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The Future of Workplace Flexibility

By Universum on 29/01/2021

By Sean O’Grady, Director of Consulting and Creative for Universum, Americas

Universum’s pre-COVID 2020 talent data showed that ‘high future earnings’ was the number one career preference among students globally. Early indications of various pulse surveys we have been conducting indicate that ‘flexible working’ and ‘financial security’ will rise to the top given the pandemic.

Like many of us, we have seen some pros and cons with remote working. Some feel that it has brought them closer to co-workers while others feel more isolated and express productivity concerns.

To help inform our partners, Universum conducted several employer pulse surveys to gauge the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic during different time periods of 2020. Here’s what we’ve noticed. Before March 2020 only 22% of companies offered unlimited possibilities for remote working. That number increased to 62% by the end of the year.

Universum COVID-19 Employer Pulse Survey. Field period: April-November 2020

According to a survey by Jose Maria Barrero of ITAM, 7 out of 10 Americans say their remote working experience has gone much better than they expected. A recent PwC US Remote Work Survey also presents a very optimistic employers’ perspective with 83% of respondents rating their remote work shift a “success.”

The big question is – what will the next 6-to-12 months look like for remote working and possible return-to-work plans? Here are a few recommendations from Universum:

  • Use external data to understand the career preferences of your target audience, their priorities and how they vary by target group. It will also be important to understand how they define key elements such as flexibility.
  • Conduct internal surveys and focus groups with employees to recalibrate your EVP. For example, what will flexibility look like at your organization? How can we deliver on this? Will you offer remote working options? If not, what is your rationale for a full in-office strategy?
  • Update your EVP to reflect your current operating context and reality. Review your existing pillars to determine what is still relevant and what may require tweaking, then adjust those elements for your target audiences.

Remote Value Propositions 

For employers who feel a significant portion of their workforce will indefinitely remain remote, you may want to review Hubspot’s careers site to see how they’re marketing their remote working value proposition. 

It’s a dynamic and colorful user experience that clearly states how the company supports its remote staff. Note – Universum has no consulting relationship with Hubspot or insights into its website’s metrics. 

Regional Hiring 

Another concept we’ve recently heard discussed for future workforce planning is regional hiring. In this model, employees don’t need to report to an office every day. Instead, these employees can be clustered or organized “near-enough” to a location that this would allow them to engage with their coworkers in-person once-a-month or once-a-quarter. Employers can then market regional living benefits like school systems to talent as a hybrid work-life-balance-friendly solution. For example, in this regional model, a New York City office may staff employees who live in the middle of New York State. It’s commutable, just not every day. 

Continue to listen to your talent

As you know, your people are your most valuable asset. Continue to lightly pulse-check their perceptions with focus groups and surveys to help you identify tangible issues and intangible feelings.  Be prepared for shifts. Every day your workforce has been remote is one less day they’ve had to commute to work. At a minimum, their daily schedules have changed to reflect their current realities. On-ramping back to the office may be very challenging for some employees.  

Case in point, a recent, U.S.-based PwC survey on remote work shows a disconnection between employer and employee schedule expectations. In the study, over half of the employees polled said they would prefer to work 3 days or more from home. Meanwhile, their employers are expecting them back in the office full-time, 5 days a week. The chart below shows the distance between the two viewpoints.

Ultimately, the pandemic is not yet over. Much more research will need to be done before we can declare any definitive workplace data-trends. We are in the process of conducting this research through various quantitative and qualitative methods and we will be sure to share this with you as it becomes available. As we advise all our clients, the world will continue to be a shifting landscape and we look forward to updating you on its tectonics. 

Thank you,

Sean O’Grady

Director of Consulting and Creative for Universum, Americas