With more and more companies pushing off or eliminating a return to the office, employees are increasingly adapting
to the new remote-first workplace.
The votes are in from employees nationwide – some 72% do not want their work environment to return to how it was before the pandemic. In fact, more than half of workers who started working from home during the COVID years say that if their employers insisted that they return full-time to the office, they’d opt for another job instead. They’ve grown comfortable working remotely, which means that the pressure is now on their employers to adapt and adjust.
Here, some of the adaptations and adjustments that companies will need to make will be examined. From monitoring remote performance to virtual recruiting to reinventing employee benefits, there’s a lot that can be changed. The end result, if all goes well? A workforce packed with employees who are engaged, productive, and looking forward to a long-term relationship.
One of the first challenges companies faced when COVID closed in-person offices was helping their executives and front line leaders learn how to manage remotely, judging production instead of presence. Employees, too, had to learn how to speak up for what they needed in terms of guidance and build clear channels of communication now that “open door” policies were 100 percent virtual. Now, with more than 70 percent of workers saying they’d like to stay remote according to the latest survey from Zeno Group, both sides will have the chance to continue honing their skills.
Between messaging boards, video conferencing software, and the always-on email, teams have now navigated at least one round of goal-setting, operational performance reporting, and performance reviews. It’s completely possible, if not always comfortable. Moving forward, there’s an opportunity to further define roles and responsibilities in ways that accept that it may be many more months – or even years – before some of these teams are ever face-to-face again.
The data shows that individuals appreciate managers checking in, but also are hungry for timely feedback and boundaries to help delineate between “work time” and “life time” to prevent burnout. Development is huge – 73 percent of workers say that a chance for growth would make them more loyal to their company – and a place where managers can be key advocates for remote staff. By helping employees create growth plans, managers can keep their remote teams engaged and together long enough (and strong enough) to achieve everyone’s operational performance goals.
Recruiting in the remote-first world has also been a game changer for firms. Though it wasn’t initially appreciated, the remote-first approach stripped away geographic boundaries in recruitment for both employers and employees. Suddenly, firms in Georgia that would have never considered recruiting outside of a reasonable on-the-ground commuting zone had access to talent on the other side of the country. Similarly, talented employees found themselves with more options that ever as previously out-of-zone jobs were now open to taking applications.
For many firms, this “no borders” recruiting wave has meant that existing employees need to be re-recruited to avoid higher than desired turnover rates. After all, it is easier than ever to discretely schedule an interview with a prospective new employer. However, those side interviews never happen when the worker in question is doing projects they enjoy at a competitive wage for an employer who seems interested in their growth and development.
Doing this work – investing in the talent already in the fold – is a way for firms to build a deep competitive advantage even as fresh talent pools open up. Employees have a lot of power in today’s competitive talent markets, but when employees believe their best opportunities for career progression are right where they are, turnover drops dramatically. Plus, it’s the ultimate win-win scenario… firms with happy, engaged workers need to recruit less, but when they do recruit, their good reputation allows them to attract better candidates from everywhere talent is available.
With workers at home, employers have been challenged to continue the same level of employee benefits. Healthcare and vacation time are one thing, but other valued benefits – the office gym, on-site childcare facilities, or free parking – are harder to deliver to a geographically dispersed employee population. Workers are not happy to completely lose these benefits, although many have tolerated it on what was supposed to be a temporary basis. Now that things have “gone permanent”, how are the best firms handling it?
According to the most recent Glassdoor studies of the pandemic era, some 80 percent of employees value additional perks and benefits as highly or higher than a pay raise. Cash benefits, like spending allowances for local gyms or credits at online learning academies, are well received. Also well received? Anything that helps with mental health and overall wellness – many workers have been exhausted navigating life in pandemic conditions, and access to telehealth, online counseling, or meal kit delivery helps address this exhaustion and burnout to ensure employees can continue functioning at a high level.
The new workplace, after all, is everywhere. The old normal is gone, and employees don’t miss it. However, there are still many opportunities for firms and employees alike to refine how day-to-day management, talent recruitment, and benefits and rewards are delivered. By opening communication channels and working to meet employees where they are, firms can build stronger relationships with their employees, even if they’re seeing them in person less. If all goes well, the end result will look much different than the old workplace – employees will be happier, more loyal, and more willing to stay with their current companies for the long haul.