New Workforce Models Bring New Challenges in the Next Normal 

The changes brought about by the coronavirus crisis are not going away anytime soon, says a new Tatum survey of American workers and Randstad customers. Among its findings: Eighteen percent of employers intend to continue leveraging remote work in some capacity, while 12 percent said they were still weighing their options about bringing workers back. Thirty percent say they will stay at least partially remote or are considering it.

July 14, 2021 – The pandemic has changed almost everything about how we live — and the changes are sure to keep coming. Today, we’re slowly reclaiming some of our older traditions, but we can’t be certain about what comes next. According to a new report from Tatum, we may never completely return to what was considered “normal” before the pandemic, but we must be prepared for even more changes — and for those constant changes to become the norm.

Adapting to this state of flux — constantly changing working conditions and locations, new health and safety requirements, emerging technologies and more — is our next normal. To find out why, how and where these changes are happening, Tatum surveyed 1,213 American workers, along with 1,589 existing Randstad customers. What the study discovered is that the world of work is changing more — and faster — than many anticipated.

More workers than ever before went remote during the pandemic. That means that workforces across the U.S. were forced to rely on technology even more to ensure business continuity. But while millions of white-collar workers adjusted to Zooming, essential workers — those whose jobs required them to be onsite — were also adjusting to new technologies designed to enable them to work safely. “With so much transformation happening so quickly, it was bound to affect different generations in a variety of ways, both positively and negatively,” said the Tatum report. “Our survey found that that was indeed the case — just not in the ways we were expecting.”

Hybrid Models Emerge as the New Norm

Will the workforce of the future be fully remote or fully onsite? The answer, most likely, is a mix of both. A hybrid workforce model is rapidly emerging as the norm for businesses that have the option. In fact, recent data from HR software maker iCIMS found that half of companies had removed or loosened location requirements for new hires. Salesforce and Spotify, for example, both recently announced that workers will be able to work from wherever they’re most comfortable.

Tatum’s own findings were more measured, with 18 percent of employers planning to continue leveraging remote work in some capacity, while 12 percent said they were still weighing their options about bringing workers back. All told, 30 percent of respondents said they either plan to stay at least partially remote or are considering it.

But even though workers clearly enjoy having the option to work remotely, not everyone wants to be remote all of the time. Randstad’s Workmonitor, a semiannual survey of the global workforce, found that nearly four out of five (78 percent) of workers said they want to return to their workplaces at least part of the time. This may be due in large part to the fact that more than half (52 percent) reported missing their in-person interactions with colleagues. That’s likely why 54 percent said they prefer a hybrid workplace in which they have the freedom to choose where they work.

“Employers that have the option to capitalize on this trend should seriously consider implementing it, albeit not without first giving it careful consideration,” the Tatum report said. “After all, if some workers have the ability to work remotely but others don’t — and especially if those who can be remote are managing those who can’t — employers may risk a fractured workplace plagued by a culture of resentment and toxicity. For white-collar employers, a hybrid model may mean a smaller physical footprint, with a downsized office that now functions mostly as a collaboration space, rather than housing the entire workforce day to day. This assumes everyone has the option to work remotely or onsite when they choose. Google, for example, plans to allow workers to work remotely two days a week, while Siemens will allow employees to work remotely up to three days a week.”

For blue-collar organizations, however, Tatum notes that adopting a hybrid model will require a bit more nuanced. The report points to Ford which is currently planning to allow 30,000 of its white-collar workers to continue working remotely, although how much time they spend at the office vs. at home remains at the discretion of employees’ managers. Production workers will remain onsite, and while the auto giant currently has no plan to require vaccinations, all onsite workers will receive daily temperature screenings, and the organization will continue contact tracing and proactive cleaning and sanitation protocols. Amazon and Toyota are following suit, allowing office staff to remain remote while keeping production workers onsite.

“Organizations that plan to keep employees onsite going forward may avoid the potential pitfalls of having workers in multiple locations, but they may do so at the cost of attracting the best professional talent,” the Tatum report said. “After so many professionals experienced the benefits of remote work, asking them to come back onsite five days a week will inevitably turn some off — and send them running to job boards as a result.”

Different Generations, Different Responses to Changing Tech

Tatum says that manufacturing, logistics, hospitality, healthcare and a raft of other industries will be unable to take advantage of hybrid models to the same degree as companies in other industries. But as so many companies across the board venture into hybrid models, Tatum’s survey found that those that do so should be well aware that the technological challenges they’ll face may be inconspicuous. For example, hybrid working models naturally create an even greater reliance on technology, but not every generation seems to welcome that notion equally.

According to the Tatum survey, among those who work remotely, 75 percent said they were more reliant on technology than before the pandemic. However, just 24 percent said that fact worried them. Those aged 45 to 54 were most likely (35 percent) to say an increased reliance on tech was worrisome, while those aged 18 to 24 were most likely (60 percent) to say more tech time didn’t bother them at all.

