Workplace Issues

Remote-Work Policies Still in Development: Survey

Only 37% of the employers surveyed by Willis Towers Watson in October had remote-work policies in place prior to 2020.
Vincent RyanNovember 24, 2020

That many companies’ remote work policies and practices are still a work-in-progress is not a surprise. But in 2021 businesses that don’t figure out things like what extra benefits to offer remote workers and how to pay and manage those workers will fall behind in the quest for talent.

That’s because most companies expect the work-from-home mandate to continue, at least through the first quarter of 2021 and maybe beyond.

A survey of 344 North American organizations by Willis Towers Watson in October found that over half (59%) of those companies’ employees were working from home. And the employers expect that number to remain high (52%) through next year’s first quarter.

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However, many companies have yet to build formal policies and principles around alternative work arrangements. Prior to 2020, only 37% of the surveyed companies had those in place. One-quarter of them (25%) created formal policies this year. Three-fifths (60%) said they were planning or considering adopting one this year or next.

One of the most complicated parts of any policy might turn out to be how remote workers are paid if the employer plans to compensate them differently from in-office employees.

In 2021, 61% of employers surveyed said they will pay fully remote workers the same as in-office employees regardless of a workers’ actual locations. However, more than a quarter of the employers (26%) reported that compensation will be based on the location of remote workers for all jobs.

More than a quarter of the employers (26%) reported that compensation will be based on the location of remote workers for all jobs.

Nearly a fifth (18%) of organizations said they were setting pay levels by first determining the market value of skills and then applying a geographic differential based on where the employee is located. However, most organizations do not expect flexible/remote work policies to substantially affect pay and benefits budgets for 2021.

In the short term, many management teams have realized that at-home workers need extra benefits, at least during the pandemic, to cope with the disruption of lockdowns.  Almost a third (29%) of the employers are providing additional benefits to promote workplace flexibility, including backup daycare and subsidies for daycare or virtual learning.

The organizations surveyed do expect some savings from the remote work trend. Over one-third expect budget reductions in real estate (36%) and commuting expenses (40%) in 2021. Over half of (57%) project reductions in real estate expenses over the next three years, while more than a third (36%) anticipate reductions in commuting expenses during the same period.

In what is good news for remote employees, most organizations (55%) said they did not think jobs that will be performed through telecommuting or working from anywhere are likely to be offshored over the next three years.

Indeed, a lot of the savings from remote work might not be permanent. Employers said that the proportion of their full-time employees working from home will decline by about 30% from current levels in the next three years. However that level (31%), will be almost six times what it was three years ago (5%), noted Willis Towers Watson.

The survey was fielded between October 6 and October 21.