The way we work has drastically changed over the past few years. For some companies and individuals, it’s changed multiple times. We are collectively trying to figure out how the future of work may look for our organizations and our people. And none of us can lose sight of what matters most—our employees and serving our stakeholders and clients.
Besides the pandemic and the shift to virtual work, other factors are impacting how businesses approach work: talent attraction and retention, real estate costs, culture, and technology. This is especially true as businesses struggle with talent shortages and employees advocate for flexibility and competitive compensation. The connection between businesses and the workforce is a symbiotic relationship, regardless of whether it’s in an office setting or fully remote.
Determining how and where people work is about more than employee preferences and logistics. The decision can have long-lasting impacts on a company and its culture, and it’s critical that business leaders take it seriously. There are advantages and disadvantages, as well as risks and opportunities, that business leaders should consider.
Flexibility and Choice
There are three main ways of working: fully in person, hybrid, and virtual. At the end of the day, it comes down to flexibility—how much of it can businesses give their employees to decide how and where they work? Hopefully, at least, some—employees expect it. The pandemic and technology accelerated expectations and mindsets about work-life flexibility.
While these past few years have provided some with more flexibility, it also has blurred the lines between work and personal lives. Virtual meetings have brought coworkers into living rooms, and some employees have readjusted their work hours to fit with their schedules. It’s important to remember that not all employees are the same; personalization can be just as important as flexibility. Every single person has different needs and preferences.
According to our research about the future of work, flexibility is one of the top priorities for employees looking for new opportunities. With 88% of executives seeing higher turnover than typical, talent attraction and retention is a huge focus for many business leaders. Having a happy workforce directly helps businesses deliver for their clients and grow. Work models and flexibility play a major role in keeping retention rates high.
Considering employee needs and preferences when deciding work arrangements can benefit businesses as well as their people. This goes back to my point about it being a symbiotic relationship—creating a positive employee experience can be key to building trust with team members and consumers.
The Importance of Building and Maintaining Culture
In the same future of work survey, 36% of executives said the loss of corporate culture is the biggest challenge to hybrid work. While culture is certainly important, business leaders should think carefully about how they define it. Culture is about more than casual conversations in the hallway and team outings, though those can help. Culture isn’t owned and controlled by company leadership—it’s built by people at all levels.
Instead of focusing on what employees do or don’t do in each work model, ask yourself: Is your culture inclusive? Does it allow for healthy work-life flexibility? Does it prioritize well-being? Do some of your leaders carry biases that being in the office is the only way to work effectively? All of these are closely connected to culture and an organization’s work arrangements, as well as how employees feel about them.
While formalizing the transition to hybrid or virtual work can have an array of benefits, it isn’t so simple, especially for leadership and management. Many companies have operated with virtual and hybrid models for the past few years, but they will likely need to shift their operating models to a new way of working. This creates needs across technology, business strategy, workforce strategy, management styles, and more.
One consideration that arises with clients is how to manage, reward, and promote people in hybrid environments. If some people are in the office while some are virtual, there are risks that managers could favor—or have unconscious bias toward—people they interact with in the office. There may be a fear of missing out for those who can’t make it in person.
Employers must set clear parameters around what work should mean when coming into the office versus what can be done at home. Managers should work with their teams and individual employees to design hybrid schedules that are conducive to team productivity and client demands. Everyone can play a part when it comes to setting the tone by embracing a hybrid model that demonstrates flexibility both while working in the office and at home.
What Business Leaders Should Consider
Where do business leaders go from here?
- To start, embed your workforce strategy into your business strategy. I’ll say it again—it’s a symbiotic relationship. Happy employees can likely lead to happy clients and great results.
- Focus on leading with empathy; understand that many people are still dealing with their own struggles outside the workplace.
- Listen to your employees and clients to understand what they want and need and listen to feedback. Actively work to adapt where it makes sense.
- Check in to see if your strategy is working or if adjustments are needed.
At PwC, we recently announced My+, our biggest and boldest reimagination of our people experience. To attract and retain the talent we need to help us and our clients succeed, we’re giving our people the power to build personalized careers, from choosing the types of assignments they work on, to the hours they work, to where they work, and the benefits they need. We believe this flexibility empowers our employees to tailor their careers to their needs.
At the same time, this approach helps our people have the resources to deliver for our clientsbecause, ultimately, our clients are at the center of everything we do. This approach may not work for every company, but for PwC, we feel that the intense focus on providing our people with personalization through a redefined experience is the best path forward. Even with our new strategy, PwC and leaders like myself will continually adjust as we hear more from our people and our clients. The adjustment to a successful in-person, hybrid, or fully remote work model is a gradual process. It’s not built overnight.
It will take time, reshifting, and refocusing to find the right balance. What’s important is staying agile and making adjustments that will guide business leaders toward a work model that not only serves operational functions but also benefits employees.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Kathryn Kaminsky is vice chair and Trust Solutions co-leader at PwC.
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