Flexibility Is A Key To Staffing Successfully
With the worst of COVID-19 seemingly past, many employers are reconsidering remote and hybrid work arrangements in favor of returning to the office (RTO). Some feel the face-to-face time helps build a stronger culture, idea generation and general camaraderie. Even though some high-profile companies are backtracking on remote work, many office-based organizations are still on the fence. However, much of the office workforce is not on the fence about flexible work arrangements. They’re all for it.
Recently, Planet Professional conducted a poll on LinkedIn, asking which factors were most likely to influence the acceptance of a job offer when weighing multiple job offers. Out of 755 respondents, over half (52%) cited the ability to work remotely and only a quarter (28%) cited a higher competitive salary (17% chose long-term growth opportunity and 2% chose perks). In another pulse poll, 80% of respondents agreed that the ability to work remotely on a consistent basis was very important to them. Only 13% said it was somewhat important and only 7% said it wasn’t important at all. [RS1] There is a quiet tug-of-war going on. Executives want employees back in the office, but candidates are resisting. Even though hiring has slowed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics still reports a gap of 5.13 million between number of job openings and workers seeking employment (as of April 4, 2023). That equals 1.9 jobs per available worker. Can employers afford to insist on RTO in this labor environment?
Why are candidates so insistent on wanting more flexible work arrangements, with less or no time in the office? Many workforce experts agree that the pandemic “broke the mold” of how we work. Pre-pandemic, “face time,” or how much time spent in the office, speaking up in meetings, chatting over lunch, etc., played a heavy role in career advancement. The assumption was it was also crucial for productivity.
However, the last three years have proven that workers can be quite productive working outside the office. Workers also discovered that they could better balance their job and private lives with flexible work arrangements. Before the pandemic, the majority of candidates I would speak to regarding their job preferences would tell me they would accept a 45–60-minute commute (with five days in the office). Now, candidates have shortened that to a 20-minute drive if the employer wants them to work in the office full-time. And they won’t budge on these conditions because they know another opportunity will come along sooner or later that offers flexible working.
When employers insist on full-time RTO, the result is a smaller pool of qualified candidates and an increased chance of staff turnover. In the latter, candidates may accept the onsite job but leave when a job with a more flexible working arrangement comes along. Further, companies may have to pay more to entice these workers into the office. As the data from the Planet Professional LinkedIn poll showed, the ability to work remotely was more important than salary for many jobseekers.
As with most things, if you can find a middle ground, it’s a win-win. Today’s candidates are willing to spend more time in the office during onboarding and the initial months on the job if there is an expectation they will have more autonomy to work from home once they’re up and running. Some companies are bridging the gap by requiring all employees to be in the office on certain days of the week. This enables them to plan face-to-face activities that strengthen culture and teamwork.
There has been a great deal of research conducted over the past three years into these workplace changes and most of it concludes that neither organizational culture nor productivity suffers. The Future Forum surveyed over 10,000 desk workers globally in late 2022. They found that employees with flexible work arrangements were “equally or more likely to feel connected to their immediate teams as fully in-office workers.” They were also more likely to feel connected to their direct manager and their company’s values. In fact, they felt flexible work policies were the primary reason for a positive company culture.
We all know that we’re still living in uncertain times. The pandemic brought about seismic changes to both our personal and work lives. There is no going back to “normal.” Flexibility is the key word. Not in-office OR remote, not one or the other, but a flexing that reflects current economic and labor conditions. Employers who are willing to provide that flexibility will find qualified candidates faster and retain them for longer, keeping competitive in the marketplace.
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