Power is shifting away from employees: Can remote work survive?

Over the past two years, employees have made great strides in terms of flexibility, compensation, and quality of life, but that could be coming to an end. Historically low levels of unemployment, employers needing to hire and the reality of the talent revolution mean employees may be demanding more. From remote work to enhanced benefits and better compensation, employee expectations have risen and organizations have largely reached new levels of demand.

But all of that may be changing.

As the economy tightens and companies announce layoffs, employees are increasingly worried about job security. Power is shifting from employees to organizations, and it will be a litmus test of company culture and values. Will employers (always) offer flexibility, benefits, compensation and programs? Will they (still) invest in cultures that put people first?

Fuel Concerns

People are worried and job security is collapsing. Search by Driver searches for “mass layoffs” have increased by 1000% since last year, while searches for “corporate layoffs” have increased by 650% and searches for “downsizing” by 50%.

Despite a better-than-expected July jobs report, concerns seem justified. Inflation, potential recession and corporate layoff announcements continue to dominate the news cycle. From Microsoft, Hootsuite, Oracle, Snap and Shopify to Ford, JP Morgan Chase, Walmart and iRobot, companies have been steadily announcing layoffs over the past two months.

Adjust expectations

One of the benefits of high unemployment for employees has been the ability to demand better work experience and, in particular, greater flexibility in where, how, when and for how long they work. The big question will be whether this hybrid work and remote work will survive a tightening labor market.

In reality, employees may need to adjust their flexible working expectations, but companies reconsidering flexibility levels must do so with clarity about the implications.

Flexible working is good for people and organizations

While companies may want workers in the office more often and for longer hours, it’s also important to realize that hybrid and remote working have brought huge benefits to employees and employers alike.

Mobilization and investment. When employees have more choice and autonomy, they tend to be more motivated and engaged. Plus, when employees have a few days a week with more flexibility in their schedule, they can be more engaged in the office, but also when they adjust their schedules and work wherever they are.

Reduced stress and increased concentration. More options for remote work and hybrid working can also reduce employee stress. Having a day when commuting isn’t necessary provides more time for exercise, doctor’s appointments, or child support activities – and when employees have more time for all things and their stress is reduced – and greater concentration on work is possible.

Trust and Culture. Moreover, when companies offer more flexibility to their employees, they send the message that they trust people and recognize that their lives are multi-faceted, and they thus help to attract and retain more talent. When people receive more, they tend to give more back. So when companies give employees options, people are more likely to feel more positive about the organization and to put in more discretionary effort.

Hybrid work is both

The debate over whether remote or in-office work is better misses the fact that both have value and the best choice may be to offer a mix. At best, hybrid working is an option at a time and rather than a choice between one or the other.

Just as remote work and flexibility have benefits, being in the office is also positive. When employees spend time in the office, they have the opportunity to connect with mentors and colleagues, to be reminded – perhaps more powerfully – of the importance of their work to their teammates, and of the more broad of their company’s contribution to society. Being in the office can also help with innovation, problem solving, and a general sense of emotional contagion that comes from working side-by-side with others investing in common goals.

It is also right for organizations and employees to strike a balance. When employers offer fair wages and benefits and working conditions, it is appropriate to expect employees to make a substantial contribution and to perform at their best. And employees expect companies to have their best interests at heart and do the right thing for employees as well, and they deserve that.

Work experience matters

When companies have more power, it will be essential that they provide positive work experiences in the form of meaningful work, flexibility and updated workplaces (after all, work has changed, places work should also). Companies will need to pursue their commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice. They will want to maintain the focus on employee well-being. And they should continue to develop leaders who manage in new ways and go beyond engaging people to inspire them.

In a worst-case scenario, shifts in power from employees to employers could bode ill for the worker experience, but hopefully the lessons of the past two years and the focus on better work for employees will remain, regardless of the labor market.

Maria D. Ervin