More than a year since social distancing protocols were put in place, the world all around us looks pretty different. So does the future of work. For organizations in STEM fields navigating the transition, that means grappling with fundamental questions like:
What’s abundantly clear is that answering these and other questions will have wide-ranging implications for organizations, and could have a determining influence on near- and long-term talent outcomes as well. Considered in that light, and in connection with recent forecasts showing demand for STEM talent growing faster, not slower, as a consequence of the global pandemic, that should be enough to give any leader pause.
That’s why we’ve pulled apart the latest stats, data and personal insights from my perspective as CEO of Randstad Technologies Group to show you the current state of affairs, shed light on challenges and ultimately surface some exciting opportunities. These insights should help you think through and prepare for the realities of hiring tomorrow’s STEM workforce today.
No surprise here: The majority of the U.S. workforce — 56 percent — continues to work remotely, either on a full or part-time basis, according to the most recent Gallup poll. Interestingly, however, the percentage who say they would like to do so indefinitely appears to be declining. In October, that was the case for nearly two-thirds of employees. By February, the figure dipped to 23 percent.
Among organizational leaders, on the other hand, only a handful (13%) seem prepared to say goodbye to traditional in-person workplaces for good, according to one study. As to what, exactly, a future work week would even look like or consist of, the same study elicited widely varying opinions, with the largest share of leaders favoring a hybrid approach: three days in the office, two days remote.
More than anything, this is a highly dynamic situation, with a lot of different variables at play. It’s something we’ll have to continue to monitor closely going forward.
Far less susceptible to fluctuations like the above, however, are two broader takeaways. These are areas where we’ve been hearing a clear consensus from our customers and talent.
The first? Remote work arrangements are, well, actually working. This finding is more remarkable than it sounds. After all, only 19 percent of companies had remote work strategies in place prior to the pandemic. Despite that fact, the massive workforce experiment inaugurated by COVID-19 is now heralded as a success by a full 83 percent of leaders, according to research from PwC. The second takeaway — and this echoes what we’ve been hearing for a long time from STEM candidates themselves — has to do with flexibility. Namely, employees place tremendous value on having flexible work arrangements, and that includes the option to work remotely at least some of the time. Among our clients, the ability to offer this kind of flexibility has been a godsend for talent attraction, engagement and retention. In fact, some organizations that told me they were skeptical about remote work at the start of the pandemic are now some of its most vocal proponents.
And employers, take note: These kinds of flexible work arrangements have been shown to reduce turnover by as much as 25 percent. There can be productivity advantages for organizations as well. Just because your remote STEM workforce is reliant on Slack for daily communication, in other words, don’t think they’re slacking off. One study found that, on average, remote employees average more hours worked each day than their in-office peers, laddering up to nearly 17 additional workdays on an annual basis.
I’ve repeatedly heard that the additional working hours that often accompany remote work have led to what some clients have called “remote burnout.” With little separation between their personal and working lives, and no commutes to act as “buffer time,” employees are burning out faster and more often while working from home. In fact, in a soon-to-be-published Randstad omnibus survey, 26 percent of workers surveyed said they start work earlier, and 24 percent said they work later as a result of the shift to remote work.
Expect to see savvy employers implement controls to mitigate this in the near future, like prohibiting after-hours emails or chat messages or implementing mandatory break times throughout the day. These are some obvious options for employers, but I fully expect to see even more innovative controls emerge in the year ahead.
Where else are we seeing opportunities emerging for STEM employers that coincide with the latest shifts in the world of work? Let’s look at a few.
From large-scale demographic shifts to changing incentives for candidates, it’s clear that the world of work is undergoing transformation — and changing fast. Here are three ways employers can use that to their advantage.
Finally, and more superficially, it stands to reason that, as career decision-making becomes increasingly untethered from geography, we may well see company career sites, job portals and the like undergo restructuring. Might searching for a job by commute time seem to us like an anachronism five years from now? We’ll leave that one for the UX designers of the future. But time will tell.
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