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Are bosses ready to assess penalties on their remote workers?

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Remote workers could be under fire as leaders consider penalties ranging from cash to more work time.

The parking lot at the Utah Department of Natural Resources in Salt Lake City is nearly empty on Feb. 22, 2021, as many state employees work remotely.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A massive, global shift to remote work wrought by COVID-19 restrictions made, and is making, indelible changes to the workplace dynamic for most workers in Utah and around the world.

For those whose professions can accommodate it, the shift has allowed most employees and the companies they work for to stay financially viable throughout unprecedented conditions.

But are some leaders now ready to levy wage reductions or other penalties against those who would prefer to continue working from home?

Late last year, a report from Deutsche Bank Research suggested that employees working from home were realizing a financial benefit from the circumstances and could easily absorb a new tax to help subsidize those whose jobs require in-person attendance.

“People who can (work from home) and disconnect themselves from face-to-face society have gained many benefits during the pandemic,” the report reads. “A 5% tax for each (work from home) day would leave the average person no worse off than if they worked in the office.

“It could raise $49 billion per year in the US, €20 billion in Germany, and £7 billion in the UK. That can fund subsidies for the lowest-paid workers who usually cannot work from home.”

A recent New York Times report found one of the biggest economic boons for those working from home was simply eliminating the time and costs related to getting to and from the office. That by itself, the Times reported, saves the average commuter five to 10 hours per week and is like getting a 10% to 20% raise, or around $7,000 to $15,000 per year.

The report also questions what, if anything, is keeping employers from tapping into those savings.

“With all the commute time freed up, what is to stop (employers) from simply asking employees to work longer from home — to prepare that report before the meeting starts in the morning or to answer emails or contact clients or file those forms at all hours of the day or night?” the report reads. “Blurring the lines between work and the rest of life does not have to benefit workers in the end. Indeed, it was the thing that worried people about working from home before the pandemic began.”

For now, there is plenty of data to suggest that not only did workers, overall, maintain or improve their productivity throughout pandemic conditions, but also find themselves in the power position when it comes to job opportunities, with labor shortages running rife in Utah and across the country.

And, as it turns out, we are collectively feeling very positive about remote work opportunities.

New research from McKinsey and Co. found that, post-pandemic, 52% of workers would prefer a hybrid remote/office workplace model and over half said they would like to continue working from home three or more days per week.

The failure of employers to heed these sentiments could also have its own dire consequences, according to report data.

Almost 30% of U.S. workers surveyed said that they were likely to look for other jobs if their current employer compelled them to return to full-time, in-office duties.

Employees also sent a strong message regarding how well their bosses are, or are not, doing in communicating with them about future workplace plans.

When it comes to providing a detailed vision of what post-pandemic work looks like, 40% of employees said they’ve yet to hear about any vision from their organizations and another 28% said what they’ve heard remains vague.