To office or not to office – that’s not the question

SVP of Talent at OneDigital pushes flexibility to solve talent shortages and retention woes

To office or not to office – that’s not the question

This article is provided by OneDigital.

With many workplace calling workers back to the office this fall, there’s heavy debate over whether employees want to go back to work. While a survey from Envoy found 90% of people who recently returned to in-person work found it better than expected, at the same time McKinsey found 26% of respondents who recently quit their jobs cited a lack of workplace flexibility as the driving factor behind their decision.

Employers are now faced with the question of whether they should require their employees to return to the office, go hybrid, or work remotely. However, instead of asking which is best, employers should really begin by asking a different question: How do we win the war for talent?

With public health concerns dominating headlines for a third straight year, many employers are struggling with their long-term approach to the future of work. But debating whether you should work from the office or home amidst a talent war is like debating whether fish or chicken is the healthier entrée, all while smoking a cigarette. It may be missing the point.

The Great Resignation will pass. People need to work, and changing jobs, health insurance, 401k plans, and bosses every year is difficult. What will not pass is the war for talent.

Addressing talent shortages and retention with flexibility

The Great Resignation didn’t create the problem. It accentuated it…perhaps doing many employers a huge favor by waking them up to the reality that prioritizing employee retention should have been a focus for years now. Even when resignation rates subside, there will still be too few workers, a condition expected to last for at least the next 50 years, according to Emsi’s 2021 Demographic Drought Report.

So, what is talent strategy? Start by looking out five years. How many people will you need to hire to achieve your mission and business plans? What is your current attrition rate and how is it trending? Now consider skills and talents. What skills will be essential for employees to execute your business plan? Have you identified them? Can you teach them? With these figures in mind, how many limitations can you afford to put on your recruiting and retention plan?

Take a business with around 3,000 employees, growing at 30% per year. Assuming they achieve some benefits of scale, they may only need to grow their workforce at 20-25% per year, but with attrition trending at 10-15%, they’re going to need significantly more people to achieve their growth goals. With such extensive hiring challenges in an unpredictable economic period, companies are beginning to look at other areas where they can make a difference in employee happiness and engagement, as well as creating competitive packages for prospective talent.

So why would we put limitations on our ability to attract and retain talent? Should companies offer offices to extroverts, parents needing focus and solace, and teams doing hands-on collaboration? Absolutely. Should they offer virtual work for extraordinary talent in distant locales, team members wired for lower sociability, parents who need maximum flexibility, and rising professionals interested in lower cost of living amidst high inflation? You bet. What about those who want a bit of both, who think their best work and best lives could be achieved with a combination of environments? Right on.

The answer to the return to office debate

There’s one clear answer that seems to work for most employees across many industries: Work from anywhere. Employees work with their managers to define and balance the needs of the business with their preferred work environment to craft a personalized plan. Is this a harder route than defining specific rules for all employees? Yes. Does it require new policies, more creative and intentional management practices, and new ways of working? Sure it does. It’s a lot of work; but if you’re betting your future on your ability to bring the best talent in the world to your company, these are the stakes.

If you are basing your decision on personal preference, outdated models for collaboration, or the belief that culture can’t live outside your four walls, beware. Innovators and people-first organizations are coming for your people. The organizations that adapt to the future and align their talent strategy to their business strategy stand to win the war for talent.

Travis Dommert is senior vice president of talent at OneDigital.

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