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At the onset of quarantine in March of 2020, it would be fair to say most companies expected an eventual return to the 5-day week office routine. In fact, right up until early this year, that was still the plan for most organizations. This is especially true for the traditional banks, large corporates, and F250 companies.

Yet, as of Q2 2021, only about a quarter of employees across the US had physically returned to the office.

Is this simply the lingering effects of the pandemic or is a more profound shift underway?

First and foremost, it’s important to note that CHRO’s we speak to believe having a transparent return-to-work policy is vital. Those companies yet to get on board with this idea will increasingly find themselves at a competitive disadvantage attracting and retaining talent. This is especially true for technology talent.

With most organizations now not planning on sending their employees back full-time into an office, an astounding reversal of expectations from a year ago, the future of work is undergoing a shift that is leading to a blend of outcomes for employees. A recent survey conducted by the Chief Marketing Officer of a Fortune 50 company, revealed 92% of the 500-person marketing department did not want to return to the office for more than 2 days a week and nearly 69% did not want to return to an office environment at all!

  • Remote: Completely virtual environments are on the rise especially among tech firms. Many of these companies were early in calling for remote-only or remote-optional workforce plans and are now finding this useful as a recruiting and retention tool, especially for Engineering and Data talent. Locations like Florida are increasingly likely to be viable, longer-term options for technology employees and companies are smartly building localized hubs to attract talent (examples include Square and Twitter).

Fully Remote Results in Greater Diversity. Even as vaccination rates enable physical return to the office, companies that have demonstrated a continued openness to remote/flexible work environments are having far greater success in attracting a wide and deep talent pool. As an example, VMware has recruited 150 disabled employees based on its decision to allow employees to work completely virtual. Challenges to employment, especially transportation to and from work, can suddenly become non-issues for otherwise highly qualified talent. In addition, companies like Facebook have significantly increased their gender diversity by targeting working mothers who often benefit from flexible schedules.

  • Hybrid/Remote First: Hybrid models continue to roll out at technology companies. Over 50% of executives we have spoken with believe this will become the new industry standard. Very soon, in fact, FinTech's will all have remote-first/hybrid models. The majority will have 0-2 days from the office and 3 days from home (3/2) or 2 days from home and 3 in the office (2/3). Examples include Salesforce, LinkedIn, and VMWare. This type of flexibility improves the employee experience and promotes the better work-life balance many employees crave. Adopting a hybrid model is a competitive advantage in attracting, recruiting, and retaining employees.
  • On-Site: Mid-September 2021 appears to be the timeframe many large banks, financial services and Fortune 500 companies are planning for significant back-to-office initiatives. Private equity firms with large real estate portfolios already had most workers in the office as of May. Industrial companies are also pushing for full on-site returns, but with retention of employee flexibility and daily capacity limits.

As some more “traditional” Fortune 500 companies gradually shift return to work strategies away from 5-days back in the office they are beginning to realize how it reflects on their culture. Today’s more agile and modern workforce are making their voices heard. Common feedback from technology talent when considering a move to a financial services company is “If an organization can’t work out how to operate remotely in 18-months then how agile, innovative or progressive can it be? This is not a firm I’m keen to be a part of.” That’s a hard perception to shed in today’s employment market.

Companies that cannot or will not incorporate at least some level of in-person flexibility may struggle coaxing talent away from more forward leaning organizations. Again, not simply because of the logistics, but what it says about an organization’s inherent culture. Perception is reality.

The Impact of Shifting Mindsets & Priorities

During the last 18 months, we’ve observed a trend of being less emotionally attached to work and reoriented towards time with the family and fulfilling pursuits. Companies planning mandatory returns to the office full-time may find themselves pushing hard against their employees’ value systems. That is a struggle they are likely to lose and look bad in the process.

Post-pandemic, many people are looking for purpose in the work they do and want to work for a company that is positively impacting the world. The candidates we are meeting with today are significantly less likely to give up work life balance for more money. The old adage that ‘no one on their death bed wishes they had spent more time in the office’ has never been more true.

The evidence is becoming clear that the traditional 5-day in person week is not coming back as the norm for many companies and industries. Those which do insist on returning to pre-pandemic work schedules will face an uphill battle for talent who consider culture and flexibility as crucial cogs in the incentive package.

If you’re interested in discussing your talent needs based on your current work environment or in hearing more about the talent intelligence underway at Modern, please reach out. We’d love to discuss with you.