Brie Weiler Reynolds has witnessed many changes in how work gets done during her 15 years in the field of career development. Still, nothing could have prepared her — or anyone — for the almost-overnight global shift to remote and flexible work brought on by the pandemic. The impact it’s had on employees and job seekers as well as talent recruitment and retention is hard to overstate.
Boston-based Reynolds, who is a manager and coach at FlexJobs and Remote.co, online sites for telecommuting, flexible scheduling and freelance job listings, shared by email her insights on how remote and flexible work arrangements are leveling the playing field for many professionals — and why companies who offer hybrid or all-remote work will have an edge in recruitment.
Remote Report: What changes have you seen in terms of how companies are recruiting and securing talent in the past year and a half?
Brie Weiler Reynolds: More companies are definitely open to longer-term remote work and hybrid-style remote work than pre-pandemic. During 2020, FlexJobs saw a 76 percent increase in long-term remote jobs. While many companies are bringing workers back into the office, they’re also creating new hybrid work arrangements and allowing for greater remote work than pre-pandemic, and that’s ultimately what workers want to see.
RR: How has the hybrid model changed what companies are looking for? How has it shifted what talent is looking for?
BWR: The pandemic has definitely shifted professionals towards a stronger desire to work remotely. According to a recent FlexJobs survey of remote workers during the pandemic, the majority of respondents (65 percent) said they want to remain full-time remote workers after the pandemic. Another 33 percent prefer a hybrid work arrangement, while only 2 percent say they want to return to the office full time. Forty-six percent are concerned that returning to the office means less flexibility and 43 percent are concerned that it means less work-life balance.
And while employers are still largely in control of how work is performed within their organizations, it does appear they are flexible and willing to incorporate more remote work and flexible work options to meet the needs of current workers and future hires.
According to a recent survey by McKinsey, nine out of 10 organizations will be combining remote and on-site working. Of course, this is conditional on what type of work is being performed and what industry the company operates in. The vast majority of remote workers work in white-collar or knowledge-economy jobs, where the jobs and companies are highly compatible with regular, long-term remote work.
RR: What do you say to companies who can’t offer all the perks big companies are offering, or who need people in the office and are dealing with people who refuse to come back?
BWR: Each company needs to look at what they can realistically do to offer flexible work options in a way that both supports the organization’s goals and its workers. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution with hybrid, flexible or even remote work, and there never has been. When considering remote work, instead of looking at it as an all-or-nothing proposition, companies can consider the following:
(1) Ask themselves and their team members and their customers (when possible) to honestly answer what is working with remote work and what is not.
(2) Test hybrid arrangements around those key elements, all the while tracking the impact of those bases as the test goes on (are they getting better, worse, the same) and asking why.
(3) Make refinements and keep feedback and communication open, honest and regular.
RR: Are job seekers now more able to pick and choose jobs?
BWR: In our experience working with clients at FlexJobs, in general, professionals are just as concerned as ever about finding their next role. They’re keeping in mind what their ideal work arrangement will be, but they’re fully aware that so much of the job-search process is out of their control and they’ll need to find the right job for them, not the perfect job for them.
RR: Do companies that offer hybrid or all-remote work have an edge in terms of getting and retaining talent? Why or why not?
BWR: In a word, yes. Most surveys coming out of the pandemic show that the vast majority of professionals are interested in working remotely at least part of the time. And also that remote work and other flexible work options help to strengthen employee loyalty and retention. For example, our 2020 survey of more than 4,000 professionals found that 81 percent say they would be more loyal to their employer if they had flexible work options.
RR: Remote work expands the talent pool, but are there drawbacks to this talent pool?
BWR: Remote and flexible work arrangements absolutely level the playing field for all kinds of professionals, including those parents — largely mothers — who were forced out of the workforce during the pandemic. We haven’t seen any evidence that the remote-work talent pool has drawbacks like poor candidate quality. If anything, remote work strengthens an employer’s ability to find the best candidates because the pool becomes oriented around skills and abilities, rather than geography and the ability to work from an office.
RR: What’s the biggest shift you’re seeing at FlexJobs?
BWR: The biggest shift we’ve seen in the last year is the increase in fully remote jobs: a 76 percent increase in these listings in 2020 compared to 2019. We expected to see this sort of increase in jobs that were temporarily remote during the pandemic, but most listings allowed for long-term, ongoing remote work. More companies are starting to hire for remote-related roles like remote work manager or chief remote officer to help build strong, sustainable remote-work programs.
But what we ultimately expect to see in the coming years is a rise in hybrid arrangements with some in-person and some remote aspects. Both companies and professionals seem to agree that this arrangement has a lot of benefits.
RR: Is there a talent “war”? Why or why not?
BWR: In the remote- and flexible-work arena, we haven’t seen as much evidence of this as in largely on-site industries like events and hospitality.
RR: What do companies need to know about securing talent in this era?
BWR: Ensuring equity among in-office and remote workers should be a top focus for all companies already operating on a hybrid work model or new to this type of work arrangement. Careful planning and a commitment to building a cohesive team will help achieve this. It’s important that both in-office and remote workers be included in all meetings and events, whether impromptu or scheduled. It’s also important to set up team-building events that everyone can participate in virtually.
Companies should also take the following steps to ensure success:
- Create an open and honest dialogue with all employees.
- Align teams around commitments and goals.
- Co-create an engagement plan aligned to the team commitment.
- Train the team to take personal responsibility and ownership around inclusivity.
- Implement check-ins with all employees.
Having a plan in place and committing to giving all employees an equitable experience will help create a positive working experience for both employees and managers as a company adopts a hybrid work model.