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With jobs coming back and a talent war likely on the horizon, U.S. employers must show flexibility in where those roles are performed if they want to attract the best candidates, experts say.

A slew of studies has shown that most employees want to be able to continue working remotely even once the pandemic has passed. They may want to  come to the office to meet with colleagues when needed, but they want the choice to be theirs.

That means flexibility is key in the coming battle for talent.

“Companies that don’t offer some flexibility will definitely lose talent, and we’re already seeing that,” said Traci Palmer, a vice president at Citrix, which makes software for remote working. “Before the pandemic, remote working was a perk that you handed out. Now, it’s accepted as something you have to offer.”

According to a March 2021 Citrix survey of 7,250 workers in 12 countries, 52 percent of employees said they want a hybrid model that would allow them to choose day-by-day whether to go to the office or work remotely.

Leverage tilting to employees

At the same time, 45 percent said that if they were to change jobs, they’d only take one that offered remote working options.  A separate survey the same month done by specialized staffing firm Robert Half found that 34 percent of American workers said they would look for another job if forced to return to the office on a full-time basis.

“If you are now trying to hire the best talent out there, flexibility is now a huge part of the new EVP,” Scott Engler, an analyst at Gartner, said in a Jan. 29, 2021, webinar about the future of work. He was referring to employee value proposition, or the benefits a company promises its employees.

To be sure, U.S. workers now find themselves in a better bargaining position than a year ago, when the coronavirus outbreak kicked into high gear in the country and forced many companies to close or restrict business.

Job postings in the U.S. this February were 15 percent above their levels a year ago, according to a study by online job-posting site ZipRecruiter.  During the strictest lockdowns last spring, job offers were at barely half of their pre-pandemic level.

The growth in job postings follows data showing the U.S. economy created 916,000 jobs in March, exceeding most economists’ forecasts. The American economy is expected to rebound 6.4 percent this year and the European Union is forecast to grow 4.4 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

While jobs are coming back, last year’s disruptions caused many employees to rethink their work. They are questioning not only whether they were happier working from the spare bedroom, but in many cases whether they want to take their careers in entirely new directions.

About a quarter of American workers plan to look for a new job when the threat of the pandemic has dissipated, according to a Prudential Financial survey in March 2021, foreshadowing a lot of churn in the market this year and signaling a looming war for talent.

‘You’re probably going to lose out to someone else’

The reasons vary, with 27 percent wanting a better work-life balance, 26 percent seeking more pay and 26 percent desiring to try something new. Still, one in three said they wouldn’t consider an employer that required them to be on-site full time.

Prudential says it’s taken note of its own survey and plans to keep offering remote-working options for most of its 40,000 employees.

“At Prudential, we believe that this kind of approach will enable us to maintain productivity, facilitate collaboration and offer employees better work-life balance, which ultimately creates better outcomes for our customers,” said Lucien Alziari, chief human resources officer for Prudential Financial.

It’s not clear that all employers have gotten the message.

According to ZipRecruiter, 60 percent of job seekers on their site right now are looking for remote opportunities, while only about 9 percent of the job postings explicitly offer that opportunity.

Gartner’s Engler says all signs point to companies accepting that some of their workers will continue to work remotely, noting that surveys show that 70 percent of companies are considering reducing their real -estate footprint even as they keep hiring. Target, Nordstrom and Salesforce have all announced plans to reduce office space because of remote working.

“It’s baked in,” he said. “Try to hire the top tech talent right now and not offer some kind of hybrid package and you’re probably going to lose out to someone else.”

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