By Katie Burke, Chief People Officer at HubSpot
A recent USA Today poll suggests that 40% of Americans wish to continue working remotely after the pandemic. 84% of employers consider remote working a success this year. And yet, as the United States and other markets like Australia start to re-open office spaces, a lot of companies are starting to get cold feet. Concerned about employee retention, culture, cohesion, and engagement, employers are reacting by infusing friction into the process. Some are mandating the same days for everyone to be in the office, requiring roles with no real need to be in the office to be onsite, and hedging on the levels and teams that have to be in or near HQ regularly.
But the companies who reduce friction in the future of work will win in the long term, not the ones who add it. Or said more plainly, I believe companies who don’t require you to be in one place at the same time on Wednesdays will win the war for talent. Here’s why:
People miss colleagues, not commutes.
There’s no question that employees are excited to reconnect with colleagues in-person and that managers are eager to get their teams together for brainstorms, leadership development, and innovation exercises. And I am in full support of helping folks do that as soon as it’s safe and possible to do so globally. But I think people are over-indexing on what we currently miss (quality in-person interaction) and underestimating the things people don’t miss, like long commutes or having to leave their house before their kids head off to school. I am a big believer in continuing to deliver a great office experience (particularly as about 18% of HubSpotters plan to come in more than three days per week globally), but I also believe in, and trust, employees’ ability to pick the days, schedules, and approaches that work best for them and their team’s needs. I have no doubt we’ll have teams that choose to meet up in-person and folks who choose to return in-office every day, but I believe the best people want to choose that option for themselves versus being told required days they must report to the office.
Required office days limit economic opportunity geographically.
In 2019, five cities accounted for 90% of tech job growth. If we truly want a more diverse, equitable workforce, job opportunities cannot be predicated on your zip code. Requiring folks to come into the office essentially means you’re drawing a two hour radius outside those cities instead of fundamentally creating more access in smaller cities and towns. The value of increasing surface area for opportunities in tech isn’t just talent, it creates real economic value in smaller markets, and also ensures that more families can afford a living wage regardless of their role in a company given how expensive housing and childcare can be in larger cities globally. Moreover, the fewer requirements you place on employees being near HQ means you can also offer great career growth to folks in your global offices, which is a win for teams like ours looking to grow exponentially in JAPAC and EMEA. Working remotely over the past year has made it clearer than ever that access to career growth, mentorship, and senior leadership opportunities is about the person, not the place.
True remote options can increase the diversity of your workforce.
Almost 3 million women left the workforce during the pandemic, including a disproportionate number of LatinX and Black women. Requiring face time and commuting again isn’t how we’re going to rebound with considerable progress, and if anything we need to infuse more flexibility in scheduling, location, and childcare arrangements to create room for more caretakers, women, returners to the workforce, and BIPOC leaders. Requiring folks to be in the office specific dates and times meaningfully limits age, parental status, gender, and BIPOC diversity that could create considerable impact on the future of work. And it’s not just attracting those folks to join your team that matters, it’s an important ingredient in employee retention. 73% of employees say having flexibility increases their work satisfaction, so in a highly competitive market for talent, being able to hire but also grow and retain a more diverse workforce is mission critical. The data is super clear: a whopping 70% of caregiving hours globally are provided by women and girls, so to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce in 2030, we need more work options that infuse flexibility in a way that’s sustainable and makes it possible for caregivers to grow and thrive.
As employees begin to return to work, I hope companies don’t leave all they’ve learned about remote work behind. Putting too much red tape around flexibility will only make this next chapter harder. But I believe we’ll see the true cost of adding friction to the future of work five years from now, not five weeks. There is no question that infusing flexibility into how we work will make some things more complicated, and will require thoughtful dialogue and learning for managers and leaders alike. But the answer is not to revert back to our old ways of working entirely or to add endless amounts of complexity to the hybrid equation.
The answer, in my opinion, lies in leaning into empathy. We now have an opportunity to build on what the past year has taught us, and create a future with less friction and more flexibility for everyone. A truly flexible and hybrid workforce will help us win, but more importantly, it will help our people win…no matter where they are.
Learn more about hybrid work at HubSpot.