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Since May 2021, workers in the U.S. and U.K. have voluntarily left jobs in such record numbers that it’s been called “The Great Resignation” (among other things). We’re now coming up on almost a year of this story, and it still isn’t stopping. In January 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an astonishing 11.3 million open roles – up from 7.2 million in January 2021.
So, if you’ve lost colleagues to competitors or other industries, you’re not alone. And, as much as looking back and trying to improve on the obvious reasons they left is important, so too is looking forward and building something new that people will want to stay with in the future.
Meeting the demands of future flexibility
What do future employees want and expect? Predictably, flexibility around how, where and when people work is, as Harvard Business Review put it, “no longer a differentiator, it’s now table stakes.” Forrester similarly suggests that in Europe, “skilled employees will force employers to grant them greater flexibility — or leave.”
Data from Envoy and Wakefield Research’s survey also suggests 47% of employees would look for alternative roles if their employer didn’t offer the flexibility of hybrid work.
Hybrid working and location flexibility may be a new standard, but they come with challenges that organizations need to meet. One of these is guaranteeing that those who choose to exercise flexibility and work remotely are not unintentionally discriminated against as a result of not attending physical offices.
For remote workers, it’s not enough to broadcast a policy of location flexibility — it must be enshrined through actions and commitments. To keep remote staff for the long-term, the creep of proximity bias towards staff who attend physical locations and have closer physical access to leaders has to be eliminated. Building a future-flexible workplace for this cohort means removing our unconscious tendency to reward physical proximity with power and influence, to the exclusion of others.
We can do this at least partially via “presence equity,” a term coined at the EmTech Next conference in 2021. It is the idea that every team member should be given equal space and priority, regardless of whether they’re with us in a meeting room or are dialing in from home — an idea that technology and strategy can both support.
Given the welcome focus that many organizations are placing on creating greater diversity in our workplaces, presence equity may also help to support the careers of individuals for whom working remotely is deeply helpful. For parents with younger children and limited access to childcare, for example, presence equity may help them to continue working without the need to take a career break and so interrupt the progress of their working lives.
Although change can come from anywhere within an open hierarchy, policy shifts with senior buy-in are more likely to become company norms. Leaders who insist on presence equity and highlight the contributions of remote workers as much as on-location counterparts can help to balance the scales.
Take the example of team-building events. While creating a single office-based gathering is cheaper and logistically easier than a hybrid event, excluding remote workers can cause disengagement and potentially lead to a worse employee experience. Better instead would be to invest in a hybrid solution where everyone can find some way to participate.
If you’re hosting a free meal for staff and giving away new company stationery, it doesn’t require much logistical organization to mail out the same branded merchandise or purchase a voucher for a free lunch via a delivery service. This may seem like small potatoes, but relationships are built or destroyed in the actions we take. For staff looking for a reason to stay with your company, feeling as though they are equal in all things to in-office counterparts can be compelling.
Providing new training and codes of conduct for managers and senior leaders may also benefit the organization as their attitudes and behavior can impact cohesion. Whether it’s technical advice on how to run hybrid meetings or communications strategies for managing direct reports, updated guidance can embed conduct that makes everyone feel valued enough to stay within the company.
It is also likely that technology will be central to presence equity. Tim Kulp has posted about how presence-fulfilling smart offices can build remote-friendly cultures if they too are constructed with hybridity in mind.
By investing in high-quality audio/video and collaborative note boards — all of which are becoming standard operating procedure in most offices anyway — everyone can be represented equally and not suffer from exclusion.
Related: 7 Ways to Make Your Office Smart
Technology must also extend from how people are represented to how they are communicated with. It has long been a challenge for organizations to connect with dispersed cohorts such as frontline workers, but as our communication tools get better and 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 apps and more, can all play a part in valuing all workers equally by honoring their preferences and access to different technologies.
Simple as they may seem given the perspective of the last two years, embedding these changes across your organization may help to attract and retain key knowledge workers in an increasingly challenging labor market.