With the COVID provoked economic shutdown, companies have hunkered down, reduced expenses or outright closed operations resulting in high levels of unemployment. But these are times unlike others. As the curve finally flattens and states fully reopen, there will be an unprecedented surge in hiring and a rush to the best talent. Are you prepared for the Great Rehire?
The Opportunity of the Free Agent Workforce
A free agent is someone without commitments or restrictions, a term most commonly used in sports when there is no contract that binds a person to an organization. But the term also applies to anyone in the workforce without a contract. Technically, most people are free agent employees that can switch jobs at any time.
However, there is more meaning behind that description than simply someone not under contract. Being a “free agent” means you are open to considering a move to somewhere new and says to all prospective employers: I am available to work for whomever gives me the best deal.
The challenge is that the terms of the standard deal have changed in recent months. There has been a shift in the mindset of employees who have been home since March, surrounded by family, working remotely, and forced in mass to contemplate the fragility of life. And employers, some who have tried to keep employees engaged and happy during the turmoil, are going unrewarded for their efforts. Employees’ loyalties are measured in new ways. Many want something different than they did before and they are willing to consider other offers.
So what did change? It’s the “free” part of free agency that was emphasized during the pandemic. Ironically, during a time of restrictions, new freedoms were discovered that will impact how we work long after the threat of Covid-19 is over.
Impact of Remote Work
The giant leap to working remotely has brought about a great shift in the workforce – and the majority like it. Our own poll shows 53% prefer working virtually. This means no one is surprised that companies are making work-from-anywhere situation permanent or at least a hybrid version between remote and in-office work. Twitter announced that it will be 100% remote and other companies such as Facebook are going 50% or more remote.
But think about the impact to hiring if a majority of what was previously “office” employees now work remotely. If they are no longer restricted to a reasonable distance from an office location. In this new reality, they can live anywhere as long as they have good remote connectivity (and hopefully a Starbucks nearby). Hanley Wood conducted a survey where an astounding 36% of employees said they would be open to moving to a new home if allowed to permanently work remotely. Where location of the office was previously a high priority, in some instances, it can almost be eliminated from the equation when considering a job. That allows employees to focus on other areas that have become important to them.
Now consider the other changes to the employee mindset. Flexibility has become important, with almost 59% of respondents listing it as their number one priority in our recent poll, doubling it’s pre-Covid value, and almost six times more important than salary. Health and wellness has stepped up as a primary issue. Companies are rushing to offer mental health services as part of their benefits package. And there is an increased focus on efficiency and the value of time, which the pandemic has had a special way of highlighting.
There is a chance that many employers are about to be blindsided from this willingness of employees to change jobs. While many believe they are effective at engaging their employees, they are evaluating their success by pre-Covid measurements. But just because companies have remote themed parties, virtual happy hours, Zoom meetings with hats, and pet calls, doesn’t mean their employees are engaged. Connecting with your employees is not the same as engaging them. Our research showed 50% of those surveyed found the extra contact with companies ineffective and additional 30% found it downright distracting. In the same poll, 60% had experienced Zoom fatigue.
Responding to the Change
One of the biggest mistakes we see companies make is doing the same things they did pre-pandemic, but in a “virtual way.” The secret is to do different things that respond to the new mindset of employees. You need to change the way you work. To recognize what has changed and become the company where the best talent chooses to work, regardless if in the office or working remotely from any city, town or country road. Because if employees are no longer restricted by location, then employers are not either. And the really savvy employers are working hard to determine and secure their best existing talent while using this new boundaryless employee pool to land the most valuable additions to their team.
So what’s your best deal? If you are an employer, why would someone work for your company? As an employee, why would you make the switch to a new company? There are six company qualities that we believe are important to employees today:
Some of these, such as opportunity and leadership, have been on the list from the beginning of time, but they have increased in importance and moved ahead of things like salary and prestige. Others reflect the new needs of employees such as flexibility – which shows a company’s agility and ability to react to changes, or support – which is reflected in things like mental health services.
To evaluate your own situation, rank your company on these six qualities on a scale from 1 to 3, with 3 being the highest. (We always like to give a narrow scale so that it forces you to make a choice between good, neutral or bad.) If you want to take it a step further and insure alignment with your workforce, survey your people as well. For companies, at least three categories should be ranked as 3’s. Any category receiving a 1 should become a priority to bump to at least a 2. As work opportunities expand to offer more choices in the work-from-anywhere era, the burden of delivering value will become more pronounced for companies.
Free Agency Opportunity
At the heart of this shift to free agency is competition – for the best talent and the best jobs. Competition is good in that it spurs innovation and productivity, encouraging everybody to up their game. It provides a tremendous opportunity to those who react quickly and are prepared for the change. Because as with all competition, there are winners and losers. Taking advantage of the new free agent market in the workforce increases odds of winning – by a lot.
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The Great Rehire Series is written by talent expert, Rich Thompson, CEO of XPG Recruit, a recruiting firm for the staffing industry. He is also part of Xtra Point Group which offers consulting services focused on People Solutions that identify, secure, develop and retain the best talent.