they ended up doing everyone else’s jobs.

  59. Becca*

    I’m very happy for people who are able to work remote and angry for people who have been forced to come in before it’s safe for them, but as someone who was in person for the first year of COVID (and not after that because I stopped working for a bit to focus on going back to school, may be in person again soon) I felt very seen by this.

    1. Don't Forget to Mute The Zoom*

      You have friends here who feel the same. This comment section is overwhelmingly made up of people determined not to lose what is clearly a huge benefit (WFH) by crapping on people who are forced to be in person. It happens over and over and over again.

      Your work is important. Your contribution is important and you deserve to be recognized for putting yourself at risk when others got to stay safe at home. They may not like that, but I don’t like being called a whiny baby for feeling devalued.

  60. Veryanon*

    What about doing a rotation between the two groups, so that all employees are cross-trained on all the functions, and everyone has an opportunity to do remote work some of the time? I don’t know if there would be union or other job implications, but it’s worth exploring, anyway.

    1. Qwerty*

      Change everyone’s job because one person complained? I would quit so fast regardless of which team I was on. It would also likely reduce the Farm Services team from 50% to 25% WFH, so that team still loses a perk because another team wants it, which OP already knows will cause the Farm Services team to leave.

      Not to mention managing a situation where people are rotating between two unrelated teams sucks. A top performer on Team A might do terrible on Team B and now their performance evaluation is screwed. The managers of each team will then have to become co-managers and everybody gets two bosses or end up playing hot potato with accountability.

      There has been *one* complaint by an individual and no indication of a deeper problem. OP should work with that complainer, not uproot everyone else and mess with their careers.

  61. Marz*

    A lot of people are stating pretty flatly that this isn’t possible in government and I just want to push back a little – I worked for 9 years in county government and now I’m in a state government agency, and they absolutely can do some of this stuff. Not everything, not everywhere, not in every situation or state, obviously, but I hate to see so much (and I absolutely get that working in slow, staid government will do this to a person!) giving up of power and accepting what their agency does as inevitable and impossible to change. Everywhere I’ve been the Department Head has a fair amount of power over their areas of influence and if they are willing to defend/protect/justify/budget, they can do a lot. And some of them were ineffective and asked Legal or their boss and were told no, it’s impossible a lot, and I saw a lot of others were savvy and knew how to make change and talk to the right people and make things happen, so I just think it could really make a difference for this person or others to hear a lot of “it’s not possible”, when, in fact, it could be possible, if they make the effort and are smart about it. And we need an HR or COO or commissioners to approve some things, but that was absolutely possible, and a lot of things were possible without that. Also in most of the government agencies I’ve seen, there were union employees and a lot of non-union employees, so it might depend on the department, but some of these, and these things can be really really important, things are just about flexibility and come down to just being clear you are open to flexibility, that you aren’t going to nickel-and-dime them, and will have the backs of your employees.

    1. Fed for Life*

      There are some creative things that a good supervisor could make happen, but I don’t think that they could easily provide some of the things Alison suggested such as extra sick days, commuter benefits, paid parking, and free or subsidized lunch.

    2. H.Regalis*

      Yeah, although government tends to be a lot more rigid, it does vary.

      Where I am, our pay is determined by the comp plan, but there is a range within each pay band: it’s not a flat salary. We can’t offer extra PTO, but there are provisions for one-off bonuses. My current job is very pro-remote work, but other agencies aren’t and make their employees come in 2-3 days a week. However, the entire department (thousands of people)–basically a company within a company–received an email saying that dress codes have been officially relaxed, casual clothes are fine, and if you don’t like it, you can go pound sand. So there is some variation, but it’s very YMMV as to what is possible in government work. I’d recommend your applicable local state statutes to get a better idea of what is straight-up impossible vs. “I don’t want to do this so I’m going to tell you it’s impossible.”

    3. Governmint Condition*

      Could you be specific as to which of the items Alison listed you have seen implemented?

