President, The Korn Ferry Institute
For better or worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world of work.
When, where, and how we work look fundamentally different today, not by choice but by chance. We have all had to pivot and adapt to new challenges and increasing uncertainty in order to survive and thrive in a world under siege by an outbreak few of us saw coming. But now, as we start to emerge from the pandemic, some of us have become eager to return to the pre-pandemic version of work, while many others want the changes—and gains—made during the crisis to last beyond it.
This friction is no more evident than in the workplace debate. As more and more people become vaccinated, an increasing number of leaders are calling their employees back to the office—with no option to work remotely, even part of the time. The majority of professionals, however, want to continue to work from home, with the option to work on site, when it suits them. It’s a disconnect that has had significant consequences for companies: Federal labor statistics show that, in the United States alone, workers are quitting their jobs at record rates, with nearly 4 million quitting as of June.
One of the top reasons for this mass exodus, according to more than a third of professionals surveyed by Korn Ferry, is that the global pandemic allowed people to re-evaluate what they really want out of their work. Some employees who always worked in an office realized all of what they were missing at home; others have found more freedom to be themselves at work by going remote. Then there are those professionals who found their productivity skyrocketed because they gained flexibility in their workday. For many professionals, going back to the office five days a week would mean giving up many of these gains that have, in many ways, increased their engagement and work commitment over the course of the pandemic.
On the surface, this paradox between leadership demands and employee needs may seem impossible to solve. But, as the Korn Ferry Institute explain in its latest report, The Future is Flexible, a new type of workplace is increasingly becoming the norm in many organizations. After all, different roles—and different people—require different work arrangements. And the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that it is possible for an organization to listen to its workforce and the market, map its needs to current and emerging situations, and be flexible.