Remote vs In-Office Work Policies (Pick wisely)


For the past year 18 months we have been bombarded with surveys and articles telling us that employees like their new remote work arrangements and want them to remain after the pandemic.  As a result, companies are bending over backyards to institutionalize more flexible work polices to remain competitive in a very tight labor market.

While remote work arrangements have provided a lot of freedom and flexibility for workers.  A lot of employers don’t like remote work and fear that it is a threat to the close-knit culture that they created in the “old days” when everyone came to the office every day.  Nevertheless, many companies see no choice but to follow the herd and allow this work flexibility if they want to continue to retain and attract talent.

They may be wrong, and they may be hurting themselves in the long run if they don’t think this through.  First, let’s get look at the data.

What’s driving the survey responses?

According to a recent survey of 650 workers, 95% said they were unhappy with their jobs and are looking to change companies.  Further, a national survey by Deloitte found that 65% of millennials in the United States expect to leave their jobs within five years.

And its these very same employees who are currently being asked by their employers to help formulate their future work policies.  If the and Deloite results are anywhere near representative of the labor force as a whole, is it any wonder that so many people are saying they want to work from home and not go to the office?

People generally go to the office to build careers, develop long term mentoring relationships, and improve their chances for long term success within the company. If someone doesn’t want to work for you much longer, do you think they want to commute into the office 1.5 hours a day if they can do their work from home?  No. They’re not buying what you’re selling so it’s not surprising they don’t want to come into the office.

Dramatically changing your preferred work policies based on the survey preferences of a bunch of employees who already have one foot out your door may not be the best idea—especially if your rationale is “If I don’t give them flexibility, they are going to leave.”  Guess what, they have flexibility now and it sounds like many are going to leave anyway.

Do you want to cater to your current unhappy population who may not be with you tomorrow, or would you be better off establishing policies that attract and help you retain the type of people who share your core values, promote your company culture and are more likely to stick around long term?

Being Contrarian May be the Smart Business Move

“It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubbornness of an incorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed.”  Albert Einstein

Even if a large percentage of today’s workforce is interested in some form of remote work (and they will stay with you long-term), offering up policies that cater too strongly to them may be a bad recruiting strategy. Let’s look at one example.

Assume that 10 law firms are looking to hire a total of 100 top law students (i.e., 10 new associates per firm).   Let’s further assume that only 70 top law students are looking for jobs in this geographic market.  That means, all else being equal, these law firms will probably only fill about 70% of their desired slots (70/100).

Now let’s assume that 65% of these top law students (.65 x 70 = 45.5) really want to work for a law firm that offers remote work flexibility and 35% of them (.35 x 70 + 24.5) want to work for a firm where everyone comes to the office almost every day thereby providing better training and an environment that better facilitates the development of strong interpersonal relationships with peers and mentors.

At first glance it may appear that all the Hiring Partners would want to develop a work policy that caters to the much larger talent pool—the 45.5 top law students who want remote work options.

If all 10 law firms go for this larger talent pool and, therefore, choose to offer liberal remote work policies, they will all be indistinguishable from their competitors in this regard.  This herd mentality strategy will result in the average firm filling only 45.5% of their job openings (45.5/100).

However, what if two of the 10 firms decide to cater to the 24.5 top law students who really want to come to the office five days a week?  These firms will most certainly lose out on the 45.5 top law students who insist on work flexibility.  However, these firms will now own the market for students looking for a stronger firm culture with more mentoring.  These two law firms, who are looking to hire a total of 20 attorneys between them, will have a significant competitive advantage in hiring the 24.5 top law students who want what they are selling. By targeting this smaller talent pool, they will be able to fill 100% of their open attorney positions (24.5/20).  Of course, by ceding the 45.5 students looking for remote work to the other eight law firms, they will reduce the competition for those students and, therefore, raise the yield for those firms from 52.5/100 or 52.5% t0 52.5/80 or 66%.  It’s a win-win.

What does this example tell us?  By foregoing the larger labor pool whose values didn’t correlate with the firms’ values and culture and focusing on the smaller labor pool whose values strongly correlated with the firms’, the firm increased its hiring yield.  In addition, because there is a cultural fit and people are getting exactly what they want, the employment relationship is likely to last longer.

Sometimes going against the latest trends can be a very wise business move. In this case, targeting a smaller market is the better business strategy than simply following the herd.


The office world is clearly changing because of the pandemic.   Companies need to be responsive to what workers now want, especially when the labor markets are so tight, and everyone is struggling to fill open positions.  However, as we struggle to make sense of the new normal, collect data from our workforce and attempt to create new policies to be responsive to this new world order, we need to be very careful.  Understand the mindset of your current employee population when you survey them and think about the impact of your policies on hiring and retention going forward.

Are you catering to people who don’t share your company values and vision and won’t be around much longer, or are you formulating work policies that will better target and attract people who will buy in to your vision? Bad data makes for bad conclusions and future work policies.  Take the time to think through the type of company you want to be, the value propositions you want to espouse and the ideal workers who will get you to where you want to go.  Don’t be afraid to go shopping for that talent in the smaller labor pools.  You may find that you’ll actually hire more people and that they’ll stay around longer.

Work policies of the future will define and distinguish companies more than ever before.

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