If you’re like many remote workers, you may have heard about a new trend: companies and employers attempting to decrease salaries for employees relocating or staying remote as others return to the office. Major tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter have recently announced plans for location-dependent salary adjustments.
What can you do to keep your salary while staying remote or relocating? We’ve got some tips.
Do a Quick “Trust Check”
Before you open discussions with your employer, do a brief but honest self-assessment. While working remotely, have you communicated regularly? Been visible and available? Worked well with your team? Met your deadlines? If you can say yes to most of these questions most of the time, you’re ready to negotiate.
Change the Conversation
In its simplest form, this salary conversation is about location. Employers set compensation rates based, in part, on what it costs employees to live near a physical office. And, not surprisingly, employers want to spend less on payroll when employees do not come in to an office or when they relocate to less expensive locations. However, Shirli Kopelman, clinical professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and a leading negotiations researcher, says that compensation should be aligned with what you bring to the table—your professional experience and your contribution to the business, not your address.
Kopelman recommends doing your research on market benchmarks and potential opportunities at the “highest level in your domain of work” before initiating the negotiations conversation with your company. “It's always about what opportunities—alternatives—you have in theory and in practice, and it’s about articulating what you desire, given your professional expertise and the value you bring to a company,” she says. “Ask for what you deserve. Ask for the highest salary someone like you could be earning.” The skills and experience you bring to your company don’t change with your location.
Communicate Your Value
Once you’ve framed the conversation around performance and professional experience, instead of location, make sure you’re prepared to speak to that value.
“In my view, the best strategy is to make a strong business case for why you should continue to work from home, including helping to lower travel costs, to be more accessible in a greater window of time—in brief, describing how you will add more value by working from home,” says David Cooley, director of Alumni Career Services and a career coach at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.
Cooley acknowledges that making the argument to work remotely at the same pay level can be more challenging if you didn’t work remotely before the pandemic. That said, he advises pointing out how you exceeded performance and revenue goals throughout the “worst months of COVID.” Your negotiation “needs to be a strong business case in favor of the employer,” he says. Make sure you clearly communicate your value to the company’s business and bottom line, and how that value may in fact be enhanced, not decreased, by working remotely.
Point Out the Benefits of Remote Work
To clearly communicate your value, you’ll need to come to the conversation armed with some of the documented benefits to the company of keeping a remote work staff. For example, talk about how remote workers have routinely shown increased productivity. Kopelman suggests thinking of ways to demonstrate how you have been—and will continue to be—more productive working remotely. Remind your employer that working off-site doesn’t mean you’ve “disappeared forever.” Ensure your employer that you are available to attend pivotal on-site meetings and travel to conferences, presentations, or other client events.
Even though you’re willing to do essential travel, be ready to explain how you’ve benefited from skipping your daily commute. (More flexibility to be available? Less stress?) As Kopelman states, “Companies will value a loyal workforce that is highly motivated to deliver quality work while maintaining balance with a healthier lifestyle.”
Don’t be vague. As you prepare for negotiation, consider making a list of specific talking points—ways to pitch your ongoing value to your company and its bottom line, as well as the advantages of working remotely. Anticipate employer objections; then develop responses to them that reinforce the key benefits of remote work. Once you have your talking points in place, practice. Get comfortable and confident with your pitch.
Remember, You’re All on the Same Team
It’s important to remember—and to remind your employer—that you’re on the same team. Even if the conversation gets a little tense, keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to find something mutually beneficial for both parties.
Consider Other Perks and Options
One way to find additional common ground is to think beyond salary and consider other perks and options. If your employer is less receptive to maintaining or raising your salary, have other options in mind. A performance-based annual bonus? Stock or equity options? More time off with pay? Or, if you plan to relocate, try to negotiate a relocation package.
Remember, too, that wellness and more work-life balance are benefits, even though they’re not strictly reimbursable (though it can’t hurt to ask your employer to float you a gym membership).
Don’t Be Afraid to Quit
UCLA’s Cooley reports that alumni are often quitting their jobs when their employers walk back their WFH options. They’re getting hired by the many companies open to remote workers or offering some remote work options. So if your employer won’t bend at all on remote work or salary negotiations, consider finding a job that better meets your expectations.
If you do, you won’t be alone. Some four million people quit their jobs in April 2021. The second-highest increase came from the professional and business services category, in which 94,000 people quit in April. And it’s not just professional and business services—the higher resignation levels and rates span all industries and regions.
Take Advantage of the Shift
“The pandemic has demonstrated that people in many professions can work remotely effectively,” Kopelman says. “Perhaps this will help focus everyone on a culture of equity, based on the work itself, irrespective of location. Furthermore, perhaps it will shift everyone from lip service to the notion of work-life balance to actual work-life balance.”
This shift also means companies don’t automatically have the upper hand in these negotiations. Kopelman notes that companies are already saving money with reduced in-office workforces. Companies not willing to work with their employees could create some unforeseen reputational costs, because “the intention behind corporate moves matters to people: employees and customers.” Kopelman emphasizes, “Seizing the moment opportunistically to cut costs by cutting salaries may backfire.”
If you want to keep working remotely but your employer wants to decrease your salary, don’t assume that you have to accept that. Emphasize your value as an employee (regardless of location), your shared goals, and the proven benefits—to employers and employees—of remote work.