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Getting real about hybrid and remote work

Employee Engagement |Future of Work|Health and Benefits|Inclusion and Diversity|Talent|Total Rewards|Wellbeing
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By John M. Bremen | July 20, 2021

Adapting well to new ways of working can strengthen leadership success in avoiding what many are calling "The Great Resignation." Strategies by leaders shift the tide to gain rather than lose talent.

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John Bremen is a guest contributor for Forbes.com, writing on topics including the future of work, leadership strategy, compensation and benefits, and sustainable strategies that support productivity and business success.

Adapting well to new ways of working can strengthen leadership success in attracting, engaging and retaining talent. Not adapting well can lead to what many are calling the “Great Resignation.”

The “Great Resignation” is to some extent a misnomer, as the vast majority of those who quit one job are simultaneously shifting to a different, more attractive job (therefore also the “Great Hire”). The goal for many organizations today is to be a “net talent gainer,” hiring more employees than they lose, with as much focus on why people join and stay as to why they leave.

Contrary to many current perceptions, remote and hybrid working arrangements are not new. Prior to the pandemic, about 350 million people worked remotely around the world, representing approximately 10% of the global workforce. During the pandemic, the number surged to approximately half to two-thirds of the global workforce, depending on region.

As organizations emerge from the pandemic, net talent gainers distinguish themselves through the following leadership practices relating to on-site, hybrid and remote work:

  1. 01

    Be employee-centric and meet employees where they are

    Organizations and leaders that are able to provide workers with the flexibility to work where and when they want enjoy significant competitive advantage in talent access over less flexible peers. Employer surveys suggest remote working eventually will stabilize to 25% to 40% of the global workforce — about three to four times higher than pre-pandemic levels. Other research shows 85% of U.S. employees who worked remotely during the pandemic prefer to work either remotely or in hybrid arrangements permanently (most want the ability to choose). Numerous reports show flexibility is a motivator of job changes in 2021 across demographic groups, as well as an effective strategy for organizations to become net talent gainers.

  2. 02

    Give people a reason to engage with workplaces

    Whether workers are on-site, hybrid or remote, net talent gainers are refreshing their value propositions to create employee experiences that go well beyond the basics of a job or a paycheck. They start with purpose, which creates continuity in company culture while business models and daily operations transform. They ensure that pay is competitive and fair in shifting post-pandemic labor markets. They continue to modernize their health and wealth benefits, emphasizing physical, emotional, financial and social wellbeing. They create inclusive career opportunities and compelling work environments. They underscore the strength of teams and collaboration, building strong rapport. Few companies can do it all, so effective leaders understand the power of trade-offs. For example, if an organization offers less flexible work arrangements, it may create offsets through more attractive work environments and benefits offerings, as well as pay.

  3. 03

    Understand that treating people fairly doesn’t mean treating them the same

    One of the more striking outcomes of the events of 2020 is the acknowledgement by both organizations and employees that fairness does not mean sameness. Employees want to be seen, heard and understood, and to have their individual work needs met. Simultaneously, organizations are no longer in a position financially to provide identical work arrangements and benefits to all employees. Thus, they recognize the need to optimize programs around employee needs/preferences relative to cost. In doing so, successful leaders focus on fairness, dignity and belonging, as well as creating diverse and inclusive environments where employee voices are heard. As the focus on remote work generally has centered on the needs of more highly paid knowledge workers, leaders also have taken strides to meet the needs of the pandemic’s valued essential workers and all demographic cohorts as they consider new work models.

  4. 04

    Look for ROI of remote and hybrid work

    Remote and hybrid models are effective for some but not all organizations or employees. Many leaders have questioned the return on investment of the long list of new requirements for organizations in the current environment. Net talent gainers have looked more deeply at remote and hybrid work arrangements to understand their costs and benefits beyond reduced real estate footprint and facilities cost. They factor in the potential of enhanced access to talent markets and diverse demographic groups. They consider productivity, engagement, turnover, culture, health, innovation and risk. For some, the analysis leads to decisions to enhance remote and hybrid work with supporting programs and culture. For others, it drives broadscale return to workplaces with different supporting programs and culture. Regardless of the outcome, talent gainers ground decisions using sound fiscal and employee-level analysis that acknowledges the impact on and by the workforce.

Net talent gainers are keenly aware that what got them to today will not necessarily get them to tomorrow. They also know that the behaviors of leaders and managers must constantly evolve. Successful leaders and managers acquire new skills to operate in new environments by handling agility, ambiguity, non-synchronous operations, remote management and compassionate and purpose-driven leadership. They develop flexible, fair and compelling offerings for employees, supported by strong business analytics and rationale.

A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com on July 13, 2021.

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