At the end of March 2020, a Gartner survey of 317 CFOs and Finance leaders revealed that 74% will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID 19. Twitter recently announced that it will allow its employees to work from home “forever” and Faceboook’s Mark Zuckerberg told staff that the company was “aggressively opening up remote hiring” and estimated that half of its staff could work remotely in the next five to ten years. Every day, there are more and more articles emerging on the topic, and the debate seems to have pivoted towards a shift in global remote working practices.
As businesses rethink how they approach this, what lessons can we take from lockdown and what are some of the long-term considerations beyond real estate cost savings?
In this blog series we seek to explore employer and employee perspectives on this topic. First up, we look at some of the knock-on effects and considerations for the employee life cycle.
A key advantage of creating more remote working positions, seems to be that hiring managers will suddenly have access to a much greater talent pool.
Mike Noble, from the ADP’s Talent Acquisition Team, notes that “pre Covid-19 the second most asked question by candidates, after what’s the package, was what is the flexible working options the company offer. Flexible working had become as important as the package and every candidate to a degree, almost expected some element of flexibility around being able to work from home. For those companies that didn’t offer this, it meant they were losing out on some top talent. In becoming more open to flexible working there is no doubt that this will open up the pool of candidates that were previously ruled out due to location.”
Does this therefore point to a win-win situation for both employer and employee active in the job market?
LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, recently posted about the levelling ground presented by an increase in remote working opportunities post COVID-19. The topic generated lots of discussion and some were quick to point out there are still geographical aspects such as differences in employment law and renumeration rates that need to be taken into account. So it is not quite the quick equal opportunities fix after all.
When you look at the hiring process itself, finding the skills and top talent is one thing, but what about that age-old aspect of finding the most appropriate ‘fit’ for the business and team? Can you really get an impression by video interview? Equally can the new hire really get a feel for the company and manager through remote communications? This scenario applies both if the new position is a remote hire or if indeed the hiring manager’s position has been turned into a remote position. In this respect, there may always be a case for a face to face interview process within a company premises…
We recently spoke to some of our own recruits who were onboarded during lockdown. Unsurprisingly their experience was very different to that which they would have had in an office environment. From additional IT support to extra layers of ‘planned’ communications – they were quick to point out that businesses needed to provide comprehensive welcome and onboarding programmes to make this work. New colleagues have found it more challenging to get to grips with how the business operates, its culture and products and services.
Matt Cooper, Principle Product Architect, noted “Culture in particular is very different being out of the office. Getting to know people is much more difficult – we had a series of team intro calls which was helpful. We have a lot of team communication, which might seem like too much at times, but is necessary with everyone being remote. General office small talk is completely missing. I know several people in the office, but they work on different teams. I’ve barely had any communication with them, but in the office – I’d likely speak to them most days. Although that would be primarily on a personal level, it would inevitably involve work related discussion too. In an office, it would be natural to meet new people, e.g. in the kitchen, or those sitting near you, but that doesn’t happen remotely”.
Jemina Leach, Programme Manager, also noted that “the informal learning element is very much diminished – learning by overhearing and copying in open plan offices is replaced with lots of reading and a feeling of not always wanting to disturb colleagues or managers by asking too many questions which might otherwise be answered informally.”
Virtual onboarding from day one therefore seems to be a risky business. An initial period in the office with face to face meetings and interactions might be more successful for employers who are recruiting for remote working positions. Recent Harvard Business Review research echoes this sentiment, finding that it seems best to keep newly hired employees co-located in the office with experienced peers long enough to benefit from the informal learning that happens organically in a face-to-face environment. It can be argued also, that although to a lesser degree, similar challenges emerge when someone makes an internal departmental move and is virtually onboarded onto a new team, so this applies not just to new hires.
While we know that employees place a monetary value on flexible work conditions, it is less straight forward to determine whether that is the driving factor for keeping that person content and thriving in their role.
Remote working throws up perhaps unconventional dynamics for some and results in challenges which may not be overcome. How do you successfully build work relationships purely online? How do you truly gauge reactions to your presentations and contributions? And what’s the impact of not having those informal networking moments, on progressing projects or indeed careers?
Even Jemina Leach, who is used to working on contracts and working from home for part of her week, says that she would value one day a week in an office environment over a complete work from home scenario.
Mike Nobles notes that “flexible working is only one of many factors that keep someone in a role, others such as ensuring the role is right for them and offers continued progression and change are key to ensuring people stay long term, as is a company culture. If the culture is not right and hostile at times, people will leave regardless of opportunities or compensation”.
So while the Corona crisis has certainly presented a shift in this debate and does undoubtably present opportunities for evolving remote working policies and practices, hasty cost saving decisions may be ill fated. When it comes to new recruits and those moving between departments, for instance, a blend of remote and office locations might be more suitable. Hiring managers recruiting for remote positions should also be prepared to invest more time in inductions for the longer-term benefit of everyone involved. Finally, it will most definitely take longer for remote employees to settle in, never mind have a true impact on the business and their own career aspirations.