As today’s workforce continues with its Great Resignation rally cry, now is not the time for IT leaders to underestimate the impact of their response to a technical team’s workplace re-entry struggles.
If you are not seeing these struggles, dig deeper. They are there.
Grace persists and needs to remain front and center in understanding and respecting today’s dramatic shift in the employer-employee relationship dynamic. Spring 2020’s pivot to virtual was certainly jarring and one might expect a return to normalcy would be an easier adjustment. That is proving to not be the case for all.
What are the biggest struggles for employees as they migrate back into the physical office? What can employers expect, what should IT leaders look for and how can they respond?
Returning tech staff are slowly getting accustomed to less freedom.
Initial concerns around remote work and declining productivity were eradicated early on. A Mercer study showed for a large majority polled that productivity remained the same or increased in the work from home forced experiment.
While remote, employees became accustomed to managing their own time while still producing during their work day. The difference? A newfound freedom to define their own work day cadence empowered strong work in conjunction with the ability to run errands, take a mental break, bake cookies with their kids and, some days, all of the above. All within the confines of a work day; all while completing their daily work obligations.
A full-time return to the office reintroduces that standard ‘we’ve always done it this way’ work day. It may take some time for employees to recalibrate and process that sense of loss of freedom.
As a supervisor, it’s important to understand that the newfound family connection time introduced during the pandemic’s remote reality may ultimately prove stronger than any connection to a location-inflexible place of employment.
It’s never too soon to start thinking about offering a more flexible work arrangement.
Global Workplace Analytics estimates a family saves up to $6,000 annually working from home. Shaving travel expenses, business lunches and after-school childcare from a family budget makes an impact. In addition, there is a price tag for and increased stress to scheduling around a set work day. Aside from the obvious gasoline and wear-and-tear costs that come with commuting, daily travel to and from work also adds unpaid days-to-weeks to any annual work schedule.
Looking beyond hard finances, intangible costs also add up. Examples include:
- Scheduling: Scheduling stressors for family needs
- Distractions: Distractions at home seem more solvable than those in office
- Time: Increased awareness of time wasted in commute
- Environmental: Carbon footprint impact
While tangible and intangible costs are present for the employees, employers may face a growing price tag should they lose technical talent. A recent GoodHire study showed, “61% of Americans would be willing to take a pay cut to maintain remote working status. Some workers even suggested they would take a 50% pay cut to avoid returning to the office.”
Employers need to internally assess the cost of employee loss over something as simple as empowering hybrid work opportunities.
Mental health worries
The impact of the pandemic’s remote life on mental health, self-confidence and happiness cannot be ignored.
After over a year of yoga pants paired with a professional top, we know the business on top and party in the back mullet-style attire doesn’t translate into a professional work environment.
And while the Covid-19 (19, as in pounds) started as a joke, everything from closed gyms to even a lack of minimal forced workplace movement resulted in a semi-forced sedentary lifestyle that makes the ideas of pant buttons terrifying in an unfunny way.
In addition, jumping from remote work to back in office is especially difficult for the introverts. Working from home served as a Mecca for those that thrive in distraction-free, deep focus environments.
For well over a year, interactions felt more freeing when managed via video conference or text as opposed to always on, always polished. Jumping back into the office reintroduces a mental stress and avalanche of socially expected interactions that can be exhausting. It may take a minute for these staff members to readjust to the always on work obligations.
Or, always on may prove to be the straw that leads that staff member to take the persistent recruiter’s call.
The bottom line
Attracting and retaining technology staff proved difficult before spring 2020. Now, after over a year of acclimating to remote work, employees have found increased happiness in working from home.
Over the past 18 months, employees have taken the trusty work-life balance management talk and found a way to successfully create their own balance.
Shorter, more intense work intervals freed up time for exercise. Less water-cooler talk distraction led to time better spent prepping healthy meals and creating more comfortable and organized work spaces.
In some ways, hybrid work environments might be the key to success for employer attractability and employee satisfaction and retention.
Ultimately, flexibility is the key. And while today’s employees are making the ultimate choice – Should I stay or should I go? – employers are uniquely positioned to sweeten the talent retention pot swiftly and with little to no bottom-line cost.
IT leaders are well-accustomed to fighting for technical staff support. Advocating for experience over credentials, tech talent pay over legacy compensation lines, even emotional IQ skills superseding deeply technical expertise in some positions.
As remote-friendly employers continue to actively poach technology’s best and brightest, appealing with everything from higher pay to guaranteed work from home support, how can those traditional in-office employers – representing some 44% of U.S. companies – compete and retain their workforce? If making the case for hybrid work accommodation is the answer, it very well may be well worth the fight.