Work Full-Time From Home for a 20 Percent Pay Cut? That’s What This Firm Just Offered Its Employees

Employees at the London law firm Stephenson Harwood can work from home on a permanent basis.

If that’s your thing, great — as long as you’re willing to take a 20 percent pay cut.

(If you’re wondering, the starting salary for a lawyer at the firm is approximately $113,000 per year, so that’s a salary reduction of over $22,000.) 

Maybe that makes sense, since the firm believes in-person work is important. As a spokesperson told The Guardian, “Like so many firms, we see value in being in the office together regularly, while also being able to offer our people flexibility.” That’s why staff already have the option to work from home two days a week.

But maybe it doesn’t make sense.

As one study shows, remote workers spend more time on “core work” (actually doing their jobs) and nearly 20 percent less time on “communication” (read: chatting, shooting the breeze, “bonding,” etc.). As the researchers write:

Knowledge workers, software developers, and IT professionals are all more productive when they work from home.

This was true both at small and medium businesses and large companies (over 500 employees).

Factor in “communication” time and commuting time, and the average employee saves at least three hours — resulting in a combination of increased productivity and better work-life balance — when they work remotely.

So why pay full-time remote employees 20 percent less? Are their expectations lower? Doubt it. Are their standards lower? Surely not.

Because face time is important? Lawyers are the poster children of knowledge work; the less time they spend in the hallway, or around the proverbial water cooler, or waiting in a conference room for a meeting to start, the more time they can spend doing what they’re actually paid to do: Put their knowledge to work.

On the flip side, complete remote work lacks social fabrics, especially for new employees. That’s why Adam Grant feels the hybrid model is here to stay; a study he recently referenced shows working from home two days a week — the hybrid plan Stephenson Harwood currently offers — is good for people and organizations.

Employees who were randomly assigned to work three days onsite were 35 percent less likely to quit, 12 percent less likely to call in sick, and were just as productive.

But if that’s the case — if working remotely three days a week is the sweet spot for productivity and togetherness — why offer full-time remote positions? One reason could be recruiting; Since great employees always have options, some may accept only a fully remote position.

But those employees shouldn’t be paid less. Presence — whether working long hours at the office, or working from home versus in the office — is not a proxy for productivity. For knowledge workers — for any workers — results are everything. 

What matters is what I do, not where I do it.

So if you’re considering making some positions full-time remote, don’t insult your employees by requiring them to take a pay cut–unless you also plan to reduce hours and expectations as well.

Sure, those employees might miss out on a little in-person face time.

But anyone who is honest with themselves — and by “anyone,” I definitely myself during my years at a Fortune 500 company — about how productive they are when they’re “communicating” in person realizes those moments are usually less productive, not more.

Think about it that way, and maybe Harwood Stephenson should be paying in-person workers less.

Because presence is a terrible proxy for performance.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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