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Hybrid workplace may give employers hiring edge

The post-pandemic office is leaning strongly in the direction of hybrid workplaces. Job candidates view working from home as a key consideration when searching for a new position.

Amazon's post-pandemic office plan "to return to an office-centric culture as our baseline" is in sharp contrast to other top job market competitors, including Facebook, Microsoft, Ford Motor Co. and Salesforce. These firms plan to make the hybrid workplace permanent; some believe doing so will boost recruiting.

While Amazon illustrates that not all companies will provide remote or hybrid workplaces, the work-from-home option is now a top question of job seekers, according to recruiters and HR professionals. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how employees and employers think about the office and office attendance.

ScienceLogic Inc., an IT monitoring software vendor, is one such firm. It is moving to a remote and hybrid workplace model, and it's planning to reduce office space by two-thirds at its headquarters in Reston, Va.

Hybrid work isn't new territory at ScienceLogic. It had an established flex work policy pre-pandemic. About 200 of its 450 employees globally worked remotely, but most local employees routinely went to the office.

George Rau, head of human resources, ScienceLogic Inc.George Rau

Although ScienceLogic hired nationally, it was still "sort of focused on the local market" in Northern Virginia, said George Rau, head of human resources at ScienceLogic. Despite the pandemic's forced shift to remote work, employee engagement, retention and productivity were strong, he said. The firm's hiring also became more expansive.

"Now that we could recruit in Seattle [or] we could hire someone in Austin, the talent pool expanded exponentially for us," Rau said. The firm hired 70 people in the first quarter of this year. "It's been a godsend for us in terms of our ability to attract talent," he said of the remote option. It's also leading to real estate cost savings.

The firm leases approximately 63,000 square feet at its headquarters. With the shift to a hybrid workplace, it's considering reducing its footprint to about 10,000 to 20,000 square feet, according to Rau. "We're saving a ton of money by downsizing our real estate," he said.

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Hybrid workplace seen as a benefit

Post-pandemic, full-time office work may be a hard sell with some job seekers, said Ed Meindl, a regional vice president at recruiting firm Addison Group LLC in Chicago. The firm recruits managers and senior technical professionals across industries, typically for jobs at salaries above $125,000.

Job candidates today are quick to ask about hybrid workplace policies, Meindl said. It "is one of the first three questions they ask you."

A work-from-home option "has now become something that candidates look at as a benefit," he said.

The preferred option by employers is the hybrid workplace over full-time remote, Meindl said. Hybrid means employees would need to come into the office for part of the week, once a month or longer for collaboration and meetings, he said.

Before the pandemic, Amazon's expansion plans included building 2.8 million square feet of office space in Arlington, Va., across three 22-story buildings. It is making no changes to this plan.

"Despite many of our employees working from home at this time, we view our Arlington headquarters as a long-term investment, and we remain committed to creating 25,000 jobs and investing $2.5 billion in Arlington over the next decade," it said in a February blog post.

Amazon believes that working in the office "enables us to invent, collaborate and learn together most effectively," it said in a March 30 blog post that announced its office-centric plan.

What surveys say about post-pandemic work

  • Fifty-six percent of employees will be back in the workplace most of the time. [ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey of 7,500 U.S. employers, March]
  • Forty-nine percent of 241 HR leaders said they "will let employees work remote on certain days." [Gartner survey, March] 
  • Jobvite survey: Thirty-five percent of employees have declined or would decline a job offer that required them to work full time in an office or worksite. [Jobvite Survey by Zogby Analytics of approximately 1,500 U.S. adults working full time, March] 
  • Forty-one percent of workers indicated a willingness to take a job with a "slightly lower salary" if offered a hybrid workplace option. [Envoy Inc. survey by Wakefield Research of 1,000 U.S. adults, February]
  • Fifty-five percent of employees would prefer to be remote at least three days a week once pandemic concerns recede. [PwC Remote Work Survey of 133 U.S. executives, January]

Flexible workplace and hours

The pandemic won't end the debate around working in the office versus working remote or hybrid. Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's 2013 decision to reverse a work-from-home policy is an example of how companies can make dramatic shifts and conclude that having employees in the office is best.

But ScienceLogic's Rau said the office downsizing that's underway in the commercial real estate market is a "leading indicator" the hybrid shift will be around for a while. Employers are making commitments on reduced space with leases of five to 10 years, he noted.

[The hybrid workplace] is the best of both worlds, allowing employees to benefit from the socialization and structure of being in an office and the independence and flexibility of remote working.
Dan SchawbelManaging partner, Workplace Intelligence LLC

The hybrid workplace "is the best of both worlds, allowing employees to benefit from the socialization and structure of being in an office and the independence and flexibility of remote working," said Dan Schawbel, managing partner of HR research and advisory firm Workplace Intelligence LLC.

Schawbel said employers who want workers back in the office "want control and oversight over their workers, signaling a lack of trust."

But firms that want to forgo full remote workplaces can still give employees flexibility in how they schedule their job, the hours, shifts and even work locations, said Lauren Smith, vice president in the Gartner HR practice.

What job candidates "really want is a sense of autonomy, a sense that they can fit their work into their lives, that they can plan their day," Smith said. "And for some, it may mean a remote status, but for others, that may be scheduling flexibility."

Amazon in contrast to its peers

Despite its push for an "office-centric culture," even Amazon makes exceptions. In some job ads, it tells job seekers: "We're happy to offer a flexible schedule so you can have a more productive and well-balanced life -- both in and outside of work."

Salesforce, in contrast, is being specific about its post-pandemic workplace environment. It will have "flex" work, requiring employees to be in the office one to three days per week "for team collaboration, customer meetings and presentations." It will offer a "fully remote" option for employees who don't live near an office. Office-based work will be for "the smallest population" of its workforce, it said.

Microsoft said it views working from home less than 50% of the time "as standard for most roles." Facebook said that as many as half of its workers may work from home.

Savanna Thompson, vice president of people at 98point6 Inc.Savanna Thompson

Employers hope for hiring benefits as well. When it announced its hybrid workplace decision in March, Ford said it believed doing so would help it "attract and retain top talent." And Salesforce, in its February announcement, said "our talent strategy is no longer bound by barriers like location."

Amazon will be competing against firms with a broader view of work flexibility, such as 98point6 Inc., a Seattle-based telehealth firm.

The firm has about 350 employees. Before the pandemic, about 250 worked out of its office headquarters.

Before the initial COVID-19 quarantine more than year ago, the firm was "of the mind that your best work and most collaborative work is done in-person," said Savanna Thompson, vice president of people.

Face-to-face with a new reality

But post-pandemic, 98point6 is supporting what it calls a "work from anywhere" approach. Broadly, this means employees can work in the office full time, at home full time in the U.S., or some combination of the two, she said.

"What we've learned over the last year is that our employees thrive in an environment where we offer them flexibility and where they're able to make choices about how and where they work," Thompson said. There will still be jobs based in Seattle, but at a smaller percentage going forward, she said.

During the pandemic, Thompson said the firm came "face-to-face with the reality" that employees working at home were "able to produce the same quality and caliber of work" compared to working from the office. This realization prompted them to question preconceived notions about work environments.

"The exciting thing about our shift to remote-friendly is that we suddenly have a national talent market," Thompson said. "It will allow us to be competitive across the nation and to attract the highest caliber of talent."

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