In the future, workplace strategy will give employers more levers to pull in the war for talent
In any competitive environment, talent is a crucial part of success. Consider the world of sports: To win games, you need more than the right equipment, a solid training regimen, and a good coach; you also need great players. The huge salaries of professional athletes in some sports attest that teams are willing to spend on talent to win, and with good reason: Higher payrolls correlate with winning, as a 2017 Duke University honor student’s paper revealed.
But player compensation is only part of the story. In European football, some teams spend tens or even hundreds of millions merely for the right to sign a superstar player, negotiating salary only after these “transfer fees” are paid. And even in university sports, where direct player compensation is not allowed, schools invest heavily in recruiting the most talented players possible. This means massive spending on cutting-edge facilities like weight and locker rooms, the day-to-day “workplaces” of the players.
This analogy holds in the corporate world as well, where attracting talent is about more than compensation. Over the past decade, tenants (read: employers) occupying commercial space have increasingly viewed their locations and spaces through the lens of talent attraction and retention—they have touted the “workplace experience” as a differentiator in drawing desirable employees. Building owners, in turn, have escalated an amenities arms race to attract and retain tenants by means of offering a better experience to their employees. The subtext: If a great workplace in a prime location helps land those employees, then the investment is worth it for all involved.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, contemporary knowledge workers—the star players of the corporate world—are demanding a workplace that exists in multiple locations. We call it the Multiverse of Work. They want to split time among home, the corporate office, and possibly other locations. This is not exactly new. According to a report by Global Workplace Analytics, about one in three knowledge workers (31 percent) worked from home at least one day per week before the COVID-19 pandemic. But now more of them have gotten used to the convenience of working at home, including the lack of a daily mind-numbing commute. Furthermore, the forced remote-work-at-scale experiment has proven that they can be trusted to be productive from home, even for an extended period of time.
This is cause for much consternation among companies that have invested a great deal in office space—not to mention their landlords. But the reality is, this future way of working gives employers more opportunity to differentiate themselves in the market for talent. And policies around how many days-per-week remote vs. in the office are only the beginning. As our research shows, the quality of a corporate workplace makes a huge difference in its attractiveness to workers. They are much more likely to spend time at a place that offers them the comfort, choice, and community they want. By extension, they then perform better.
Support for remote work will be another dimension of competition. Many home offices lack basics, such as dependable broadband, private space, and ergonomic comforts. In our discussions with clients, we have learned that most of them are thinking about how to make remote work more effective and equitable by offering stipends or reimbursements for equipment, software, and even things like coworking memberships. There is a lot of room for employers to experiment with their support packages to appeal to talented workers.
Knowledge workers are not a monolith, but individuals. Some of them will always want more in-person collaboration than others, just as some personalities prefer more or less social interaction. Housing and family situations will continue to make working from home relatively easier for some people and more difficult for others. But it appears inevitable that more flexible work will be much more prevalent in the future than it was in 2019. As we argue in The Multiverse of Work, those employers that strike the right balance will gain competitive advantage, not only by recruiting the best talent, but also by maximizing their effectiveness.
Phil Mobley is our Director of U.S. Occupier Research, based in our Boston office.