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Bringing folks back into the office: Do Incentives matter?

As we exit this unique period of Covid lock down, many companies are publishing their intentions around work from home.

There are lot of mixed feelings about returning to the office. Many companies are planning to do a hybrid model - with some folks continuing to work from home while others can elect to be in the office. Some companies are requiring some and if not all folks to return to an in office work setup.

We've already seen some blowback, where Instacart has required more junior employees to work from an office. The issue is charged, and its not for the HR feint of heart.

To try to figure out sentiment on the different options for workers, I posted a simple, non-scientific poll on Linkedin:

What I wanted to uncover was: Do incentives change a person's work setup preferences?

According to a recent Gallup poll, 7/10 white collar workers prefer working from home (Gallup). But what if we change the incentives?

My thoughts here are that there is a real cost, to the worker, for having an in office working setup.  Even if you prefer the office, there is a cost associated with the time commuting as well as the cost of maintaining an in office appearance as well as lack of flexibility around accommodating life's tasks, like getting a package or walking the dog. Getting meals or other benefits in office do offset some of those costs, but absent those benefits, can cash or a different kind of flexibility change the calculus for the worker?

In my, small, non-scientific poll, there does seems to be some movement away from WFH if you offer an incentive:

  • 5/10 prefer work from home over a 25% raise or shorter real work week
  • 1/3rd would prefer a shorter work week (4 days)
  • 1/4th would prefer more cash comp (25% raise)

Overall, I interpreted the demand for work from home to be relatively inelastic - there are a sizable number of people that would prefer WFH over other aggressive incentives.

This week, Shane Hickenlooper, founder of Scroll a web agency, posted an announcement that his company is going to be offering a 4-day workweek to employees. It got tremendous response from Linkedin, with over 150k views and almost 10k in reactions. This highlights the strong incentives for employers to be declarative about work setup to attract talent.

The key fact of the matter: You don't have to win everyone to build an amazing team. You're ultimately talking to a niche and the more opinionated you are, the better your value proposition will resonate with your niche talent pool. It is clear that there are people who will choose a place to work based on factors like comp, work life balance and work flexibility.  The key is to understand the types of people you are trying to hire, pick a path and go hard on that path.

With that said, I think any company doggedly holding onto a 5 day a week in-office setups, eventually will have to start paying people higher salaries. There is just too much value realized by employees who are working from home or who are getting other perks for being in the office, to ignore. If that is necessary for your culture and product, be prepared.

Final note: I'm in the camp that believes hybrid setups are probably not going to become the dominate work setup, at least in pre-IPO companies. I think being declarative and building either a strong in-office culture or strong work from home culture is going to have advantages over a hybrid. Keep that in mind, and if you go hybrid pay attention to any cracks that start forming (via internal surveys). I think you'll need to be very on top of issues to make sure the team is staying cohesive.

Trent Krupp

Currently Head of Product at Impact, a market network serving the entertainment industry. Previously, Head of Revenue at Triplebyte and Hired. Founded an agency in my 20's, sold it to Hired and became employee 5. Recruited for Atomic (VC), Credit Sesame and MakerSights. Helped the founders of recruitment tech startups Shift.org, Terminal and Beacon in the early days.

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