Over half of the 121 CEOs surveyed by Deloitte last year said that as hybrid and remote work becomes more embedded in workplace models, employee engagement and loyalty will decrease.
Since then, in pursuit of collaboration, communication and mentorship and training boosts, 1.5 million Americans have faced attendance policies from their employers in 2023, according to data from commercial real estate firm JLL.
And at least one million more are expected to see in-office mandates before the end of the year.
As a Chief People Officer, I believe that the shift back towards in-office work is completely misaligned with what employees need to flourish.
And the business impact this shift will have on retention is clear: next to higher pay, employees say their biggest reason for leaving their jobs right now is to gain the ability to work flexibly.
My employer, Flywire, has never had in-office requirements. Nearly half of our 1,100+ employees (who we call FlyMates) are fully remote. And for the first quarter of 2023, Flywire’s retention rate was 97%.
There are many different things that go into building a culture that sustains a retention rate like that, but the numbers highlight that in-office mandates aren’t one of them.
Why can’t we agree on where to work?
Still, headlines bent on keeping that debate alive abound. It’s not that there isn’t validity to the benefits of in-person and in-office connection.
Workers themselves don’t dispute that, and say that one of the disadvantages of working from home is that connecting with co-workers is more challenging.
Those communication issues and missed opportunities for chance meetings may actually decrease productivity for some workers, recent WFH Research contends, because it takes longer to get things done, and there are fewer chances for less experienced employees to learn.
Global companies with distributed workforces have dealt with these challenges long before the pandemic, and their approach offers lessons on how to best overcome the things that may be the disadvantages of remote work.
After all, for someone who is less experienced, being physically present in the office doesn’t do much for their learning and development if there aren’t a lot of other people around to learn from.
Some of the best ways to encourage employee retention also remove the challenges of remote work.
By building a strategy that encourages employees to build connections across time zones, languages and more, your business reinforces a culture that retains and brings in the type of people who know how and where to work at their best.
Here are five ways to do that.
1. Champion and support equity, inclusion and diversity
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) provide spaces for people to come together and build community, connect around shared interests and identities, and have thoughtful and meaningful conversations.
By their very nature, ERGs inspire both chance and more formal collaboration.
Virtual coffee chats, for instance, give employees the opportunity to connect with people virtually on different teams and in different countries.
Programming offered company-wide featuring internal and external leaders can facilitate discussions, enhance allyship and advocacy for underrepresented and historically marginalized communities to foster a more inclusive culture.
One key point: ERGs need executive sponsorship to ensure there is support and space during the workday for discussions and work to occur, as well as remove obstacles and connect the company to the topics these communities care about.
Life and work is richer when you’re constantly learning – and one of the best ways to do that is to connect with people who are different from your own experience.
2. Send a strong message about the company’s commitment to learning and growth from day one
Formalize an onboarding program that truly immerses new employees in the company.
New FlyMates, for instance, enter a 6-month, immersive global induction program, held virtually, where they can ask candid questions about the business to our C-level leaders.
When executives invest their time, it sends a strong message to new employees about the culture of the company.
3. Continue the commitment to learning and growth
Organizations that identify and commit training resources to mid-career professionals can positively impact retention rates.
For instance, 61% of organizations surveyed by employer trade association MRA identify emerging leaders internally, and 31% reported an employee retention increase thereafter.
Look for opportunities that provide career growth and learning but may fall outside of typical classroom training. This could be a talent mobility program that provides opportunities for employees to move laterally without the organization, and gain skills that way.
4. Leverage social collaboration platforms
For building community and engagement among distributed and remote teams, collaboration platforms are a must.
Our CEO makes it a priority to send every new employee a personalized welcome Slack soon after they join the company.
This sends a message early on about the importance and power of collaboration tools for connecting to one another.
Communication platforms like Slack allow organizations to take a trip around the world and get a look inside the lives of their employees and colleagues.
Employers can create local channels for all of our global offices, as well as a channel for fully remote employees, which anyone can join.
By celebrating celebrate travel, family and friends through sharing photos, organizations encourage employees to share more of themselves with their peers.
5. Give people time and the ability to connect to what matters most
In addition to generous paid time off, Flywire offers two paid volunteer days – FlyBetter Days – and two digital disconnect days.
Volunteering and philanthropic activities help connection and collaboration take root and grow from the bottom-up, and ensure it is reinforced by the actions and decisions of those at the top – who make a continual commitment to trust people, allow autonomy and, in the process, build retention-rich cultures.
A retention-rich culture reinforces a company’s commitment to autonomy and growth for its employees. Implementation of engagement-building initiatives such as ERGs, professional development and community giveback are a priority to encourage connection and collaboration across all levels.
As workplace mandates continue to shift, employing flexible work models will increase retention rates and create an environment where employees feel recognized and empowered.
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