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The year 2020 has brought many changes to the workplace, not the least of which is a rise in remote work arrangements. According to a survey conducted in October by WorldatWork and Salary.com, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic just 13% of employees worked remotely. By April, as lockdowns became the norm, 67% of employees were working remotely. Even now, with more businesses open than not, 62% continue to work from home. About 9 out of 10 of these are working remotely full time.

As employees and companies adapted to remote working, both began to see the considerable benefits. And today’s technology advances made the adjustment easier. Organizations reconfigured company computer access for off-site staff. Zoom became the most popular platform for team meetings, cross-functional collaboration, and webinars.

The remote work relationship proved to be a win-win for employers and employees alike. Workers recaptured commuting time and costs, enjoyed more flexibility to attend to childcare and other family needs, and this translated into increased productivity. Employers maintained business operations while accommodating remote work.

Once the business disruptions from the pandemic fade, many are predicting remote work will be here to stay.

In fact, a new survey from U.S.-based Enterprise Technology Research (ETR) finds the number of employees permanently working remotely is set to double in 2021 to nearly 35%.

Businesses have many good reasons to support the remote working trend including:

  • Lower costs for commercial office space, utilities, and ancillary expenses
  • Increased diversity in hiring
  • Better employee retention
  • A reduced carbon footprint with fewer people commuting
  • Expansion of the available talent pool

On this last point, remote work allows companies to recruit from a much larger pool of candidates than they currently do, as most medium and small-sized organizations recruit talent locally. Now organizations can expand their recruiting base to the entire U.S.

One impact of the pandemic has been a reported flight from big cities as professionals seek less crowded urban environments and a significantly lower cost of living (COL). According to a new study by freelancing platform Upwork, 14 million to 23 million Americans intend to relocate to a different city or region because of telework.

If these trends do indeed become reality, employers have a strategic opportunity to reframe their basis for compensation decisions.

Even so, the current question that many employers are asking is this: Should I pay someone who is working remotely in a lower COL city the same as an employee working at our more expensive central business location? The traditional thinking goes like this: built into the corporate salary structure is recognition that larger population areas generally pay more. So, will I be overpaying if I do not reduce remote salaries to reflect these COL differences?

We believe that reducing salary simply based on COL is wrong for several reasons. First, employees will not like having their salaries reduced. How they spend their money is their own business. After all, employers do not care if an employee drives a 10-year-old Chevy or a Mercedes. So, why should they care what street the employee lives on? Second, paying less than the broader market rate increases the risk employees will be recruited away. Finally, administering and communicating separate pay programs for remote employees with multiple pay arrangements can be an organizational burden.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

A better approach is to define a larger geographic area and set compensation competitiveness targets for that area, then administer pay to one set of parameters. So, instead of using competitiveness survey information for the company’s immediate surrounding geography, expand the territory that is used to determine competitiveness.

For example, if you are recruiting from a Midwest talent pool, you may want to examine salary data for Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. Both state-level data and regional data can be used to determine pay ranges for each position or job level. If you are recruiting from coast-to-coast, you can use a national median. This can offer a great advantage to organizations with a highly distributed workforce.

In any case, it is important to weigh the benefits and risks for your remote workforce and to consider how pay may vary depending on the industry, occupation and skillset required. Using a broad geographic approach for your competitive salary information is easy to administer and avoids confronting employees with a pay reduction.

About Lappley & Associates

Lappley & Associates is a management consulting firm that specializes in the development and implementation of compensation programs for clients. We primarily consult with manufacturing, service, utilities, and not-for-profit organizations for medium and small-sized businesses.

Contact Us

If you would like to discuss pay of remote employees, contact Neil Lappley at (847) 921-2812 or nlappley@lappley.com.

Last June in our Compensation Alert, we discussed how to develop a compensation strategy. As year-end compensation planning approaches for many companies, we think this topic is timely and worth revisiting with updates to address current trends.

Compensation strategy is part of a company’s human resource strategy and should be integrated with all other elements of human resource planning. A compensation strategy—a formal, written statement capturing the organization’s views and approach to compensation—serves as a guide and touchstone when designing new HR programs or evaluating existing ones. In addition, a clear compensation strategy lays a foundation for communication transparency when giving employees the rationale behind pay and benefit decisions.

