Our way of working has changed radically in recent years. For some companies and individuals, it has changed several times. We are collectively trying to understand what the future of work will look like for our organizations and our employees. And none of us can lose sight of what matters most: our people and serving our stakeholders and customers.
Besides the pandemic and the shift to virtual work, other factors are impacting how companies approach work: attracting and retaining talent, real estate costs, culture and technology. This is especially true as companies grapple with talent shortages and employees advocate for flexibility and competitive compensation. The connection between business and the workforce is a symbiotic relationship, whether in an office or entirely remote.
Determining how and where people work is about more than employee preferences and logistics. The decision can have lasting impacts on a business and its culture, and it’s critical that business leaders take it seriously. There are pros and cons, as well as risks and opportunities, that business leaders need to consider.
Flexibility and choice
There are three main ways to work: fully in-person, hybrid and virtual. Ultimately, it all comes down to flexibility: how much flexibility can companies give their employees to decide how and where they work? Hopefully at least some employees expect it. The pandemic and technology have accelerated expectations and mindsets around work-life flexibility.
While the past few years have brought more flexibility to some, they have also blurred the boundaries between professional and personal life. Virtual meetings have brought colleagues into lounges and some employees have readjusted their working hours to fit their schedules. It is important to remember that not all employees are the same; customization can be just as important as flexibility. Each person has different needs and preferences.
According to our research on the future of work, flexibility is one of the top priorities for employees looking for new opportunities. With 88% of executives experiencing higher than average turnover, attracting and retaining talent is a priority for many business leaders. Having a happy workforce directly helps businesses meet their customers’ needs and grow. Work patterns and flexibility play a major role in maintaining high retention rates.
Considering employee needs and preferences when deciding on working conditions can benefit companies as well as their employees. It comes back to my perspective that this is a symbiotic relationship – creating a positive employee experience can be key to building trust with team members and consumers alike.
The importance of building and maintaining culture
In the same Future of Work survey, 36% of executives said the loss of company culture is the biggest challenge of hybrid working. While culture is certainly important, business leaders need to think carefully about how they define it. Culture isn’t all about casual hallway conversations and team outings, though those can help. Culture is not owned and controlled by company management – it is 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 he prioritize well-being? Do any of your leaders have biases that being in the office is the only way to work effectively? All of these are closely tied to an organization’s culture and working conditions, as well as what employees think about them.
While formalizing the transition to hybrid or virtual work can have many benefits, it’s not that simple, especially for leadership and management. Many companies have operated with virtual and hybrid models over the past few years, but they will likely need to evolve their operating models to a new way of working. This creates needs for technology, business strategy, workforce strategy, management styles, etc.
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 others are virtual, there are risks that managers may favor (or have an unconscious bias towards) the people they interact with in the office. There may be a fear of missing out for those who cannot come in person.
Employers need to set clear parameters for what work should mean when they come into the office versus what can be done at home. Managers should work with their teams and individual employees to design hybrid schedules that support team productivity and customer demands. Everyone can play a part when it comes to setting the tone by adopting a hybrid model that demonstrates flexibility both in the office and at home.
What Business Leaders Should Consider
Where do business leaders go from here?
- To get started, integrate your workforce strategy with your business strategy. I repeat, it is a symbiotic relationship. Happy employees can probably lead to happy customers and great results.
- Focus on leadership with empathy; understand that many people still face their own challenges outside of the workplace.
- Listen to your employees and customers to understand what they want and need and listen to feedback. Actively work to adapt where it makes sense.
- Check if your strategy is working or if adjustments are needed.
At PwC, we recently announced My+, our biggest and boldest reimagining of the employee experience. To attract and retain the talent we need to help us and our clients succeed, we empower our employees to build personalized careers, from choosing the types of assignments they work on, working hours , where they work, and the benefits they need. We believe this flexibility allows our employees to tailor their careers to their needs.
At the same time, this approach helps our employees have the necessary resources to serve our customers because, ultimately, our customers are at the center of everything we do. This approach may not work for all companies, but for PwC, we believe that a focus on personalizing our employees through a redefined experience is the best way forward. Even with our new strategy, PwC and leaders like me will continually adapt as we hear more from our people and our customers. Adapting to a successful in-person, hybrid, or fully remote work model is a gradual process. It is not built overnight.
It will take time, reframing and refocusing to find the right balance. What’s important is staying nimble 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 views of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Catherine Kaminsky is Vice President and Co-Lead Trust Solutions at PwC.
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