Workforce Development

CEOs adjusting to new workforce realities

Morrissey Goodale is providing A/E leaders with news and perspective on COVID-19 and its impact on the industry. This week, they examine on how CEOs are being forced to adjust to new realities with their workforce when it comes to expectations.

By Morrissey Goodale April 5, 2021
High-rise commercial buildings in Chicago, along the Chicago River. Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

Morrissey Goodale is providing A/E leaders with news and perspective on COVID-19 and its impact on the industry. This week, they examine on how CEOs are being forced to adjust to new realities with their workforce when it comes to expectations.

It’s a common refrain we hear from CEOs. They say they want their employees back in the office and in the field the way they were pre-pandemic. But then they pause, stare wistfully into the distance, and acknowledge that they will not be able to mandate that. And while that’s the right outcome, many are reaching that conclusion for the wrong reasons – and are missing a huge opportunity in the process.

The #1 and #2 reasons: The #1 reason CEOs will not bring everyone back to the office post-pandemic is “..because our competition is providing the option to work remotely and we will lose folks to them if we don’t do the same.” The #2 reason is “(many) potential recruits tell us that they won’t work for us if they have to come into an office.” Both statements are factually correct. Both are also reactionary and defensive. Both anticipate a post-pandemic work environment where flexible remote working is a bug not a feature – and that’s a problem.

The train has left the station: The pandemic was the fast-forward button for every trend that was in play prior to March 2020. The steady decline in movie theater attendance? Fell off a cliff in 2020. The relentless rise in on-line retail? Rocket to the moon last year. The growing openness to more flexible and remote work? It became THE story for the professional class last year. These changes are not cyclical – they’re structural. The horse bolted from the barn on remote and flexible work last March.

Clients and employees will drive the post-pandemic working model: A/E leadership teams don’t need to struggle too much trying to figure out what their post-pandemic work model will be. If clients require an A/E firm to deliver services from the office, then that is what will drive the model. Period. Absent that however, the future model will be driven by employee preferences.

“It’s not you, it’s me:” And those employee preferences will be all over the map. At one end of the spectrum will be talent who will fully embrace working in the model. On that note does it surprise ANYONE that married professionals and professionals with school age kids are more eager to return to the office than singles? At the other end will be those who may want to never set foot in the office again. A/E leaders need to face the reality that their firm’s relationship with many of their employees has moved to another phase. Whereas in the past “the office” may have been an important element of that relationship, in the future it may not play a role at all. Indeed “the office” or any implication of a return to it may be a relationship-breaker. If you mandate a return to the office, there will be employees who determine that “they’re just not that into you”.

When you see a chance take it: This brave new world of the workplace provides A/E firm leaders with a wonderful opportunity to revisit and reaffirm their values and strategic plan. In doing so they can challenge what their commitment to being an “Employer of choice” (or whatever variation of that aspiration they have written on paper, published digitally, or stenciled on walls) actually means post-pandemic. They can then deploy strategies and policies that allow them to embrace those values.

Make it a feature not a bug: Redesign the strategies A/E firm leaders recognize (a) that between 20% to 30% of employees in the future will value a more flexible working model (b) the technologies are in place to support that model and (c) that excellent talent will continue to be the most scarce and valuable resource. Add all three up and the answer is simple. Make remote working a feature not a bug. Embrace it in your commitment to be a great place to work.

This article originally appeared on Morrissey Goodale’s website. Morrissey Goodale is a CFE Media content partner.


Morrissey Goodale