Compensation Strategy Planning Elements

Like every strategy guiding your business, your compensation strategy should align with your business priorities.

Here are six elements to guide you through the design process:

  1. Gather Information: Obtain information and perspectives from your stakeholders, including directors, executives, managers, employees and customers. Take a close look at external and internal factors having a direct and indirect impact on your pay strategy. External factors include trends in supply and demand for talent, your relationships with your customers and challenges you are having in the current marketplace. Internal factors include your company’s business culture, values and strategic initiatives, as well as the core competencies of your current and future employees.
  2. Business Lifecycle: Consider your organization’s business strategy and human resource strategy, as well as where your business may be in its lifecycle.
    • Inception Phase – At this stage cash is tight and organizational structures and systems are informal.
    • Growth Phase – Here cash is tied up in growth; often developing the HR infrastructure becomes critical during this stage.
    • Maturity Phase – Mature organizations have cash and organizational structures are in place.
  3. Consider Demographics: Early career employees may need different incentives than those further along in their work lives. For instance, entry level employees may be willing to accept lower base wages in exchange for larger cash incentives or professional development opportunities. Employees nearing retirement may be willing to trade some amount of pay for greater medical and retirement benefits.
  4. Benchmarking: Gather information on salaries and wages so you understand how your organization stacks up against competitors and where your pay is relative to market rates. This approach involves understanding an organization’s relative positioning, but not necessarily blindly following. It also considers the economics of the business, so you can decide what’s best for the organization.
  5. Test Initial Strategy: Develop an initial strategy statement, then share it for feedback from stakeholders. When evaluating your compensation strategy, make sure it is equitable, fair, fiscally sound, legally compliant and provides a framework to effectively communicate with employees.
  6. Revise as Needed: Once you have implemented your compensation strategy, monitor and evaluate its internal impact – pros and cons – making changes as warranted. In addition, adapt your strategy to changes in the external business environment while keeping its intrinsic value.

How Competitive Do You Need to Be?

Understanding competitiveness begins by defining the markets where your organization competes for talent and business. Does your company recruit talent on a local, regional, national or global basis? Gather relevant salary data so that you can adjust your compensation strategy based on geographic differences in pay. Some industries, occupations and job levels, too, may be more competitive than others.

Establishing a market competitiveness target is a key element of an organization’s compensation strategy. Does your company plan to pay at, above or below market for the jobs in your portfolio? Based on your analysis, you’ll need to decide if you want to lead, lag or match the market.

For example, if you are currently paying below market median, your reputation is solid, business is good, or talent is plentiful, you may want to continue that approach. But if you currently have great employees and recruit only the best, need skills in short supply, are in a less desirable geography or the cost of living is high, you may want to target above the market median. These and other considerations must be weighed when developing your salary structure.

What Should be Rewarded?

Your compensation strategy should be tailored to meet your organization’s unique needs and circumstances. Most compensation strategies include:

  • Base salary has an important role in compensating employees as it establishes ongoing job worth and reflects employee performance. When deciding how wide to make salary ranges, make sure there is a clear purpose for each segment in the range. Also consider how you expect employees to move through the salary range as they advance in the organization.
  • Annual incentives are meant to reward annual performance. Once you determine who will participate in the incentive program and what the incentive opportunity will be, set performance measures and a feedback schedule so everyone is on track. Include financial and performance measures for both the operating company and supporting business units.
  • Long-term incentives, in contrast, are meant to reward a longer performance cycle and typically are part of an executive compensation program. The timeframe for these incentives is typically two-to-five years. Reward systems establish forward-looking performance conditions and include cash and equity.

What motivates employees can differ greatly, so use a mix of rewards.

In Summary

How your company spends its compensation dollars – often an employer’s largest expense – deserves a strategic plan aligned with business goals. In today’s rapidly changing employment environment, it’s time to leverage the most important asset your organization has: its people.

Contact Us

Please contact me at nlappley@lapppley.com or (847) 864-8979 to discuss any comments or questions you may have about how to develop a compensation strategy. Feel free to forward this email to anyone else who may be interested.