The return to in-person work isn’t going smoothly for many employers. They’ve experimented, turned initial requests into mandates and are still debating a range of key questions about what their hybrid arrangements will look like moving forward.
One main issue they’re facing is what kind of conditions might exempt certain employees from returning and how they should make those exceptions. Accordingly, some are turning to “radius rules.”
So what are they?
Radius rules are a part of companies’ specific RTO policies. They stipulate that only staff who live within a certain distance of offices will be required back on set days, while having different requirements for those who live further.
One example is real estate company Redfin’s policy requiring headquarters employees who live within 20 miles of its Seattle and San Francisco offices to come in on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Those outside of the 20-mile radius will be required to travel to one of those offices once a quarter for a day of in-person meetings.
Another example comes from WorkHuman, an employee management platform with about 1,000 employees. Those who live within 50 miles of its two main offices in Framingham, M.A., and Dublin, Ireland, are expected to come in two days a week, according to an email statement. That began on Sept. 1.
Is it experimental?
For some, yes. Take Density, a workplace analytics company, that told employees in May about its new radius rules. Density asked employees who live within 30 miles of its San Francisco office to come back three days a week as part of an experiment.
The company has three offices in total, with the other two in New York City and Syracuse, N.Y., and just over 100 employees.
Some important details in Density’s policy include having no hard requirement on when you arrive at the office or how long you stay for, CEO Andrew Farah said, which helps alleviate commute issues.
The rules are still in an experimental phase and Density doesn’t have firm plans to roll them out at its other two offices yet, he said.
Are radius rules working?
Density staff are responding positively, as an internal company survey found among Bay Area employees living within 30 miles of the office, 90% said they’ve been more productive, Farah said.
“The other thing that was also really fascinating is that employees outside of the 30 mile radius, who were not required to come in, started coming in voluntarily,” he said.
The gnarly issue of presenteeism and proximity bias remains acute as we settle more firmly into various hybrid working setups. In fact, the return to offices appears to be exacerbating this kind of bias – when employers favor those who are physically present over those who are truly producing a good work product – some experts say.
“It’s nice to say, ‘yeah, we’re gonna make this adjustment for you if you live too far from the office,’ but it’s being told to us by managers that that can be career limiting,” said Lane Severson, a senior director and analyst in the digital workplace division at Gartner.
A Gartner survey of over 2,000 business leaders found 64% believe onsite workers are higher performers and 76% said onsite workers are more likely to be promoted, he noted.
“Managers say that they are promoting the folks that are in the office more often than the folks that just come in, say once a week,” Severson said. So the frequency of showing up is actually having a direct impact on career advancement, he added.
“The other side is we’ve heard this from employees themselves who have been told, ‘Hey, I am part of that exception group, but I’ve been explicitly told by our leadership, that unless I get inside the radius, there’s no opportunities for advancement,’” he said.
Some reports are backing up managers’ presenteeism concerns though.
Engagement is dropping for remote workers and they’re feeling less connected to the mission and purpose of their work, a recent Gallup report based on quarterly surveys of over 15,000 working adults found. Meanwhile engagement is improving for on-site employees, that report found.
“The pattern of eroding mission and purpose for remote-ready jobs, particularly, speaks to an unintended consequence of physical separation. If not managed intentionally, this can lead to psychological separation,” Jim Harter, the report’s author and chief scientist of workplace and well-being at Gallup, wrote.