For most companies, return to office (RTO) seems to be a matter of when, not if.
Already, 51% of companies have transitioned back to in-person work, while 39% plan to do so in 2024, according to a survey by Resume Builder, an app that helps candidates optimize resumes for recruiting software.
Yet RTO does not have to mean every employee shows up five days a week. According to the survey, most companies still allow for at least some remote work. Offering flexibility seems to be key in attracting and retaining employees.
“Companies who insist on RTO when employees are resistant may lose workers and struggle to hire talent from a smaller candidate pool,” says Stacie Haller, chief career advisor at Resume Builder, in a company article.
Instead, by listening to what employees want, empowering them with some autonomy over their working conditions and using technology to improve both efficiency and engagement, companies can succeed in this new era of work.
Find Out What Employees Want
Before you get too far into figuring out how to market your policy on where and how employees work, consider whether you have the right workplace policy in the first place.
Four out of five executives would have handled their companies’ RTO strategies differently if they had workplace data that could have supported their decision-making, finds Envoy. The workplace software company also finds that 23% of managers say they rely on gut-driven decisions, but that’s arguably not a good way to tell if your workplace policy is attracting or repelling candidates.
“Many companies are realizing they could have been a lot more measured in their approach, rather than making big, bold, very controversial decisions based on executives’ opinions rather than employee data,” says Larry Gadea, CEO and founder of Envoy, in a CNBC Make It article.
Since workplace preferences can differ based on factors like industry and the types of roles you’re hiring for, it makes sense to ask your current and prospective employees what they want.
Using video interviewing software, for example, you can integrate questions about remote vs. in-person work into your standard processes and create a centralized record of responses. Talent management software can also be used for similar assessments and analysis of employee engagement regarding existing workplace policies.
As it stands, there is a disconnect between what employees want and what employers think they want. A study by Unispace, a workspace design company, finds employees cite privacy and productivity challenges as the top in-office dislikes, while employers think commuting is the top barrier to RTO.
“Employers who take the time to understand what their employees need and value most from their office will be more successful in redefining the power and purpose of that workspace. This will drive strength of culture, brand, employee loyalty and wellbeing, and talent retention,” says Steve Quick, global CEO of Unispace, in a company press release.
Case Study: Allstate Listens to Employees’ Desire for Flexibility
Before the pandemic, only 20% of Allstate’s workforce was remote. But in 2020, the company surveyed employees and found that 95% wanted more flexibility, according to a company article. As of late 2022, 75% of the company’s employees worked remotely, 24% were hybrid and only 1% were office-based.
As a result of this shift, Allstate ended up downsizing office space, including by selling its primary headquarters, which yielded not only financial benefits but also recruitment rewards.
Since transitioning to a more remote working policy, applications are up around 60%, along with a 30% increase in diverse job candidates, says Stephanie Roseman, vice president of people solutions and experiences at Allstate, in an interview with SHRM Online.
“It’s enabled us to find the best talent,” she adds.
But it’s not just about allowing employees to work from home. Allstate is also using technology to foster employee connections and engagement, such as a company-wide recognition social network.
In designing what this new way of working looks like, it’s important to hear directly from employees.
“We should be listening to them the same way we listen to our customers and try to drive customer experience; we should listen to our employees and drive our employee experience,” explains Roseman.
Mandates Make Recruitment Harder
Finding out what employees want and using tools like applicant tracking software and recruitment marketing software to assess and integrate these preferences might sound like a path toward formalizing policies. But, if recent history is any indication, then employers need to focus more on flexibility and less on mandates.
Among employers with on-site work mandates, 71% have difficulty with employee retention. In contrast, only 46% that give employees a choice feel the same, finds The Conference Board.
Even if you really want employees to work in-office, a shift toward communicating that as a preference—not a policy—makes a difference. Among employers that strongly encourage on-site work, only 50% see retention as difficult, according to The Conference Board.
To force employees to come back to the office, some companies resort to firing, or at least threaten to do so. The Resume Builder survey finds 28% of companies take this approach. However, this can quickly lead to staffing challenges.
For example, LGBTQ dating app Grindr recently lost nearly half of its employees due to resignations stemming from an RTO mandate, according to the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA).
Instead of mandates, companies can thrive by giving employees more of a say.
“Whenever possible, giving workers some flexibility and control over where (and when) they
work may help alleviate the sustained recruitment and retention challenges organizations are experiencing,” states a Conference Board report.
Case Study: Hybrid Success at HubSpot
HubSpot, a marketing software provider, has found success by giving employees three options for their primary workplaces, which the company calls @home, @flex, or @office. But even within these labels there’s some flexibility.
HubSpot’s @home employees typically work from home but might come into a company office one or two times per quarter; @flex employees come into a company office two or fewer days per week but do not have a dedicated office desk; @office employees come into HubSpot offices three or more times per week and have a dedicated desk.
In other words, there’s still some room for remote work for all employees, while the company also has offices around the world for those who prefer to come in sometimes. By leaning into a hybrid structure, which includes features like location-agnostic employee benefits and remote-first onboarding, HubSpot has been able to reap the benefits from an HR perspective.
Some employees might appreciate the option to work in an office. At the same time, remote work can open up opportunities to a wider talent pool, such as candidates in rural areas, the company says.
Even with these differences in work locations, productivity has stayed consistent, according to what HubSpot leadership tells HR Brew. Plus, the company tells the publication, employees who work fully at home are more likely to recommend HubSpot as a great place to work.
If the company mandated a complete RTO, it would have missed out on this benefit. At the same time, HubSpot is cognizant of remote work challenges, like building connections among employees.
“That’s why we’ve tried to help employees rebuild their community and deepen their connections through hybrid initiatives like Bring Your Family to Work Day or our Great Ice Cream Social,” says Eimear Marrinan, senior director of culture, HubSpot, in a company report.
Not every company will take the same approach to workplace policies, but by listening to what workers want and maintaining some flexibility and adaptability, you can improve your recruitment and retention efforts.
In a more hybrid environment, recruitment marketing leaders will also likely need to rely more on technology like pre-employment screening software and virtual onboarding software to efficiently bring new hires into the fold without pigeonholing them into an in-person experience.
New employee referral software tools can also be used to engage current staff in recruitment marketing efforts in ways that help them feel connected to your company while earning rewards.
HubSpot’s 2023 Hybrid Work report finds that around two-thirds of employees with a close friend at work are more likely to stay at their companies. Specifically, 70% of remote employees feel that way, as do 65% of in-office employees, so encouraging referrals can help both recruitment and retention, regardless of your workplace policy.
Technology can also be used to survey employees on what matters most to them and keep them engaged on an ongoing basis. Even if your company has primarily returned to the office, it’s still important to maintain some flexibility, which likely means allowing for some level of remote work. Checking in with employees to see what’s working for them can help you continue to offer a positive work environment, which in turn can help you attract more high-quality talent.
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