The turnover tsunami is here. There are 9.3 million US open jobs, which is the highest number since 2020 and almost twice the number of a year ago, and it nearly matches the 9.8 million unemployed. In normal times, a close match of open jobs and unemployed means difficulty in hiring employees.
New factors will make it doubly difficult to hire employees in the post-pandemic world — and these same factors will be just as important for retaining your current employees. Today’s environment requires CEOs and managers to change attitudes about remote work and their employer brands. Does your organization have the agility to make the change?
After working from home for more than a year, office workers have a new attitude about what they want in a job and an employer. While working at home was stressful at first, for those who had not worked from home before, many people adjusted well to the change. Today’s office workers know they are more productive at home, and most are more independent. A recent survey shows that 65 percent want to continue to continue to work remotely full time and 31 percent are open to hybrid working. Moreover, when they go into the office, they want a different office environment. Office employees want a safe office with little exposure to COVID19 and an excellent environment for collaboration and meetings. If required to work in the office, they want an environment without the disruptions of open office bays and overbearing managers.
The exception to this trend is younger and lower-income employees and women, who have poor WiFi, children at home or smaller apartments that are not conducive to working from home.
On top of all of this, CEOs need to remember that before the pandemic young workers — men and women alike — wanted a work environment the provided health care, 401K benefits with a match, paid time off for family leave and baby bonding for both sexes, competitive pay, and transparent pay practices. Perhaps the most significant emerging trend is that 94 percent of young workers want an old-fashioned notion of learning and career development.
The rest of this blog will focus on transiting to post-pandemic remote and hybrid working. Here are five tips for you to follow to ride the tsunami wave and survive.
First, Recognize that remote work and hybrid working are here to stay.
Two CEOS, Mary Barra of GM and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook Inc., have come out and acknowledged that remote work was a success. In a letter to employees, Mary Barra said GM’s success was “our people” and the learning and success of last year has led GM to introduce the future of work at GM. Mary Barra calls it “Work Appropriately.” It means that where work permits, employees have the flexibility to work “where they can have the greatest impact on achieving our goals.”
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Inc. CEO, announced last week that he plans to work half of the time from home and that more employees may choose to work from home or return to the office. Facebook is beginning to rethink the role of the office. In the years ahead, it wants offices to remain places for relationship building and collaboration, according to Brynn Harrington, VP of People Growth.
The announcements from Mary Barra and Mark Zuckerberg are in sharp contrast to statements from four CEOS three weeks ago. Then, these CEOs suggested that it was time to end the “aberration” of remote work and that those who did not want to return to the office were in some way not engaged with the company. These CEOs included WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani, JP Morgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon, and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon.
Second, Working remotely and hybrid working is not new. Learn from those who have done it.
This blog comes to you from a WordPress website, created by Automattic, company that has been working remotely with a global workforce for more than 15 years. According to TechCrunch, they are now worth more than $3 billion. They are not alone. Other firms like GitLab are working remotely, too. Automattic has a blog distributed.blog. You can follow the blog and learn about working remotely from the experiences and lessons of Automattic and others.
If your thinking remote work is only for high-tech software companies, think again. I implemented a extraordinarily successful remote work and hybrid working environment with Medtronic’s units in Santa Rosa, CA, in a bio-tech environment, in 2012, long before the pandemic. Forty-five percent of the workforce could work from home or the customer or supplier’s site four to five days a week. The remainder of the employees (55 percent) whose work was tied to technology, manufacturing, data available only at work, or innovation teams had to be in the office four to five days a week.
The productivity of our remote workers went up 22 percent. The productivity of our in-office workers increased by about 28 minutes a day because the redesigned offices provided more conference rooms, video conference rooms, small huddle rooms for quick conversations, and made the work areas quieter with fewer interruptions. Our ability to hire and retain employees increased, and so did morale. You can learn more, including how we implemented it, here.
Third, Focus on how your managers lead remote and hybrid workers.
Middle managers will have to manage differently for this new world. It is necessary for managers to set up new operating norms addressing how to communicate with each other and determining when meetings will be in person or remote, and how decisions will be made.
In 2012, first-line managers complained to me that they would not know if their employees were working or how they could reach them when they needed information or when there was a change in goals. I told them the answer was in the computer and the expectations they set. Managers can tell through software, such as Microsoft Office, when employees are on online and when they are in meetings. Many managers, even today, do not use these systems.
We taught managers to set up new operating norms, including communication norms. Many of our managers worked out a variety of codes. If a manager needed to speak to an employee immediately, the manager would call. Employees knew that call was necessary to take. An answer that did not need to be answered for an hour would be sent by text, in four hours by email. The system worked extraordinarily well. We also worked with our managers to arrange either face-to-face staff meetings, training sessions, and manager and employee one-on-one meetings on one day and often a Monday or Tuesday so that the whole team would be in the office together. Having them all together helped continue esprit de corps and informal learning.
In the post-pandemic environment, employees have grown independent and want to continue doing what works. Managers should take the time to learn what works for each employee and to accommodate their practices.
Finally, we learned that critical to our success at the team level was for each manager to guard against their employees from being overworked. Without the daily commute, many employees worked more hours and began to burn out. We had our managers ask each employee to clarify their non-work time, when they should not be called or troubled, and honor it. Employees — whether they had families or not — greatly appreciated this attention to detail, and our productivity still remained high.
In Santa Rosa, Medtronic saved $2 million a year after an initial investment in virtual collaboration technology, video conferencing technology, broadband, cyber security, upgraded offices, and manager and employee training. This initial investment enabled significant savings in the years after. I was pleased to read a January 2021 study by Price Waterhouse Cooper that showed companies were planning to invest in virtual collaboration tools, IT infrastructure, manager and employee training, conference rooms with video conferencing equipment, and hoteling and communal space in the office. We found that this investment was critical for our success.
Fifth, rethink your meetings.
Do not go back to the same habit with meetings. During the pandemic, meetings shifted a bit to include casual check-ins to see how employees were doing and what the manager could do to overcome obstacles and provide support. Continue this practice. Pre-pandemic, 64 percent of senior managers said meetings were unproductive. Many managers love meetings because it is their show and time to shine. But unlike a stand-up comedy, when an audience can walk out (or worse) if the comic isn’t funny, employees can’t walk out of an unproductive meeting without damaging the relationship.
Managers should check in with their employees on what information, coaching, training, and decision making would be effective, and arrange meetings that fits their needs. (Sometimes, the best way to provide needed information is not through a meeting). Part of the trick is to learn which medium to use for a meeting. Do not use ZOOM when a ten-minute phone chat will be enough. When meetings require a detailed group analysis and a group decision, have the meetings be face-to-face. Always remember good meeting etiquette: have an agenda, track decisions, actions, and parking lot items, and follow through.
Please stop having virtual happy hours. It might go down as the best intended but most hated management practice ever.
The pandemic has changed the way employees think about work, the office, and how to do work. Now that the threat of the pandemic has receded, CEOs need to plot their return-to-work strategies carefully. With a growing labor shortage, employees will be watching and are willing to leave for employers who allow the flexibility of remote and hybrid work and other amenities, such as competitive pay. Finding a great replacement is only getting tougher.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR, implement remote work, recruit executives, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at www.VictorHRConsultant.com.