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War for Talent: How demands for flexibility are playing out

Our Take

Workers are increasingly demanding flexibility in the workplace. In the months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many employees around the world to work remotely, many have begun to embrace the flexibility that remote work offers. Now, they’re eager to retain that newfound flexibility moving forward.

Flexibility means different things to different employees. It can range from working from home one day a week to moving to another country and never going into an office. For most, workplace flexibility can include choosing when and how often to work in person, shifting start and finish times, unlimited PTO, sabbaticals, and paid parental leave. Either way, with many people reexamining their careers and work/life balance and making new choices, the labor pool is tightening and though attitudes about flexibility vary, companies are making adjustments to compete in the growing war for talent. The data shows that flexibility that combines working in an office and working from anywhere will be the winning strategy to recruit and retain top talent. 

Demand for flexibility

In May, professional services firm EY released the results of a survey of more than 16,000 employees across 16 countries and multiple industries and job roles. According to the report, nine in ten employees want flexibility in where and when they work. Additionally, 54 percent of employees would consider leaving their job after the COVID-19 pandemic if they are not afforded some form of flexibility in where and when they work.

Despite the way in which COVID-19 has contributed to demands for flexibility, these demands aren’t necessarily new. In 2019, the Society for Human Resource Management released the results of a survey that found 52 percent of respondents had tried to negotiate flexible work arrangements with their company. More than likely, those requests were turned down due to outdated views around how remote work impacts employee behavior and productivity. 

The pandemic forced an experiment that would not have taken place under normal conditions and helped disprove negative beliefs about remote work. Allowing flexible work options benefits both the employee and employer. According to the report, 80 percent of respondents said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options. 

A 2020 survey found similar results. According to the report by recruitment firm Capability Jane, 92 percent of millennials identify flexibility as a top priority when job hunting, 81 percent of U.K. employees feel that flexible work makes a job more attractive to them and 35 percent of UK employees would prefer flexible work rather than a pay raise. 

What companies are doing

Last year, Reddit announced it would continue to allow its employees to work remotely. The company also decided not to cut pay for workers who choose to relocate to another city, saying the move would help them attract high quality talent.

“Reddit will be able to find and hire more amazing talent wherever they live, opening up more meaningful opportunities for diversity,” the company said in a post. “And our leaders will create virtual and in-person (once it’s safe to do so) interactions to build culture and foster trust, collaboration, and innovation among their teams and across Reddit.”

Similarly, this month, Zillow announced it would continue to pay remote workers the same amount no matter where they live. This plan is part of Zillow’s efforts to grow its employee base by 40 percent this year, adding more than 2,000 workers across the country.

"Our distributed workforce model is a more inclusive, more personalized, more flexible, more efficient way of working,” Zillow said in a statement. “We are broadening our pipelines to attract more underrepresented talent and are providing career development opportunities that may have not otherwise existed for our employees."

Source: Zoom

How you can compete

As more employees find flexible work arrangements increasingly attractive, it’s time for companies to examine how they can incorporate flexibility into their long-term workplace strategy. The best option is shifting to a hybrid workplace model, which many companies are experimenting with to meet employee and business needs and to attract and retain world-class talent. 

Research indicates that a hybrid model is capable of meeting employee demands for flexibility. In a recent survey conducted by Zoom, 65 percent of respondents who have been working from home over the past year said that a hybrid work environment was their ideal work model. Of that 65 percent, 33 percent said they prefer to work mostly from the office and 32 percent prefer to work mostly from home. Even among the employees at the company that made remote work at this scale possible, most want to spend regular time together working in an office. The fact that there is no overwhelming consensus to either work remotely or at the office exclusively illustrates the need for flexible work options. 

The increasingly popular hybrid model incorporates a mixture of in-office and remote work. It is not one size fits all, though, and can be structured in a few ways including remote-first, office-occasional, office-first, and remote allowed, depending on business needs. Though some companies may opt to mandate in-office work at specific times or for specific occasions, this customizable model gives employees more freedom to choose when and where they work, which will in turn foster loyalty, spur innovation and productivity, and attract top talent. 


Need help crafting a workplace strategy that meets demands for flexibility and attracts world-class talent? Contact us now.