The world of talent has been thrown into a melting pot as a consequence of societal changes brought about by the pandemic. Who will the winners and losers be?

The next normal

This week, PwC offered its workers the opportunity to permanently work from home, expecting employees who choose to work virtually to come to the office a maximum of three days a month for appointments, client visits and team meetings.

Analysts like McKinsey & Co. have described it as the new normal, and the next normal. When Microsoft wrote their end of project research report into Hybrid Working, they were quick to cling on to the title of hybrid working; one more term to add to those like Flexi-working and contingent working that have surfaced over the past two decades.

However you see it, how people work these days is rapidly transforming; as it reacts to the emerging employment conditions and lifestyles choices that workers experience. The fallout of COVID-19 has been a culture shift that has created what pundits are describing as ‘The Great Attrition.’ Employees are tired, and many are grieving. Others have reset their life expectations and seek a different work experience. Almost everyone wants a fresh sense of purpose in their work. In the US, more than 15 million US workers—and counting—have quit their jobs since April 2021.

There appears to be a battle going on between company bosses working hard to bring people back into the offices, and workers who’ve clearly made up their minds that the new normal is a better normal. A battle perhaps, but who will win this tug of war?

Google surprised many in August this year when they announced they would be enforcing a pay reduction for workers considering home working as an option. This unsubtle arm twisting, was an early shot in the battle to cadjole workers back to the office.

Like most markets, there are plenty of external factors influencing how the actors perform. Firms are facing almost annual reorgs as they react to fast changing market forces and new business models transformed by digital technology. Similarly, workers are finding it hard to get long-term full-time employment opportunities. The jobs they do find, aren’t paying enough. Part-time and contract working seems to be a better option for many—higher pay rates, more flexibility, and the ability to hop between employments to make up a living wage. There are more people in the world than vacancies, but seemingly a shortage of experienced and qualified workers in most roles. Even with all the new artificial intelligence powered online tools, employers say it seems to be harder than ever to find and match workers to jobs.

business people working in the office

Discourse in talent

The pandemic has acted as a ‘super-catalyst’ to change attitudes and lives.

Many (58%) knowledge workers, now over 1 billion of the workforce—be they accountants, educational markers, designers, architects, IT consultants, data analysts or researchers, or whatever else—started a new chapter in their new lives working from home. Similarly, many blue collar workers—among them chefs and kitchen staff, automotive technicians and many factory floor workers—experienced life at home with the family; realising there was another way to live their lives without the silly hours.

As the big return to work happened, something else happened too. Managers assumed that everyone would return back to the office, maybe not today but certainly tomorrow.

A McKinsey research report titled, ‘CxO Survey on Return to Workplace’ published in May 2021 found that most C-Suite executives believed that the primary centre for work would continue to be the office, predicting that 88% of workers would work in the office at least 3 days a week.

Yet, workers had a different perspective. They didn’t want to go back to the old job, the old hours, the old commute. They had experienced a new way. They’d tried it for long enough for it to become a habit. And they liked it.

The same McKinsey report found that post-pandemic, only 37% of workers expected to go back fully onsite, while before the pandemic, the figure was 62%.

A survey of 5,000 working adults in the UK in January and February 2021 found that 40% of the respondents had substantially improved perceptions about working from home.

One survey by digital workplace provider Claromentis found that—post lockdown—almost three quarters (73%) of UK knowledge workers want a hybrid arrangement, splitting time between home and the office.

There is a war going on in the talent industry between firms that want to drag workers back to the office, and workers who aren’t complying with that request, choosing to find new starts rather than putting up with their previous lifestyle. They’ve grown out of that particular suit. It doesn’t fit anymore. Instead, they want to wear pyjamas in the day, watch Netflix while they’re working, stay connected with social media at all times no-matter what the boss might think.

young smiling employee working from home on laptop drinking coffee

The talent market didn’t auto-reboot post-pandemic back to old ways

Today, 19-months since the pandemic hit, things haven’t gone back to as they were before.

There are still many more people working from home than before.

Tech company Upwork has researched attitudes towards home working in its Future Workforce Pulse Report—a survey that examines the hiring habits and sentiment of over 1,000 U.S. hiring managers—and found that 41.8% of the American workforce continues to work remotely. They claim, while an estimated 26.7% are expected to work from home through 2021, some 36.2 million Americans (or 22% of the US workforce) will be working remotely by 2025; a 87% increase from pre-pandemic numbers.

Many people have already, or plan to change roles

According to Prudential Financial’s Pulse of the American Worker survey, 1 in 4 workers is preparing to look for opportunities with a new employer once the pandemic threat has subsided.

Commuters are not returning to attend the office every day

Research on railway commuting (September 2021) has identified a desire to continue with some home working following the end of restrictions, which could result in up to a 50 per cent reduction in commuting long term.

The talent market is being re-coded by forward thinking firms

A significant number of employers have now embraced hybrid working changes in the economy, wanting to be seen to be thoughtful perhaps.

The Australian tech startup company, Canva, reported that 79% of its team feel more productive at home, with 81% expressing a preference to balance home and office working.

Similarly, Atlassian co-founder and co-chief executive Scott Farquhar has told its employees only need to come into the office 4 ties a year under its more ‘team anywhere’ policy But there are economic advantages too. Companies are finding home workers are more productive, trading their commute time for quality work time.

female hybrid worker working from her home

What does it mean?

This month (September,2021), Microsoft and LinkedIn has shared their latest data on hybrid working trends. LinkedIn surveyed more than 500 C-level executives. Their findings make for interesting reading:

– 87% of people saying they would prefer to stay remote at least half the time, a majority of employers are adapting

– 81% of leaders are changing their workplace policies to respond to workforce expectations by offering greater employment flexibility

– More than half (58%) of leaders are optimistic that flexibility will be good for both people and the business

Final thoughts

In some organizations at least, these findings suggest the push and pull between companies and workers has been resolved; and the shortage of workers in critical roles has pressured employers to toe the line and accept hybrid working isn’t a passing fad, but something more organic, structural, and permanent.

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer signals a pronounced shift in he power balance of stakeholder influence within business organizations. They argue that employees, not customers, are now seen as the most important stakeholders in a business; charting what they describe as, “the unmistakable connection between employee happiness and customer happiness.”

And, if employers don’t play ball, there’s a strong possibility that workers will rely on law courts to hammer home what are fast becoming human rights as much as having access to good Wifi.

In September 2021, a return to work mother was awarded £185,000 by an employment tribunal after her employer refused to let her work shorter hours, a four day week, and leave at 5pm, rather than the normal end-of-day at 6pm, to pick her daughter up from nursery. The tribunal ruled she had suffered indirect sex discrimination when the firm refused to consider her request.

If you are a business leader, or HR/talent executive, what does it mean? If you take a lead from PwC chairman, Kevin Ellis, the secret of success is to make flexible working, “..the norm rather than the exception” if you don’t want to—“…risk losing the best bits of these new ways of working.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Tomlin is a management consultant and writer on the subject of enterprise computing and organizational design.  He serves on the Workspend Management Team.  Ian has written several books on the subject of digital transformation, cloud computing, social operating systems, codeless applications development, business intelligence, data science, office security, customer data platforms, vendor management systems, Managed Service Provisioning (MSP), customer experience, and organizational design.  He can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter.