How companies are shifting their office spend to lure reluctant workers back

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/06/04/how-companies-are-shifting-their-office-spend-to-lure-workers-back.html?fbclid=IwAR1FNeRFjdYvlJFWR7cFWRVmT4UTSHf06J3QmTLpLHBbO12o5XlCPnwDZwM

KEY POINTS

  • As companies navigate having both in-office and at-home workers, the role of the traditional office is being reconsidered.
  • Having less people in an office every day could mean cutting space, but those spaces need to better suit the workforce of today, executives say.
  • How that experience evolves could be the difference between workers coming back to the office smoothly or leaving their jobs.

As companies and workers continue to try to figure out where and how work will take place in a hybrid environment, the costs being spent on existing office spaces previously built around the 9-to-5, five-day workweek are being closely examined.

Flexibility has become the buzzword for both sides of the employee-employer power dynamic. Workers have been leveraging the empowerment gains they’ve made amid the pandemic and a tight labor market to maintain the personal time that has come with working from home. Companies, many fearful of eroding culture that could increase turnover as well as stifling innovation by having a mostly remote workforce, have tried to meet workers somewhere in the middle by gently prodding, not pushing, workers back to the office.

The question becomes then, how does that impact budgeting and spending on typically costly workspaces when a large portion of your workforce won’t be there every day, if it all? Is there an opportunity to cut costs, or do those spaces now require additional investment to try to draw workers who are at home back into the office?

Scott Dussault, the CFO of HR tech company Workhuman and himself a pandemic-era hire, is seeing the change firsthand.

“I always quote Larry Fink’s [2022] letter [to CEOs] where he said no relationship has been changed more by the pandemic than the one between employer and employee; that’s never going to change and we’re never going back,” Dussault, a member of the CNBC CFO Council, said. “The concept of 9-to-5 in the office five days a week is gone – the keyword is going to be flexibility.”

For many companies that means retrofitting offices to meet this new normal and employee demands, while also investing in other tools to make sure connections are still being made efficiently – efforts that could mean spending more money even if square footage or leases are adjusted.

“I’m not so sure it’s going to be a cost negative,” Dussault said. “I’m not sure if people are going to take less real estate; they’re just going to change the way that real estate works.”

Workhuman is currently coming towards the end of its lease in its Boston-area headquarters, and Dussault said the company is considering expanding its space, which would provide a “clean slate” to adjust to this new working environment.

He recalled his time at a job in the 1990s where it was a “football field of cubicles” – the kind of situation where you could “go to work and sit in a cube all day and never interact with anybody – you truly could lose that connection.”

Dussault said he sees the office becoming what he calls a “collaboration destination,” part of a hybrid environment where while you might work from home on days where you’re catching up on work or emails, the office can serve as a space that is “all about connection.”

“You’re going to see a lot more open spaces, collaboration spaces, conference rooms, meeting rooms, break areas where people can sit and get together,” he said. “It’s going be focused on connection which I think frankly is positive and it is evolution – it’s going to be about making those connections more meaningful.”

That would mean investing more in things like a gym, where employees could take a physical break, or other spaces that would provide a place to take an emotional break or meditate, Dussault said, something he said results in costs shifting “from one bucket to another.”

“We need to understand and recognize that when employees are home and productive, they have those things, and we need to try to make sure that those things exist in the office as well,” he said.

That also puts a further onus on the investment in digital tools, because there still needs to be ways for workers to connect with peers even when they’re not in person.

“Companies always talk about how important employees are and how employees are the most important investment – they haven’t always acted that way,” he said. “This is a good thing that’s come out of the pandemic.”

Neal Narayani, chief people officer at fintech company Brex, noted that in 2019 the company had people coming into offices five days a week in San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, and Salt Lake City. At that time, “nobody worked from home, because it was seen as a negative,” Narayani said. But as the pandemic forced employees to work from home, where they successfully took on several large projects, that view shifted.

“We recognized very quickly that we were able to actually work more productively and faster, and that video collaboration is a very productive tool when you don’t have to commute somewhere to search the office for a conference room,” he said.

With a belief that a remote-first approach was the future of work, Brex leaned in. Of the company’s more than 1,200 employees, 45% are fully remote. The company still maintains those four office location hubs where workers can go if they want, but the company has altered its approach so that every process is designed for remote workers.

That also changed the thinking that went into those spaces as Brex planned out its growth.

“When you unwind the real estate costs, we were able to look at how many people would come into an office if we were to make it fully optional, and it was about 10%,” Narayani said. “So, we were able to move into a 10%, maybe even less, real estate option, and then take the rest of those dollars and repurpose that towards travel, towards talent development, towards diversity and inclusion efforts, and towards anything else that makes the employee experience better.”

“It turns out to be a much better experience for us because that real estate cost was very high, and those markets are very expensive,” he added.

Roughly a third of the cost of the company’s previous real estate strategy has been put into the company’s new off-site strategy, Narayani said, with other portions of that being used to pay for the four office spaces and other co-working spaces.

Larry Gadea, CEO of workplace technology company Envoy, said that he thinks many companies are looking at ways they can reduce costs right now, with office space spending as one area potentially ripe for cuts.

However, Gadea warns that “people need to be together with each other, they need to know each other.”

“They need to have a sense of purpose that’s unified, and you need to bring people together for that,” he said. “How are you going to bring people together when they’re all around the country? I think that there is a substantial amount of people thinking they’re going to be saving money on real estate, but United and other airlines and Hilton and other hotels are getting it instead.”

Gadea said that as companies try to manage a tight labor environment as well as other market challenges, more time needs to be spent on “thinking about how to bring teams together.”

“The number one reason that most people stick with a company is that they love the people they work with,” he said. “It can be a lot harder to love those people if you don’t ever see them because they turned off their video on Zoom or if they don’t even know them at all.”

Companies should brace for a culture of quitting

Organizations should prepare themselves for a continuation of quits as a new culture of quitting becomes the norm as the annual quit rate stands to jump up nearly 20 percent from annual pre pandemic levels, according to Gartner

The pre pandemic average for quits stood at 31.9 million, but that figure could rise to 37.4 million this year, said executive consultancy Gartner in an April 28 news release

“An individual organization with a turnover rate of 20 percent before the pandemic could face a turnover rate as high as 24 percent in 2022 and the years to come,” Piers Hudson, senior director in the Gartner HR practice said in the news release. “For example, a workforce of 25,000 employees would need to prepare for an additional 1,000 voluntary departures.”

The reason for the likely increase in quits is new flexibility in work arrangements and employees’ higher expectations, according to Gartner. A misalignment between leaders and workers is also contributing to the attrition. 

“Organizations must look forward, not backward, and design a post-pandemic employee experience that meets employees’ changing expectations and leverages the advantages of hybrid work,” said Mr. Hudson.

Retail wages are rising. Can hospital pay keep up?

While healthcare workers battle burnout, hospitals have been ramping up wages and other benefits to recruit and retain workers. It has created a culture of competition among health systems as well as travel agencies that offer considerably higher pay.

But other healthcare organizations are not hospitals’ only competitors. Some hospitals, particularly those in rural areas, are struggling to match rising employee pay among nonindustry employers such as Target and Walmart.

“We monitor and we’ve been looking and we ask around in the community and we can ask who’s paying what,” Troy Bruntz, CEO of Community Hospital in McCook, Neb., told Becker’s. “So we know where Walmart is on different things, and we’re OK. But if Walmart tried to match what Target’s doing, that would not be good.”

At Target, the hourly starting wage now ranges from $15-$24. The organization is making a $300 million investment total to boost wages and benefits, including health plans. Starting pay is dependent on the job, the market and local wage data, according to NPR.

Walmart raised the hourly wages for 565,000 workers in 2021 by at least $1 an hour, The New York Times reported. The company’s average hourly wage is $16.40, with the lowest being $12 and the highest being $17.

Meanwhile, Costco raised its minimum wage to $17 an hour, according to NPR. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Estimated employment for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations is 8.8 million, according to the latest data released March 31 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This includes nurse practitioners, physicians, registered nurses, physician assistants and respiratory therapists, among others. 

