Pay to work from home?

Here's one company's strategy to lure workers back to the office

Pay to work from home?

A Japanese company is approaching the remote-work conundrum in an interesting way: It’s forcing employees who choose to work from home to pay those who show up at the office.

That’s the strategy employed by Disco Corp., a Japanese manufacturer of semiconductor equipment, according to a Bloomberg report. For the past decade, the company has used an internal currency called “Will” to create a micro-economy in which sales teams pay factory workers to produce goods. The factory workers, in turn, pay engineers to design products.

Even desks, computers and meeting rooms have a Will price tag, according to Bloomberg. Leftover Will balances are paid in yen at the end of each quarter as bonuses.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Disco was not able to let all of its employees work remotely – someone had to be onsite to run the factories. So the company enacted a system in which those working remotely paid a certain amount of Will, which was divided among employees who came to the worksite, Bloomberg reported.

“Ordering some people to go in while others stay at home is unfair,” Disco CEO Kazuma Sekiya told the news service. “The company currency offers behavioural incentives and the choice is up to you. That’s the power of Will.”

Sekiya introduced the Will economy in 2011, inspired by video games. Disco days that the introduction of Will reduced overtime and cut down on unnecessary meetings. The strategy has also boosted the company’s bottom line, according to Bloomberg; Disco reported record revenue and profit last fiscal year, and has some of the industry’s highest profit margins. Over the last five years, the company’s share price has more than tripled.

At the outset of the pandemic, 40% of Disco’s employees chose to show up at the workplace, earning considerable bonuses, Sekiya told Bloomberg.  Still, infections at the company stayed low, only hitting the single digits in Japan. Disco employs about 5,600 people.

With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, companies have debated how to draw workers back to the office. Major corporations have introduced policies to entice workers to return but have achieved mixed results, Bloomberg reported. Some workers are choosing to quit rather than risk returning to the office.

“We had to prove to employees that going to work isn’t scary,” Sekiya said. “Although some felt it was harsh and several people have quit.”

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