Hybrid work may present some uncomfortable long-term questions for employers, managers and HR teams. But if they are serious about competing for talent, these stakeholders may need to embrace the trend in the years to come, two consultants told HR Dive in an interview Tuesday.
After presenting on the subject as part of Workhuman Live in Atlanta, Thrive HR Consulting co-founders Reynaldo Ramirez and Jason Walker spoke about the need for employers to think strategically about topics such as pay, flexibility and communication — and what thinking they should avoid — if they want to compete for talent in a hybrid world.
Mistake #1: Defaulting to location-based pay for remote workers
The pandemic brought with it a booming relocation market in the U.S., particularly for employees who no longer had to live within driving distance of an office and could instead seek areas with lower living costs. Almost immediately, employers began to wonder whether they should maintain pay rates for workers who moved.
Some companies, like Facebook parent Meta, initially took the stance that workers might see pay cuts if they moved elsewhere. Others contended that maintaining pay rates was key to retaining talent and that salary portability was the way to move forward.
Walker said docking an employee’s pay simply for moving to a primarily remote status can be a “huge disincentive” and could damage an employers’ efforts to reinvigorate a remote workforce. Furthermore, recruiting for some positions may be so difficult as to require lenience on the part of employers.
“You need to make sure that when you’re talking to people about geo-based pay, you need to talk about your relative value to the organization,” Walker said.
And regardless of what direction employers take on compensation for a given role, Ramirez noted the importance of ensuring benefits and finance teams have the right data to work off of when making such decisions. Market data can typically be anywhere between six to 12 months old, he said, making it crucial for employers to ensure their information is accurate and draws from diverse sources.
Otherwise, employers may unnecessarily lose valuable employees with hasty pay decisions, Ramirez said; “and that’s the last thing you want to do.”
Mistake #2: Assuming managers who excel at in-person work will automatically succeed in hybrid
Even the most effective managers can benefit from training on how to succeed in a remote environment, Ramirez said. Team leaders may need a better understanding of how to read the room during remote or hybrid meetings, or they may be under the mistaken impression that remote workers care less about development or advancement than their in-person peers do.
“Just because they’re good managers doesn’t mean they’re good managers in a remote environment,” he said.
Walker added that managers must be able to engage teams in remote meetings effectively. Simple practices, like rotating the meeting agenda to different team members, can be a way of doing so, he said. Leaders also will be tasked with maintaining a psychologically safe environment that ensures employees are heard, seen and taken care of. “People want to go with a company that is going to respect them and treat them well,” Walker said.
Mistake #3: Being scared of hybrid work for the long haul
Though remote work has carved out a place in many organizations’ long-term plans, employers have voiced concerns about the risks the model may pose during and after the pandemic. But ditching flexibility altogether is not the answer in the current market, Ramirez said, especially with so many candidates outright refusing positions that do not offer flexibility.
“Employees over the last 24 months have got very accustomed to working remotely and being productive remotely,” he added. “Trying to entice them to come back to the office is going to be a very hard sell.”
The reality is that certain workers will have more leverage when it comes to demanding remote, hybrid or other forms of flexibility, Walker said, especially high-performing employees in positions like software developer or hardware engineer. Meanwhile, other jobs simply don’t lend themselves well to a remote format, he continued.
But there are other arguments for sticking with hybrid work besides those having to do with the talent market. For example, Walker noted that remote work can build off an employer’s messaging around environmental issues and sustainability. “I think it’s a very counterintuitive message,” Walker said of companies that talk about the existential threat of trends like climate change while insisting that employees commute to an office.