While the flexibility provided by remote work is an important factor, the organization’s culture can be the biggest draw.
The pandemic triggered a significant shift in employees’ expectations, making finding and retaining talent a top priority for finance executives. Higher employee turnover rates are prompting companies to kick-start new efforts to craft corporate cultures that make people feel welcome and ensure they stay on long-term. It’s not easy.
- “The labor market is still a challenge, and recruitment is a challenge,” one treasurer said at a recent meeting. “Especially if you’re not based in a large city, you have to do more to get people in; it’s hard.”
A Confusing Reality
Offering remote and hybrid work arrangements presents opportunities and challenges for finance departments. For example, while flexible hybrid work policies that mandate a certain number of days in the office per week attempt to capture the best of both worlds, the need for in-person staff to join virtual meetings can leave them feeling disconnected. One member said, “How could we ask people to come to the office and spend their whole day on Zoom?”
On the flip side, forcing everyone to come into the office can backfire. Several Silicon Valley companies that adopted strict return-to-office policies have experienced attrition, and some have since gone back on these mandates. One member reported having difficulties hiring at his Virginia-based office, which mandates an in-person only environment.
Employees are increasingly demanding greater flexibility, and employers must be responsive to remain competitive, while ensuring employees’ focus, productivity and team spirit. As remote work becomes the norm, “spontaneous collaboration is becoming rarer, and it’s not always easy to foster,” according to the CFO of a member company.
- Another issue that arises from little to no in-person interaction is the difficulty for leaders of gauging the attitudes of their staff. Because they may not be able to be responsive to the needs of an unhappy employee, that person may end up quitting. To better assess employee engagement and satisfaction, one company has launched randomized anonymous surveys as a “little pulse-check” on how everyone at the company is doing—but is still seeking ideas on how to measure individuals’ moods.
The upside of remote work has completely reshaped workforce demographics because it expanded the available talent pool. One member noted that Denver, Charlotte and Atlanta are now significant talent hubs. Another said she opened applications to remote workers across the continent, which led to a new hire based in Ottawa, who has had an instant impact on her team.
Three Steps to Improve Hiring & Retention
Building a welcoming culture is critical to the success of hiring and retention programs. To entice new talent and encourage people to stay, members have taken a number of novel approaches designed to bring people into the office and enjoy it or bond from a distance. It’s therefore incumbent upon executives to get creative.
1. Enhance benefits. A finance executive at a business whose workforce quadrupled during the pandemic said his company resorted to offering more diverse benefits to attract the best people, including the option to work fully remotely or in its Boston offices with free lunch and a stipend for the commute. Another reported that his company saw an uptick in applicants when it implemented full remote positions with unlimited paid time off.
2. Bring back the fun. Often, the “missing ingredient” in the remote office is fun. Without celebrations for birthdays, weddings and personal events, or even water cooler conversations, the workplace can lose much of its focus on people. “Especially when you’re remote, you can’t just be work-driven, you have to be people-driven,” said one member.
3. Offer new incentives. One corporate with a flexible hybrid policy held a free professional photo day, so all employees dressed in their Sunday best and got new headshots, which “brought a ton of people into the office.”
- Other ideas included virtual beer and wine tastings, location-based meetups for remote employees, and lunch & learn calls to get to know one another’s interests.
- The most common and most effective approach members mentioned was food. “Free lunch just gets employees in the office,” one member said. Another noted that after her company, which provided restaurant-quality meals to employees, went remote-only, it had to offer a lunch stipend for all employees.