People Perspectives

Harnessing the power of hybrid working and technology in the evolving workplace

05 June 2023

The evolving dynamics of the modern workplace have brought about a tangible shift in the priorities faced by employers worldwide. And while challenges around attracting and retaining talent are well known to businesses, new considerations around what it means to manage a ‘modern workforce’ have evolved alongside changing employee expectations.

The results of The Real Economy’s ‘People Perspectives’ survey suggest that a combination of hybrid working, and recruitment and retention are now they key areas of concern for many employers.

So, what can employers do to ensure they successfully adapt, continue to attract the best talent and maintain a happy and productive workforce?

Embracing hybrid working

More than a third of our panel of middle market business leaders (39%) reported that adapting to hybrid working models has been a challenge, and that almost half of leavers (43%) have cited work/life balance as their reason for parting ways with their employer. In addition, 36% cited the ability to work flexibly, either at home or through a hybrid working arrangement, to be important.

When looking to address the difficulties being faced by employers, it’s important to properly understand the barriers exist for them, both internally and externally. Of course, hybrid working doesn’t suit every individual or every business. But, as the data shows, it is increasingly a deciding factor for employees when considering moving between jobs.

For many businesses, the employment status quo of a few years ago (pre-pandemic) is now a rather distant memory and a lot has changed for both employees and employers alike. Many employers now realise the benefits of offering more flexible working arrangements, much of which has been driven by emerging technologies and process improvements. Many employees have in turn had a feel for home working and the flexibility that it offers them, so it is more difficult, and in some instances, unattractive to go back to how things used to be.

Hybrid working and technology are quite the powerful combination. A huge 94% told us that Artificial Intelligence (AI) would have a very positive, or somewhat positive, impact on their business in the coming three years. Given the recent press attention surrounding AI, this is something most definitely to watch with interest.

Our survey also shows that 41% of employers offer hybrid working options, which means 59% may need to become more flexible to meet the needs of those looking to move jobs in a competitive market. Any change in working practices can be a huge undertaking, but if it is approached as an opportunity, with buy-in from business leaders, it could bring about wider efficiencies and benefits. Fundamentally, employers need to consider whether they still have an attractive proposition for both their existing teams, and the talent they wish to attract.

Losing good people is a costly business

It is worth opening communication channels with existing teams now to understand people’s aspirations and needs, and to discuss those that might be accommodated.

With 39% of employers telling us that a lack of digital skills is a challenge, having a conversation is also a good opportunity to discuss options for training or redeployment. 64% of employers told us that automation has led to training opportunities, and a further 35% have redeployed staff as a result. Training in these areas is going to be key for future success.

When the inevitable resignations do occur, it’s tempting to replace like for like, rather than taking the time to cast fresh eyes over the role in question and make any amendments. New ways of working may mean changes to requirements. Maybe greater IT skills are needed, or there is a need for a candidate to demonstrate that they can work without close supervision. There is also an opportunity to consider whether roles can be managed more flexibly, to attract and retain a wider talent pool.

Tapping into the talent pool

When employers were asked what initiatives are in place to encourage retired or older workers back into the workplace, only 15% said they had. That is a huge pool of untapped talent. The Government recognises this and is encouraging the over 50’s to either remain in work if currently employed, or to ‘unretire’ and bring their valuable skills and knowledge back into the workforce. This includes a focus on hybrid and flexible working, and a ‘midlife MOT’ focussing on work, health, money and access to free online skills courses.

Employers should also consider the wider talent pool available, such as those with caring responsibilities. It was interesting to note that 92% were either currently doing so, or planning to offer more flexible working patterns for this group of workers. Those wishing to return from maternity leave, or those returning from a period of ill health should also be considered; all of whom would possibly benefit from hybrid working models.

Interestingly, the number of businesses offering flexible hours or schedules/working patterns has decreased from 43% to 33%. This may be because hybrid working models have lessened the need for flexible working, although our data shows that 69% of respondents currently offer flexible working patterns, with another 23% planning to do so over the next 12 months, alongside other initiatives to encourage carers back into work. With the Government’s proposed changes to strengthen employees’ statutory rights to flexible working on the horizon, this is set to be a hot topic for consideration in workplace strategy discussions.

We understand that there are other factors to take into consideration, particularly due to the cost of living and rising salary costs, which 41% of respondents cite as a concern. However, if employers are to keep ahead of these changing times, reviewing and amending current working practices, and introducing new ones, is vital.

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