With the vaccination rate increasing and COVID-19 cases dropping, states are starting to roll back their COVID-19 restrictions. For the most part, this means people are free to go back to their normal everyday lives, including being physically present at work.

As employers start having employees return to the workplace, they are finding that some employees would prefer to remain working from home. Though a necessity during the pandemic, some positions are just not compatible with 100% remote work. To help employees with the work-life balance and flexibility they’ve become accustomed to working remotely for the past 18 months, employers are offering partial work-from-home schedules. And this begs the question, should employees be able to choose their work-from-home schedule, or should managers dictate which days employees can work from home?

Employers want to make their employees happy and not lose them, especially those employees who excel at their jobs. Many managers, therefore, believe that allowing their employees to choose when they work from home is the best choice. Not so says Nicholas Bloom of Harvard Business Review, who has changed his advice from supporting employee choice to being against it. And here’s why choice has a downside according to Bloom.

Bloom’s research team has been conducting monthly surveys about remote work since May and has discovered that 30% of U.S. employees never want to return to the office, while 25% never want to spend another day working from home. Given the diversity of viewpoints, it seems logical to allow workers to make their own decisions, but this raises several concerns.

The first concern is managing hybrid teams where some employees work from home and some work in the office. This has caused anxiety for some employers about creating a culture of separate groups leaving those who work from home feeling left out.

The risk to diversity is the second, less evident problem. After the pandemic, it turns out that who wants to work from home is not random. According to Bloom, female college graduates with young children want to work from home full-time, almost 50% more than their male counterparts.

This is also troublesome given the evidence that employees working from home are less likely to advance in their job compared to their co-workers who work in the office. In 2014, Bloom conducted a study in China at a large multinational company where he found that remote workers had a 50% lower rate of advancement after 21 months than their in-office counterparts. Basically, management feels remote workers are out of touch with the office and, as a result, are often passed over for advancements.

When you add it all up, it’s easy to see how letting employees choose their work-from-home schedule could result in a diversity crisis. Single young males will be going to the office five days a week and climbing the corporate ladder while employees with young children, particularly women, who prefer to work from home will be held back from advancement.

Remote work has many advantages for businesses and employees. But in order for an employer to guarantee that their workforce remains diverse and inclusive, management should decide the work-from-home schedules for employees.

If your organization is considering new work-from-home policies and would like assistance with research and implementation, contact us today. A member of our experienced team would welcome the opportunity to be a resource.