As we return to some sort of normality in 2022, it’s pretty clear that people’s attitudes in terms of work-life balance have changed over the last two years.
After the disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our lives, many of us are rethinking our priorities, the jobs we are doing today, our careers and how we want to work.
Decisions that we put off making when borders closed and we went into lockdown are now back on the table. Recent surveys have shown that a high percentage of workers are planning to quit their jobs, including one that RingCentral conducted in September 2021 which found that 48% of Australian workers are planning to do so over the next six months.
There’s obviously a lot of difference between planning to leave and actually quitting, so as employers what can we be doing better about talent retention and acquisition?
One of the keys to success is to maintain the flexible working environment that most of us have been operating under for the better part of two years. Any organisation that expects all its people to return full-time to the office is likely to lose staff and struggle to attract new talent.
For a start, there is a lot of anxiety about returning to the office. In our survey, almost three out of 10 employees will look for a new job if their employer changes to an in-person work model. For Australian workers already in a hybrid or remote arrangement, that figure doubles. Six-in-10 are concerned about the Delta variant of COVID (and most likely any newer strains like Omicron) and say they'd consider their employment options in order to stay out of an office.
Working remotely also protects you from potential COVID exposure during the daily commute, with almost four-in-ten workers preferring to wash dishes than commute to the office - but it’s also the amount of time people are getting back in their working day. One senior manager I know has been saving herself 2.5 hours a day by not having to drive to her North Ryde office. Her organisation bans the use of mobile phones for work calls in the car for health and safety reasons, so she regularly used to deal with any work overflow on the weekends.
We also found that people have generally been happier with their job since the pandemic began, and parents are almost twice as likely to be happier than non-parents.
Since the end of lockdown, that same senior manager has seen both an increase in demand and a shortage of supply for highly skilled workers, particularly with the rate of digital transformation taking place across most industries. She believes that it’s really important that employers continue offering workplace flexibility and other intangibles to attract and retain talent. That includes giving people opportunities to develop new skills and work on new projects, and giving them a better work-life balance. Her organisation has put in place a permanent hybrid working environment for office staff, with remote working agreements negotiated and written into individual employment contracts, and additional days off to give staff extra long weekends during the year.
The big challenge then in adopting a permanent flexible working model for the business is how you can make sure both your office-based and remote people feel included and connected.
The good news from our survey is that people’s attitudes towards connectivity have been fundamentally changed by our remote work experiences over the last two years. Seven-in-10 workers say voice and video is as good as in-person connection, and eight-in-10 believe that the way we connect has changed forever. In fact, it doesn’t always have to be video; 82% of workers say that voice makes us more connected overall, and three-in-four decision-makers feel phone calls create stronger work relationships.
When you don’t have your whole team in the office at the same time, it’s important to design your workspace and the communications technology in it to cater as equally as possible for all participants, so that people who are remote feel just as included and involved as the people who are there in the room.
It’s one thing to adopt a flexible working environment to protect your organisation from the ‘Great Resignation’, but it’s another thing to achieve ‘participation equity’ and level the playing field for everyone. Your remote workers are now far more reliant on collaboration tools to stay connected with their colleagues, so you don’t want them to feel that their experience is any less than those who are in the office.