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When it comes to paying remote workers, some companies are still getting it wrong

Paying employees based on where they choose to work, rather than their worth, says more about your company than you might think.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor on
Image: Maskot/Getty

At a time when employees are walking away from companies that don't put their interests front and centre, you can still see some employers continue to make all the wrong moves.

Most companies have responded positively to workers' desire to spend less time in the office and accepted that their employees' value has little to do with where they choose to do their work. In fact, some of the highest-paying tech jobs are now offered as remote roles, with companies understanding that, in order to recruit the developers they need, flexibility must be a prerequisite.

Airbnb, for instance, recently announced its new 'work from anywhere' (or WFA) policy. The company's employees are free to work from home or the office, with no changes to their compensation.

SEE: Is remote working here to stay? The data might surprise you

Airbnb staff can even work while they travel, with the company saying it will double down on ensuring that work remains coordinated and keeping culture and social connectivity alive through regular get-togethers.

The company describes its new WFA policy as "one of the most flexible work policies in the world". There's a considerable splash of marketing hyperbole happening here, for sure, but it is a solid example of a forward-thinking company that has accepted that the only way forward is to embrace flexible working as the new standard model.

Not all employers are taking such an approach. A number of tech companies including Facebook and Google are allowing staff to move – but also adjusting salaries downwards.

Office work has its upsides. It can promote collaboration and innovation, help improve morale and a collective sense of purpose, and foster a sense of belonging that's difficult – if not impossible – to recreate through Slack channels and Zoom calls (which studies suggest, in fact, do more harm to productivity than good). 

But surveys have repeatedly suggested that remote working done properly can boost productivity and engagement, as well as bring considerable wellbeing benefits thanks to a better work-life balance. Still, there are downsides: working remotely might make you more productive but there is at least the suggestion that it might make you less innovative, too.

Whether or not you believe that the best work happens in the office, at home, or though a mixture of both is beside the point. 

Employees should be paid for their impact on the business, not where they choose to do their jobs. 

Is someone who has to endure a tiring and expensive commute likely to be more efficient and focused than someone who has logged on in a far more relaxed way from home? For many knowledge-worker jobs, the answer is likely to be 'no'. 

SEE: Remote work vs office life: Lots of experiments and no easy answers

For those roles where management genuinely believe that being physically present in the office is so much more valuable, then bosses should be able to explain why – and back that up with metrics. Putting some sort of price tag on productivity and innovation would force many managers to rethink their approach (and not just to remote workers).

Otherwise the companies that treat workers differently because they decide to improve their work-life balance are likely to find all that money 'saved' from cutting wages is being funnelled directly into recruitment efforts as employees walk away, leaving them with an even bigger – and more expensive – problem to solve.


ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening take on the week in tech, written by members of our editorial team. We're a global team so this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US, and 10:00PM GMT in London.


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