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Since May 2021, workers in the United States and the United Kingdom have voluntarily left their jobs in such record numbers that it has been called “The Great Resignation” (among other things). We’re now almost a year away from this story, and it still doesn’t stop. In January 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a staggering 11.3 million open jobs, up from 7.2 million in January 2021.
So if you’ve lost colleagues in the face of competition or other industries, you’re not alone. And while it is important to look back and try to improve on the obvious reasons why they left, it is also important to look ahead and build something new that people will want to stay with in the future.
Meet the demands of future flexibility
What do future employees want and expect? Predictably, flexibility in how, where, and when people work is, as the Harvard Business Review said, “no longer a differentiating factor, it’s now a table bet.” Similarly, Forrester suggests that in Europe, “skilled employees will force employers to give them more flexibility, or leave them.”
Data from the Envoy and Wakefield Research survey also suggest that 47% of employees would look for alternative roles if their employer did not offer the flexibility of hybrid work.
Hybrid work and location flexibility may be a new standard, but they pose challenges that organizations must meet. One is to ensure that those who choose to exercise flexibility and work remotely are not inadvertently discriminated against as a result of not attending physical offices.
Related: Distance work is here to stay. It’s time to dump her and move on.
For remote workers, it is not enough to issue a policy of location flexibility, but it must be enshrined through actions and commitments. To keep remote staff long-term, the bias of proximity to staff attending physical locations and having closer physical access to leaders should be removed. Building a flexible workplace for the future for this cohort means eliminating our unconscious tendency to reward physical closeness with power and influence, to the exclusion of others.
We can do this at least in part through “equity of presence,” a term coined at the EmTech Next conference in 2021. It is the idea that all team members have the same space and priority, regardless of whether they are with us in a meeting room or are dialing from home, an idea that technology and strategy can support.
Given the welcome approach that many organizations are taking to creating more diversity in our workplaces, equity of presence can also help support the careers of people for whom remote work is very useful. For parents with younger children and limited access to daycare, for example, attendance equity can help them continue to work without having to interrupt their careers and thus interrupt the progress of their working life.
While change can come from anywhere within an open hierarchy, policy changes with the adoption of seniors are more likely to become company rules. Leaders who insist on equity of presence and emphasize the contributions of remote workers as much as local counterparts can help balance the scales.
Take the example of team building events. While setting up a single office meeting is cheaper and logistically easier than a hybrid event, excluding remote workers can lead to disconnection and potentially lead to a worse employee experience. Instead, it would be better to invest in a hybrid solution where everyone can find a way to participate.
Related: Hybrid Offices: Prospects for a Permanent Shift in the Workspace
Arranging a free meal for staff and giving away new stationery from the company doesn’t require a lot of logistical organization to ship the same branded merchandise or buy a free lunch voucher through a delivery service. This may sound like little potatoes, but relationships are built or destroyed in the actions we take. For staff looking for a reason to stay in your business, feeling like they are equal in all things that their counterparts in the office can be convincing.
Providing training and new codes of conduct for executives and senior leaders can also benefit the organization, as their attitudes and behavior can affect cohesion. Whether it’s technical advice on how to organize hybrid meetings or communication strategies to manage direct reporting, the updated guide can incorporate a behavior that makes everyone feel valued enough to stay inside the company.
Technology is also likely to be key to equity of presence. Tim Kulp has published on how presence-compliant smart offices can create remote cultures if they are also built with hybridization in mind.
By investing in high-quality audio / video boards and collaborative notes, which are becoming a standard operating procedure in most offices anyway, everyone can be represented equally and not be excluded.
Related: 7 Ways to Make Your Office Smart
Technology must also range from how people are represented to how they communicate with them. It has long been a challenge for organizations to connect with dispersed cohorts, such as front-line workers, but as our communication tools improve and become more connected, this will also improve. Multichannel communications that allow communicators to send and measure the impact of simultaneous messages via email, digital signage, SMS, instant messaging applications, and more can help value all employees equally, respecting their preferences and access to different technologies.
As simple as they may seem, given the perspective of the past two years, incorporating these changes into your organization can help attract and retain key knowledge workers in an increasingly challenging job market.