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I’d be interested in hearing that as well. I’ve asked my supervisors for a lot less than what Alison’s recommended here and been told it won’t be possible without legislative overhaul, so I’m interested in knowing what other government agencies have been able to make happen. It might be useful to refer to things like that the next time my coworkers and I want to ask for a change in our work situations.

  62. Coco*

    If you keep remote work in place for Farm Services, how high will your turnover be in Registration Services? And vice versa. Maybe you will lose only 10% of workers by keeping the remote work, and lose 50% by eliminating the remote work. Which position is harder to recruit for? Which position is most critical? These are things worth thinking about. I personally think you should keep the remote work. But if you are truly considering taking it away, you need to weigh the pros and cons. I suspect you will lose far more people if you take the remote work away.

    1. Observer*

      They would be worth thinking about if there were any evidence that this is actually a widespread problem AND that people are not just unhappy but that they would actually quit over this.

      Right now, all there is is one person whose whole complaint is “No one should have what I can’t have.” I suspect that in a reasonably healthy team with functional adults that’s not a widespread attitude.

  63. Risha*

    Life itself isn’t fair, and I’m assuming you work with adults, so there’s no need to take WFH away just because some people think it’s unfair. I always find it ridiculous when adults say something isn’t fair. They are free to look for another job if they don’t like that some people can work at their homes. I don’t think it’s fair that I don’t get every single holiday off like government workers get, but hey that’s life. I don’t understand why jobs take feedback from only a few disgruntled employees then make changes to everyone based off only a few people’s opinions (not saying you’re doing that) instead of telling the complainers to knock it off.

    I’m sure you don’t want to lose the staff in the WFH dept. I know I would quit my job in a heartbeat if they made me come in just because an adult in another dept thought my set up was unfair. Keep it the way it is, and tell the complaining people that they need to grow up (in a professional way of course). I’m not sure how government jobs work, but maybe you can offer other benefits to the in office staff that WFH won’t get.

  64. anon for this*

    I was really struck by this sentence: “While working from home, staff are able to handle all of the online services and database entry, while in-office staff help counter customers and phone calls.”

    Does this mean that while team A is working from home, team B is doing some of the tasks that are normally team A’s job when team A is in the office? If that’s the case, it’s really not fair and as someone who’s been on the receiving end of that, I can tell you that it might be really pissing people off/causing resentment, and rightfully so.

    Here’s my experience: I work for a state government agency and because of my particular job, I had to be in the office every single day. Most employees in my building could work from home. (Before COVID, WFH generally wasn’t done unless there was a reason it would be difficult for the person to be in the office that day.) When they started allowing the people who could WFH to be in the office if they wanted, it became expected that they would be in the office when their job required it. Most departments did. One department did not see any reason to change the convenient arrangement they had gotten used to, which was that I would do the part of their job that involves taking documents from people who come into the office in person. Besides people coming with paperwork, employees also sometimes come in and want to talk to someone from this other department to ask questions about important matters relating to their employment. But most days, not one of the over a dozen people in that department was here. So that also created a not great impression for employees who wanted to talk to someone in person only to find that this department didn’t think it was important to meet that need.

    Now, I’m not at all suggesting that they shouldn’t have been able to work from home a lot if 80-90% of their job could be done from home. But what they could have done was have employees take turns being the one in the office. They could have said that each employee in the department had to be in the office one day every so often. Another department had employees take turns like that. The reason I was so annoyed by the first department’s WFH policy was that myself and others were here every day, and yet this department couldn’t stand the relatively tiny inconvenience of being in the office for a very small portion of the time? And this arrangement only worked as long as other people who got paid less than them did extra. They still could have had a pretty great WFH arrangement that wasn’t contingent on less-privileged employees doing part of their job.

    So, obviously don’t get rid of WFH. That’s not fair, and it’s a bad business decision because people will probably leave. But maybe put a little more thought into the current arrangement. It’s not fair to give some employees extra perks that are contingent on increasing the burden of other employees. Is everyone in the WFH group on the same schedule? Can you split it so some of them are in the office each day? I’m guessing you might want there to be times when the whole team is in the office together. So you could say everyone has to be in the office half the time on a rotating schedule and also on a certain day every so often, and we’ll take turns as far as who has to be in an extra day because the all-team day is during their WFH week.

    It’s wrong and immature for someone to say that no one should be able to work from home because they can’t. But if some people are feeling a little resentful because the folks who do have that perk are being kind of thoughtless about it, that’s pretty understandable. Find other perks you can give them and ways you can allow flexibility for the people who can’t WFH. Also, I work for the government and my employer did give a significant one-time bonus (though no one ever gets bonuses) to all the employees who weren’t allowed to work from home over the past two years. That really made me feel seen because it acknowledged the huge discrepancy in what people who can WFH get vs those who can’t. Maybe you can’t do that. But you can do something to make those people feel seen.

    1. UDR*

      We had another department cut an in-person service that few people used because they felt it was a hassle and not worth having anyone in the office for, except they weren’t in the office for two years and our department only “closed our counters” for a few months. The people who did want to access that particular in-person service tend to be low income or elderly and to not have an internet connection at home. So I had elderly people making the trip all the way down to our building when they heard it was open again only to find that the department they wanted was still shut down, and I had to deliver the message over and over that the in person service would never be coming back on behalf of the other department. When I asked if that department had any suggestions on where the public should go if they needed to access the service and didn’t have internet I was told to tell people to go to the library- 9 months before the public libraries opened back up -_-

    2. El+l*

      “Does this mean that while team A is working from home, team B is doing some of the tasks that are normally team A’s job when team A is in the office? If that’s the case, it’s really not fair and as someone who’s been on the receiving end of that, I can tell you that it might be really pissing people off/causing resentment, and rightfully so.”

      Good point, worth checking for. This might be more of a transferring-workload issue rather than a where-you-work issue.

  65. UDR*

    I worked through the pandemic through in a very similar situation as this, and I can tell you some of the things that made/are still making in-person staff salty:

    We’re expected to answer the phones for the whole agency and many of the calls we received were from the public demanding that we answer their questions instead of transferring their calls because they have already left multiple messages with no response- while the other department who caused 80% of those calls crowed that working from home was going 100% smoothly with no complications and made it much easier to manage their calls

    Parking 10 minutes away so that I didn’t have to spend outrageous amounts on parking then walking past a mostly empty employee parking lot because I was still on the employee parking waitlist while most of the people with parking passes talked about how they were “never coming back” to the office (I suggested that maybe different departments could have so many reserved spaces in that case to free up parking for employees who were required to be always in person, but it would have made a lot of work for people who get to work from home so it wasn’t worth it to them)

    The switch in our agency from “if there is dangerous weather we will send messages telling staff to stay home that day” to “if there is dangerous weather we will send out messages telling people who can work from home they should work from home and the peasants can drive in a 70mph windstorm dodging flying garbage cans to sit in an empty building with no one coming in because who would be out in this?” – this is an ongoing issue because everyone in management got a work from home setup, so they no longer have any self-interest in making calls to close the building/shut early

    Hearing over and over again that we were an essential service and absolutely could not: work from home, flex our shifts, do anything to lessen the risk to ourselves and our families, stop serving people in person etc., while also being on meetings for every other damn agency that does the same work in our state including the state agency that governs us and hearing that they were all closed to the public

    Hearing the work from home people talk about how difficult it was to stay on track at home and that they were struggling to manage their phone calls on the one day a week they were required to be in because there were only two of them in the office (where before they would just send calls to voicemail when they were at home while our department dealt with their increasingly frustrated customers)

    Realizing that at the end of the day, we processed payments for our entire agency, so that was the real reason we couldn’t work from home, otherwise our government agency that spent most of the pandemic encouraging local businesses to send staff home even if they would be taking a financial hit were not willing themselves to take a financial hit, no matter the personal cost to us and our families. It’s not something that you can really bounce back from, mentally, and I haven’t forgotten even if things are more “normal” now

  66. voyager1*

    I think you have had one person speak up. You really don’t know if that is just one person who feels comfortable speaking up and their views are held by others.


