The Great Resignation has revealed just how much the way people think about work has changed, causing many companies to reassess their practices, procedures and policies. Yet as hybrid seems to be the future of work, employers must recognize and overcome the unique challenges that this new work model poses for their organizations.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 4.3 million people voluntarily quit their jobs in December 2021, slightly below a record high in November that year. Dubbed “The Great Resignation,” this exit is causing disruption in organizations everywhere. Despite companies’ efforts to secure the best talent, people continue to seek new opportunities. Their departures leave leaders scrambling to find, hire and train new team members all while locking down employees with critical skills they can’t afford to lose. The numbers are startling; according to recent Microsoft data, a staggering 41% of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer in the next year.
Flexibility is becoming the new table stakes for attracting and retaining talent
In response, many companies are testing the waters with a hybrid work strategy. They want to see if they can satisfy employee desire for flexibility in how, when and where they work while still fulfilling customer needs, creating innovative solutions, and maintaining company culture. Yet hybrid comes with its own distinct set of challenges. Recent global research by Steelcase identified six potential challenges that organizations will likely face with the hybrid work model, and successful organizations will need to be proactive and transparent about how they will address these new critical issues. Specifically:
Hybrid impacts career visibility. Eliminate presence bias.
Career advancement and growth opportunities are linked to time spent in person, gaining exposure to leaders, and growing internal networks. HR leaders are seeing hybrid work colliding with talent and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. While talent pools can expand with some hybrid models, hybrid can also make it difficult for entry-level employees and new hires to be seen and grow in their careers.
Bottom line: HR leaders committed to talent development, engagement and DEI goals are developing new training for hybrid leaders to address biases before they become entrenched.
Equal is impossible. Aim for equity.
It’s inescapable that certain jobs are more apt for remote work. Yet, providing some workers with the option to work remotely and not others can result in unintentional inequalities. Leading organizations are accepting that, while things may not be equal, they can strive for more equity by offering different pay structures, resources or benefits to create a greater balance.
Bottom line: Employees understand things cannot always be equal, but they value organizations seeking to level the playing field.
Leading organizations are creating experiences that help build a culture of trust and a sense of community
Avoid knowledge silos. Focus on flow.
Despite virtual collaboration tools, HR leaders continue to observe that in-person interactions remain ideal for transferring all sorts of knowledge, allowing people to learn faster and be more confident to use what they learned. This ability to share and build upon knowledge contributes to effective collaboration, reduces redundancies, and improves resource efficiency.
Bottom line: Organizations that have already undergone digital transformation and have processes and tools in place to make it easier to access information are better positioned to avoid knowledge silos. For those that have not, hybrid work will accelerate their need to restructure and invest in collective learning and broadening network connections.
Less predictable work. More intentional experiences.
The days and times people go into the office will vary in a hybrid model, so they will be less likely to bump into one another—especially people outside their immediate teams. And as people become more deliberate about when and why they come to the office, they will have new expectations about the space and tools they need. Leading organizations are responding by redesigning their spaces to better support hybrid work and creating experiences that help build a culture of trust and a sense of community, which could erode when people spend less time together.
Bottom line: Less predictable daily work behaviors will require space and tools to be more adaptive and flexible to respond to what people need in the moment.
Distance weakens bonds. Build social capital.
People work for and are motivated by other people which means to feel engaged and loyal to the organization, they need to feel connected to others. Laughing over a cup of coffee or discussing an issue over a meal creates the relationship glue that leads to trust — a key ingredient to engagement, retention, and innovation.
Bottom line: HR leaders worry a distributed workforce will make it harder to build social capital and more difficult to onboard new employees into the existing culture. Leaders understand the need to rebuild weakened social bonds and are leveraging the power of the physical environment to strengthen culture.
Basics aren’t enough. Support the whole person.
People have greater expectations about the role their organization takes in supporting their overall sense of wellbeing. Flexibility—whether organizations adopt a formal hybrid policy or simply allow for more remote work or flexible work schedules—is becoming the new table stakes for attracting and retaining talent because people are not willing to give up their new sense of autonomy and greater work-life balance.
Bottom line: HR leaders understand employee wellbeing is now an issue that organizations will need to support in concrete and meaningful ways. A range of new benefits are being explored including sabbatical leave, mindfulness training, childcare, and rejuvenation experiences in the office.
Organizations that adopt hybrid work policies may see these and other challenges emerge. Anticipating and planning for these issues before they arise will enable companies to be far better positioned to attract and retain talent, maintain business continuity, and act quickly to achieve successful results for their people and their business.