HomeThought leadershipEmployers won’t have a choice but going hybrid - here’s why.

Employers won’t have a choice but going hybrid – here’s why.

“But now as the pandemic is over – isn’t remote work dead?” My simple response to that is: no. How can I be so sure? Because of the exact same underlying forces that were already around pre-pandemic. Let me explain. 

First, let’s get the various parties straight, and look at the “great resignation” or the “office vs work from anywhere debate” from all three, sometimes overlapping, angles: There are a) companies, b) leaders (decision making individuals) and c) employees (individuals). Obviously, multiple leaders (b) and employees (c) are the sums of a company (a). Secondly, each of these three parties has different drivers impacting their preferences. Now, imagine a scale ranging from 5 days, fully office based, to work from anywhere (can be office or at home – the point is 5 days per week individual choice). Each company, leader, and employee, now get to place a cross which is their preference on the office vs remote scale. No rocket science this far.

Now – if we look at the drivers as to why a company might decide for or against a work-from-anywhere policy, those differ from one of the employees. Few employees, for instance, would let their preference be impacted by the longevity of the company’s real estate rental lease contract, tax & employer laws, or how long it’d take to train leaders to get comfortable to lead remotely. Zooming in on group b, the leaders, on the one hand, just like all employees, their home address, translating into the office commute time, plays into their individual preference. Leaders will also vote differently depending on how comfortable & experienced they are in leading remotely. Employees, group c (which of course, leaders are also employees, but not all employees are leaders) will have varying preferences depending on their personality type, social needs, the size of their home, the dependence on others to get their work done, the nature of their role (deep focus vs high interaction), social encounters outside of work and more. I’ve tried to collect the players & the often-mentioned, conventional drivers in the image below. 

Now here comes the twist – that one thing I see people, again and again, forgetting as they debate whether or not employers will be forced to have a hybrid remote policy or not in the future. For simplicity, I’ve marked these points in pink above. To illustrate what I mean, I’ll use examples from my pre-entrepreneurial time as a recruitment consultant and local Diversity & Inclusion captain at Coca-Cola, and patterns I recognized after hundreds of interviews. 

  1. Employee preferences change over time – driven by their private life.

In Sweden, most people (not all, but most) rank their family higher than their career in their own life priority order. Meaning, the day their work no longer suits their big-picture life, they will switch jobs to a position that fits with the rest of life. How do I know? As a former recruitment consultant, pre-pandemic, people who loved their employers, and had been there 10 years+, came to me saying they were looking for a new role due to their current employer’s mismatch with their personal life. Being able to pick up kids or take care of an elderly parent was suddenly more highly valued than a good salary. Or, on the contrary, as the kids have finally left the nest, I saw many senior specialists re-igniting their careers; looking for new challenges, and a new social context in the more lively office. This means two things. As an employer, unless you “only” hire parents, or “only” hire university graduates or people with adult kids (you get the picture) – you will need to have more than a one size fits all approach. A typical example of how not to do it is to believe that as the enterprise employer with great parental perks that you are, that this would get university graduates trainees to want to stay once their program is over. To trainees, social activities at work mean a lot more than parental perks. Then again knowledge working parents in Sweden, who have gotten over the hump of the first early working years in their career, make work adjust to their work rather than the other way around.

  1. The talent war among employers is real: pre-, during- & post-pandemic.

So let’s assume Cindy loves her job, but she can choose either to keep it, and commute 2 hours per day, which means 2 hours less with her firstborn child, or, 40 hours less monthly, or she can join a competitor, at the same salary, which is an employer offering work from anywhere flexibility. Which one do you think she’ll choose? The underlying force, of each employer wanting to attract & retain the best people, will slowly move the entire labor market into a no-choice decision if you want to be an employer enabling having a diverse workforce. Or else, all you risk is to attract only extrovert office lovers, living close enough to the office with a life that allows for a full-time office presence. Chances are at least age-wise you won’t be winning any diversity & inclusion award, being that employer. And we all know the link between diversity & innovation, so eventually, you won’t be the home of the most innovative player in your market field as a consequence, either.

  1. How the economy & your expertise area define your location

If the talent war forces employers to stop thinking “one size fits all” – an opposing force is an economic downturn. With fewer available positions out there, employees get less power to dictate their own rules overall – including the location of their work. But – this only holds true as long as there is plenty of talent available in your space. Zooming in on the shortage of (local) software developers over the past 10 years, or the new developers these days – senior UX designers – the power shifts back to the hire who is so bloody hard to find. The employee dictates the terms again, rather than the employer – and guesses which role types have an extra high share of remote workers. But indeed, an economic downturn slows down the overall pace of the power shift for the non-superhot candidates on the labor market, for now. 

So, why am I convinced employers will need a hybrid approach to retain talent to stay competitive in the market?  

Firstly, even if you have the exact same people in a team over the course of 10 years, their individual lives will change. Not simultaneously, and not in the same way. Life happens, and in Scandinavia, work usually has to somehow fit in. Meaning already there, one and the same employer will be forced to allow for individual work flexibility unless their best people are to leave. Secondly, the war on talent will continue. In a world where 53% of LinkedIn’s job applications go to remote positions and only 16% of the jobs are remote, employers can have a first-mover talent advantage here. Lastly, we all know the link between great people and business performance. How can I be so sure these forces will continue to be strong, and around? Because this was already the case before the pandemic, and as some companies (a) have started transitioning to this already, the best people (b & c) choose those who have. The recession has slowed down the job-switching in larger corporations, but they will have no choice but eventually to follow. 70% of startups offer remote work according to YCombinator data. Startups are usually sensitive to cash outflow where hiring the right talent will make or break the existence of the company. If you’re still not convinced – check out the Future of Jobs 2023 report by World Economic Forum. No less than 5 out of the 16 points (no 4, 5, 6, 9,13) listed as business practices to increase talent availability between 2023-2027 correlate with how people want to work.

So to all employers out there, I advise designing, owning & driving the transition to enabling hybrid work, rather than being forced to adapt to it, after you’ve lost some of your best people, maybe to a competitor. The economic downturn has bought you a little bit of time – but not forever.

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