    If this is just one jaded individual.

    I would talk to the team and see how others feel.

  67. Casta Fierce*

    Honestly wonder if that one complainer will just find something else to complain about if you did force everyone back to in-office. You might ruin things for your remote workers for nothing!

  68. HufferWare*

    Ask your in-person team what you could do to make in-person work better and leave the remote people out of it altogether. Obviously extra pay and PTO will be out of your hands as a government agency, but don’t approach it as “I know you all hate being here, but please don’t be mad.” There SHOULD be benefits to being in-person. Remote workers have sooooo many benefits being remote, that’s why people want it so much. So make it worthwhile to come into the office every day. Are your in-office staff still crammed together in veal pens? Let them spread out and have space. Relax dress codes, compensate for parking and commutes, bring in breakfast and lunch regularly, provide a stocked kitchen/break room, find a nearby gym that will get you membership discounts, find other perks that folks can take advantage of (laundry service, mobile car detailing, pet sitting and doggy daycare, child care). Let people be more flexible in their schedules to take kids to school or go to appointments without using PTO. A lot of people don’t mind going to the office because of the clear distinction of work vs non-work time. Make their in-office time as PERSONALLY productive as possible, the way a WFH employee can get housework done between calls or accept deliveries and service workers in without missing pay.

    1. Observer*

      This is a very good idea. Ask you in office staff what they want and what would help them and see what you can do, given the constraints of a government agency.

  69. Student*

    This kind of complaint, if it’s just sour grapes, will also never end by giving the sour person what they’ve asked for. The sour person mainly wants to complain, and will find something else to complain about as soon as they get what they “want” in one arena.

  70. Sylvan*

    LW, has anyone mentioned feeling the same way that this employee does? Because this may only be an issue to one person who has a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, while everyone else is content. Or this person could be voicing thoughts that others share. What you do next will depend on that, so it’s time to look for more information.

  71. Your employees will 100% leave*

    This sounds so much like my workplace, complete with the week on week off schedules which we did during lockdown. except in our case the staff who couldn’t work from home still had a week at home where they had no work to do.
    Now we are 100% back in the office. I asked if hybrid or flexible work was available, and was told it was not because it wouldn’t be fair to the staff who couldn’t (is it not unfair that all staff need to commute up to 15 hours a week because 1/3 of our team needs to be in the office? Hmm). Will be jumping ship the minute I find something better that does allow remote.

  72. Melonhead*

    “Think about things like flex schedules, commuter benefits, paid parking, relaxed dress codes, and free or subsidized lunch (or breakfast!).”

    I think these great suggestions are difficult to implement in government jobs.

  73. SofiaDeo*

    I don’t know where people get this “unfair” thing when it comes to *different jobs* and *different job requirements* just because they work for the same employer. I would probably try to gently point out to OP’s employee this very basic distinction, and ask if they were interested in obtaining the skills needed to do the different job. Hopefully my staffer would felt “heard”, and think about it less negatively moving forward. Especially if they had zero interest in doing the other job.

    Another point I haven’t seen/heard folk discussing….fewer people breathing your air in the building means less likely to catch something infectious. Until it’s culturally acceptable to *wear a mask when sick if you must be around others*, like certain other cultures around the world do, remote work is a bit of a health benefit for everyone IMO.

  74. Avril Ludgateaux*

    Hypothetically, if somebody in LW’s office demanded they get rid of health insurance because “I don’t use it, and I shouldn’t have to pay for it. It’s not fair”, would LW even humor the suggestion? Let’s say LW worked in the private sector and they owned the business, so in this hypothetical, they are actually in the position to make decisions like that. Would they consider “fairness” as a valid argument for removing a foregone, established benefit (like health insurance, or PTO, or travel reimbursements, or anything else that is already well-established rather than a novel change)?

    If no, why is it even being considered for remote work?

Comments are closed.