It’s no secret: How we work has changed. Dramatically, as a matter of fact. During the global pandemic, where, when and how we work evolved and so did our mindset. Workers are demanding the freedom to redefine their day-to-day work lives, and changing market dynamics have given them the leverage to insist that employers meet those demands. Being a place people want to work is about a lot more than just where they work. It’s about offering teams the flexibility to work in any way they choose. Though it may take some time for your company to get there, adopting Work in Any Way as a long-term workforce management and employee engagement strategy will keep you competitive and allow you to attract the workers you need.
How did we get here?
Many of these changes were underway before the pandemic. A number of global forces, from the growing labor shortage to the rise of the gig economy, played a part. It’s undeniable, though, that in early 2020, the sudden shift to working from home created a sort-of leap-frog effect. As a result, 75% of Americans want to work from home full- or part-time from now on. Working from anywhere is now the norm.
As traditional full-time jobs vanished, gig employment became a lifeline. The gig economy was already strong and continues to gain momentum; it’s projected to grow at three times the rate of the traditional workforce. 67% of workers are willing to leave stable jobs and commit to a side hustle or contract with multiple companies, all for the sake of designing a more balanced life.
Then there’s the global talent shortage. Anyone with hiring responsibilities has no doubt experienced how difficult it is to find the right talent for the job, and experts expect the labor deficit to hit 85 million people by 2030. Combined with the quitting economy—41% of the global workforce is looking to change jobs in 2021—organizations will find themselves competing harder than ever to fill open positions.
Together these dynamics set the stage for an environment where workers can ask for what they want, and companies have to deliver—or risk losing out again and again to competitors with the willingness and ability to offer it. Higher wages and bonuses aren’t enough to win over in-demand talent; housing bonuses, college tuition for the whole family and unlimited vacation are all on the table.
So, what makes a Work in Any Way company?
“Get to the yes.” Twitter’s mantra is one example of people-centric people management. Your direct report wants to move to another city, country or time zone, or wants to stay put but log on from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. when they’re at their most productive. Twitter’s philosophy is to find a way to make it happen.
That’s just one example; we’ve seen a lot of our clients lean into a people-centric HR strategy with great success, accommodating individual workstyles and making “yes” the default answer. To get there requires more than approving a move, home office budget or adjusting how distributed team members collaborate. It means becoming a company that fits into the lifestyles people want to shape for themselves.
To achieve that, work culture has to change. How do you get HR directors and managers to adjust their approach to employment negotiations? When a perk like WFH becomes SOP, what becomes a perk? Younger workers especially are more likely to want to work in the office for a sense of camaraderie. How can you communicate what’s possible and encourage your people to ask for what they want rather than go somewhere else to get it? How do you respond when someone you really want to hire asks for something you haven’t thought of? How do you push your organization to prioritize people over profits?
In 2015, after learning some of his team members had side gigs, Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, raised the minimum wage for every single employee to $70K per year by reducing his salary from $1M to the same. Six years since he equalized pay, revenue has tripled, their customer base has doubled and their workforce has grown 70%. When sales dropped at the start of the pandemic, he asked his team how they could avoid layoffs. Workers responded by volunteering to take pay cuts, and naming how much they’d give up. Price created a virtuous circle by focusing on what his people needed—without them ever asking.
Plenty of companies have cut ties to the physical office space and are thriving, with worker productivity, engagement and satisfaction at all-time highs. Remote-only companies like Gitlab, Firstbase and ZibaSec have been modeling this for the rest of us for years and they’ve created open source how-to guides, which include making meetings optional and writing down everything so that everyone can participate in discussions and decision-making.
What other ties can you loosen?
To start with, when people work. Asynchronous schedules are on the rise, with workers free to log on whenever they’re at their most productive. To help with collaboration and maintain connection, some companies require a four-hour crossover when everyone is online, while others free people to work anytime.
When you don’t require people to work at a certain place or time, the number of markets where you can hunt for talent expand dramatically. You can recruit where there are large talent pools, seeking out skilled engineers, operations staff or professors anywhere in the world and filling jobs faster. People who face difficulty working outside the home represent another new population of potential hires. By considering women from cultures that traditionally limit their access to jobs, part-time caregivers and workers with disabilities, your available talent pool both diversifies and multiplies overnight. It also offers a pathway back to work for women, 54 million of whom left the workforce in 2020 as a result of the pandemic and related pressures.
You can also reevaluate whether you hire for gigs or full-time. 77% of executives believe that so-called “alternative workers” will replace a substantial number of full-time employees within the next four years. Gig employment makes you more adaptive to market dynamics and offers options to the increasing number of workers looking for them. It also changes compensation commitments.
How do you pay people? No matter where they’re based, some workers want to be paid in USD. (Exchange rates are one area where creative compensation structures can be of great importance.) Others prefer local currency if they’re working in another country, and then there’s cryptocurrency. Over 40% of Americans are open to being partially paid in cryptocurrency and 31% are willing to take their entire salary that way.
Benefits also require careful reconsideration. Unlimited PTO, fully-funded healthcare plans, gym and MasterClass memberships, professional development, volunteer opportunities, annual company meetups, office supplies, even kitchen knives—when nothing is sacred, everything is possible.
Taking an adaptive approach is key. What your workers want today won’t be what they want tomorrow. Work in Any Way isn’t about getting comfortable with a new normal. It’s about reimagining the entire work experience in creative ways that meet the needs of everyone in the organization.
Start with tools that enable you to provide the experience your people want. The pandemic pushed a lot of companies to invest in new technology to enable collaboration and workflow. But do you have what you really need? There’s more to it than downloading Slack and Zoom. How and when do you use them? How do you make home office spaces comfortable and conducive to work? Firstbase’s entire raison d’etre is supplying remote distributed workforces with home office equipment including furniture, tech and IT support.
Beyond that, how do you evaluate performance and reward employees? And how do you predict what’s next so you can galvanize resources and lead the way rather than react? It comes down to evaluating what's necessary for your business and developing the flexibility to adapt your policies and practices. This requires initiating a dynamic conversation with workers and HR so that you can customize your negotiations. Two key considerations are what’s realistic—some requests simply may not work for your organization—and maintaining equity.
So, now what?
Once you understand what defines Work in Any Way, you’ve got to figure out how to cultivate it. Start by grading yourself. What’s effective and what’s not? Where are you succeeding and where do you lag? Becoming a Work in Any Way company doesn’t mean you have to change every single practice or say yes to everything. It’s about finding the balance between business necessities and worker preferences. And it’s about prioritizing the individual requests of your people with more options for when, where and how they work. Change is happening rapidly and it’s only going to accelerate. If you hesitate, you’ll fall behind. Leading the charge is the way to get ahead—and thrive.