In sales and related occupations, estimated employment is 13.3 million, according to the bureau. This includes retail salespersons, cashiers and first-line supervisors of retail salespersons, among others.  

While retail companies up their wages, at least one hospital CEO is monitoring the issue.

Healthcare leaders weigh their options

Mr. Bruntz said rising wages among retailers is an issue his organization monitors. Although Target does not have a store in McCook, there is a Walmart, where pay is increasing.

“I was quoted a few months ago saying Walmart was approaching $15 an hour, and we can handle that,” Mr. Bruntz said. “But when it gets to $20 or $25, it’s going to be an issue.”

He also said he cannot solely increase the wages of the people making less than $15 or less than $25 because he has to be fair in terms of wages for different types of roles.

Specifically, he said he is concerned about what matching rising wages at retailers would mean for labor expenses, which make up about half of the hospital’s cost structure.

“I double that half, that’s 25 percent more expenses instantly,” Mr. Bruntz said. “And how is that going to ratchet to a bottom line anything less than a massive negative number? So it’s a huge problem.”

Clinical positions are not the only ones hospitals and health systems are struggling to fill; they are encountering similar difficulties with technicians and food service workers. Regarding these roles, competition from industries outside healthcare is particularly challenging.

This is an issue Patrice Weiss, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Roanoke, Va.-based Carilion Clinic, addressed during a Becker’s panel discussion April 4. The organization saw workforce issues not just in its clinical staff, but among environmental services staff.

“When you look at what … even fast food restaurants were offering to pay per hour, well gosh, those hours are a whole lot better,” she said during the panel discussion. “There’s no exposure. You’re not walking into a building where there’s an infectious disease or patients with pandemics are being admitted.” 

Amid workforce challenges, Community Hospital is elevating its recruitment and retention efforts.

Mr. Bruntz touted the hospital as a hard place to leave because of the culture while acknowledging the monetary efforts his organization is making to keep staff.

He said the hospital has a retention program where full-time employees get a bonus amount if they are at the employer on Dec. 31 and have been there at least since April 15. Part-time workers are also eligible for a bonus, though a lesser amount.

“It also encourages staff [who work on an as-needed basis] to go part-time or full-time, and [those who are] part-time to go full-time,” Mr. Bruntz said. “That’s another thing we’re doing is higher amounts for higher status to encourage that trend.” 

Additionally, Community Hospital, which has 330 employees, offers a referral bonus to staff to encourage people they know to come work with them. 

“We want staff to bring people they like. [We are] encouraging staff to be their own ambassadors for filling positions,” Mr. Bruntz said.  

He said the hospital also will offer employees a sizable market wage adjustment not because of competition from Walmart but because of inflation.

Graham County Hospital in Hill City, Kan., is also affected by the tight labor market, although it has not experienced much competition with retail companies, CEO Melissa Atkins told Becker’s. However, the hospital is struggling with competition from other healthcare organizations, particularly when it comes to patient care departments and nursing. While many hospitals have struggled to retain employees from travel agencies, Graham County Hospital has mostly been able to avoid it.

“As the demand increases, so does the wage,” Ms. Atkins said. “In addition to other hospitals offering sign-on bonuses and increased wages, nurse agency companies are offering higher wages for traveling nurse aides and nurses. We are extremely fortunate in that we have not had to use agency nurses. Our current staff has stepped up and filled in the shortages [with additional incentive pay].”

To combat this trend, the hospital has increased hourly wages and shift differentials, as many healthcare organizations have done. It has also provided bonuses using COVID-19 relief funds.

Overall, Mr. Bruntz said he prefers “not to get into an arms race with wages” among nonindustry competitors. 

“It’s not going to end well for anybody. We prefer not to use that,” he said. “At the same time, we’re trying to do as much as possible without being in a full arms race. But if Walmart started paying $25 for a door greeter and cashier, we would have to reassess.”

