October 8, 2020

Five Lasting Implications for Retention in a Remote-ish Workforce

February and March were a wild time to be dozens of people’s work-from-home “expert.” You see, that’s what you become when you spend more than a decade vacillating between a home desk, standing countertop, kitchen table, couch, and, yes, occasionally the bedroom or bathroom. 

Yes, please turn your mic off unless you’re talking. Yes, a stack of books is a perfectly adequate way to get a monitor to the right height. No, an old, misshapen chair is not worth the pain you will get from it.

The variety of questions I received, and some of the follow-up conversations after months of working remotely during the pandemic, made me think about some of the biggest long-term implications of retention in an era of working remotely.

Your Talent Competition Just Increased Overnight

Probably the scariest part for organizations should be that for people discovering they can successfully work from home, that opens up the door to many more possibilities. Similarly, there are more companies realizing they can take on remote talent than ever before. 

In a smaller employment market like Portland where I’m located, you could count on a certain level of provincialism when it came to available jobs. If you wanted to live in Portland, you almost had to work in Portland. Even for the self-employed, most of their clients were local. 

You can’t count on that advantage anymore. There will be more competition than ever. People will be less tied to geography. Which leads to another challenge.  

Compensation Challenges Just Increased

Let’s say you have an employee working in Los Angeles or Chicago, and they decide to relocate to a cheaper metro area, like Tulsa, Oklahoma, to work remotely full time. Do you keep the person’s pay the same and count the savings in less commercial real estate in an expensive city, or do you tie it to their metro area? With an increase in remote work, that person might be able to find better opportunities for companies just happy to not have to worry about relocation plus expensive in-office costs. 

Of course, that leads to other side effects like housing in some markets increasing significantly due to a remote work exodus. 

Rethinking Your Perks and Benefits

It’s a nice thing to walk into an office and have a stocked kitchen, a full keg, gourmet meals, on-site services like childcare or yoga, and other perks. Some don’t directly relate to an office, but transit stipends or commuter benefits become less important to people lowering the frequency of coming into work. 

Instead, helping people outfit their home office easily, connecting employees with children to caregivers, and providing tutoring resources for kids in hybrid or remote learning environments are already increasing in popularity. 

Considering logistics of working across time zones

When an employee decides to work remotely from a different time zone, there may be good intentions and a commitment to make it work. But there can be retention challenges there, too. A person from San Francisco moving to Charleston, South Carolina and expecting them to work the same hours as the rest of the team on the west coast will have them going past 8 p.m. Not only that, if you want to bring your team together for meetings sometime in the future, how willing is your organization going to be to fly people in from everywhere? 

Organizations should work through this and find common hours where everyone is expected to be available for meetings. Also, consider that some might find working in a different time zone advantageous (I personally love waking up early and being done with the day by mid-afternoon). 

In reality, everyone will want different things

I didn’t want to lead with this one because this is the real crux of the issue. Everyone’s tolerance for remote work is different. Some of the people I’ve talked to recently who felt like they were walking into a WFH nightmare never want to work in an office again. Others can’t wait to get back. Many more people will want some work from home and some working in the office, especially once they realize how nice it is to actually work from home when there isn’t a global pandemic happening. 

Now that people have experienced it and realize they can work this way, they will seek it out. If they can’t find it from you, there are going to be a lot more options for them. 

The upside for organizations that have figured out how to inject the right level of flexibility and support into remote working is that the market for talent just got a lot wider as well. Many great employees who thought they loved their desk and lunchtime workout at the company fitness center are realizing they might not mind spending half that week at home working instead.