Without a Commute, Some Struggle to Turn of

The technology that enables us to work remotely has also changed not just how we work, but when we work, according to the Tatum report. More than a quarter of respondents (26 percent) said they start work earlier, and 24 percent said they work later as a result of remote work. And while just 13 percent of all respondents told us they work more hours total, 18 percent of those aged 45 to 54 and 17 percent of those aged 35 to 44 agreed.

“The fact that those putting in more hours are mid- to late-career professionals is likely due to the fact that workers in those age brackets are more likely to have management or leadership roles, and the tech that enables remote work may make it easier not to “switch off” at the end of the workday,” the Tatum report said. “Instead of commuting at the usual time, tech gives them an extra hour or two to clear out their inboxes, get work done or even mentor younger workers.”

Top HR Leaders and Employees Agree: Flexible Work is Here to Stay

A benchmark workforce survey of employees and HR executives conducted by Careerminds points to new expectations for the future of work. The shift to a hybrid work model, an improved employee experience, and more work-life balance are improvements we can all expect. What does it all mean for companies that adapt? A competitive advantage in attracting, recruiting, retaining, and outplacing employees. Let’s take a closer look.

Even though some mid- to late-career professionals may struggle to close the laptop at quitting time, Tatum found that it is Millennials and Gen Z who are struggling the most with the rigors of remote work. Millennials — defined as those born between 1981 and 1996 (or today’s 25- to 40-year-olds) — are more anxious, getting less sleep, feel less productive and have a harder time communicating with colleagues than they did when working onsite. And this may not be technology’s fault at all. After all, Tatum says, this age group is more likely to be juggling childcare or sharing space with roommates than older generations. For those coping with more demands on their time outside of work and no dedicated space for remote work, working from home may feel more like “living at work.” These findings also align with the survey, which found that those aged 18 to 34 were most likely to say they were no longer able to take breaks during the workday.

Not Everyone’s Willing to go Back to — or Stay at — Work

Even though some remote workers are clearly not loving their experience so far, not everyone is in a hurry to return to a physical worksite. Whether it’s a result of stimulus checks or the effect of seeing what it’s like to spend more time with family, Tatum’s clients routinely tell them that bringing workers back onsite is proving far more difficult than they expected. This, they say, is especially true among workers from Gen Z, who are happily leaving jobs without something else lined up, simply because they were dissatisfied in their current role. This gels with Deloitte’s research, which found that Gen Z is perfectly willing to take nontraditional paths in their career, including incurring gaps in their resume, if it means finding a role they value.

Related: What a Whole New Way of Working Looks Like 

And speaking of value, that’s what work is all about for Gen Z. A MetLife survey found that while “regularly accomplishing work tasks” was most important in terms of feeling a sense of purpose at work for every other generation, among Gen Z, that factor fell several percentage points and was equal to “doing work I’m passionate about” and “doing work that adds meaning to my life.” Doing work they’re passionate about was also a leading factor for Millennials, but it still fell somewhat behind delivering value for their employers and regularly accomplishing tasks.

New Expectations for the Future of Work

According to a landmark global workforce survey conducted by Careerminds and Hunt Scanlon Media with over 100,000 employees and HR leaders participating, a majority of respondents now believe the shift to hybrid work, combining in-office and at-home locations, is underway and likely to remain a permanent fixture of the new workplace. The shift to flexibility is improving the employee experience and promoting a better work-life balance. It is also giving companies a competitive advantage in attracting, recruiting, retaining, and outplacing employees. Click here to read more!

“For employers, this is a clear mandate to provide today’s youngest workers with responsibilities that align with their interests and passions whenever possible,” the Tatum report said. “Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time keeping them — far harder, in fact, than their older counterparts: In our survey, those under 34 were most likely to have changed jobs in the past 12 months.”

On the other end of the generational spectrum, baby boomers, now approaching the twilight of their careers, have very different motivations at work, according to the Tatum report. “They’re much more likely to be loyal to employers than other generations in general, but they’re especially motivated by employers that provide benefits that contribute to long-term financial stability,” the report said. “Benefits like expanded health coverage, retirement benefits and a 401(k), for example, are key for retaining these seasoned workers.”

Making Hybrid Work Actually Work

Tatum notes that these insights might make employers think twice about adopting a hybrid approach, but there’s good news: “Each of these issues can be mitigated by taking proactive steps as you build your hybrid workforce strategy,” the Tatum report said. “First, make sure your remote workers have the tools and tech they need to make remote work seamless. Could they use an external monitor at home? Would they benefit from faster wifi? What about a comfortable place to work? These things can easily be supplied up front or even financed through a home office stipend.”

Next, Tatum says to establish boundaries for when work happens — and when it shouldn’t. The report said that “instead of letting your remote workers keep plugging away long after the sun’s gone down, consider setting a “no work after X o’clock” policy, and encourage your managers to not only enforce it, but model it. Make sure they’re not sending emails after quitting time, and have them make it clear to their teams that they don’t expect them to do so either.”

Lastly, Tatum says to ensure that “workers who are onsite, whether by necessity or by preference, feel safe. Regular, rigorous cleaning, along with solutions like elevated temperature screenings and mask-detection technology, will go a long way toward making those working onsite feel protected.”

Related: Executive Search Firms Adapting to the New Normal

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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