Companies ignoring employee demands will falter

Dive Brief:

  • Companies that fail to adjust to labor shortages and satisfy the growing demands of workers will likely falter as they lose the battle for talent, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said in a letter to CEOs.
  • “No relationship has been changed more by the pandemic than the one between employers and employees,” Fink said, noting that “employees across the globe are looking for more from their employer — including more flexibility and more meaningful work.” Fink, while leading the world’s largest asset manager, has sought for a decade to influence corporate behavior through an annual CEO letter.
  • “As companies rebuild themselves coming out of the pandemic, CEOs face a profoundly different paradigm than we used to,” Fink said. Companies can no longer overlook employee mental health, insist that staff work in the office five days per week and provide modest wage increases for low- and middle-income workers.

Dive Insight:

CFOs considering an increase in prices and employee wages need to balance the imperative to sustain profits with pressures from the worst inflation and labor shortages in decades.

The persistence of COVID-19 has slowed the labor market’s post-lockdown recovery and churned up company payrolls. Fink noted that in November the quits rate, or the number of workers who left their jobs as a percent of total employment, rose to 3%, a record high first breached in September.

CFOs aiming to attract and retain employees with wage increases must take into account a 7% jump in the consumer price index (CPI) during the 12 months through December — the biggest surge since 1982.

“Workers demanding more from their employers is an essential feature of effective capitalism,” Fink said. Describing “a new world of work,” he said, “companies not adjusting to this new reality and responding to workers do so at their own peril.

“Turnover drives up expenses, drives down productivity and erodes culture and corporate memory,” Fink said. BlackRock manages more than $10 trillion in assets for institutional and retail investors.

In order to satisfy workers, CEOs must look beyond pay and workplace flexibility, Fink said. The coronavirus “shone a light on issues like racial equality, childcare and mental health — and revealed the gap between generational expectations at work.”

Fink also reiterated his support for “stakeholder capitalism,” saying that “a company must create value for and be valued by its full range of stakeholders in order to deliver long-term value for its shareholders.”

“Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not ‘woke,’” he said. “It is capitalism driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers and communities your company relies on to prosper.”

Most stakeholders expect companies to help “decarbonize” the global economy, Fink said, predicting that so-called sustainable investment will surge well beyond the $4 trillion total.

BlackRock has asked companies to set short-, medium- and long-term targets for greenhouse gas reductions which “are critical to the long-term economic interests of your shareholders,” he said.

At the same time, “divesting from entire sectors — or simply passing carbon-intensive assets from public markets to private markets — will not get the world to net zero,” Fink said, adding that “BlackRock does not pursue divestment from oil and gas companies as a policy.”

Fink’s annual letter drew fire from environmentalists.

The letter “is just another rehashing of the same vague rhetoric, without any meaningful new commitment to actually help lead the necessary transition to a climate-safe future,” Ben Cushing, the Sierra Club’s fossil-free finance campaign manager, said in a statement.

A new divide is making the workforce crisis worse

https://mailchi.mp/bfba3731d0e6/the-weekly-gist-july-2-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

How the Hybrid Workforce will Drive the Future of Work

Health system executives continue to tell us that the top issue now keeping them up at night is workforce engagement.

Exhausted from the COVID experience, facing renewed cost pressures, and in the midst of a once-in-a-generation rethink of work-life balance among employees, health systems are having increasing difficulty filling vacant positions, and holding on to key staff—particularly clinical talent. One flashpoint that has emerged recently, according to leaders we work with, is the growing divide between those working a “hybrid” schedule—part at home, part in the office—and those who must show up in person for work because of their roles. Largely this split has administrative staff on one side and clinical workers on the other, leading doctors, nurses, and other clinicians to complain that they have to come into work (and have throughout the pandemic), while their administrative colleagues can continue to “Zoom in”. There’s growing resentment among those who don’t have the flexibility to take a kid to baseball practice at 3 o’clock, or let the cable guy in at noon without scheduling time off, making the sense of burnout and malaise even more intense. Add to that the resurgence in COVID admissions in some markets, and the “help wanted” situation in the broader economy, and the health system workforce crisis looks worse and worse. Beyond raising wages, which is likely inevitable for most organizations, there is a need to rethink job design and work patterns, to allow a tired, frustrated, and—thanks to the in-person/WFH divide—envious workforce the chance to recover from an incredibly difficult year.