The War for Talent in a Hybrid World: A Tenant Talks Recap

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We hosted its latest edition of TenantTalks on the 16th of February 2022, addressing the “War for Talent in a Hybrid World.”

The pandemic has led to a major shift in the way that the job market operates, and our panelists from Apply Digital, Later, SAP Labs Canada, and TEEMA offered their valuable input and expertise on how employers can adapt to the changes in the industry and how to attract and retain talent. Moderated by Aura’s very own Director of People and Culture, Carrie Sikman, we donated the proceeds to our event to Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland, a volunteer-based organization that recruits, trains, and supports caring women who mentor at-risk girls between the ages of seven and seventeen.

Question 1: As we move through 2022, what are employees looking for when contemplating job opportunities? How have you changed or evolved your recruitment methods to meet those needs?

Judi Wannamaker, the associate partner at TEEMA, with in-depth knowledge about the recruiting world had valuable input. “The number one thing that we’re seeing candidates look for is flexibility,” she stated. While her clients would prefer workers to come back to the office, candidates prefer staying at home, and so the key would be to balance out these needs by coming to a compromise, to constantly “re-invent” the work environment so that both productivity and engagement are positively impacted.

Another issue cropping up a lot is salary expectations. With the precarious position that the concept of bonuses has found itself in, candidates are asking for bigger salaries.

Gautam Lohia, Founder and CEO of Apply Digital, concurred with Judi on the issue of larger salaries, citing his own company’s increase in salaries in the last year, saying “…most ever from a percentage standpoint.” Adding to this he believes in the promise of diversity of work and “rolling out the red carpet” for candidates from the very start of the recruitment process.

The former is why he believes that people are attracted to Apply Digital in the first place because it provides opportunities for them to work in a wide range of industries and improve their skillsets. The latter is what helps them retain talent, by taking care of their employees and going an extra mile for the new recruits to help them feel welcomed and prepared, be it through the delivery of welcome packages during the pandemic or personally meeting with them at the end of the onboarding process. These steps help create a connection to the company, which has been hard to do since the work-from-home model has been put in place.

Next, Robin De Pelham, VP -People and Places at Later, weighed in, agreeing that a competitive package and flexibility are the most important aspect of attracting and retaining talent. Adding on to these points, she concurs with Gautam, stating that a sense of community is just as vital. “I think people are looking for purposeful work and finding a community that aligns with their values.”

Agnes Garapa, COO of SAP Labs Canada, built on the themes of her panelists. In terms of flexibility, coming from a multinational tech company, the concept had been implemented far before the outbreak of the pandemic and balanced out collaboration, a sense of community, and the option of working from home quite well. Their challenge, however, lay in the retention of talent. She points out that “Vancouver’s talent market is extremely heated at the moment,” with companies not only competing for it at a local level but also an international one. What gives companies an edge, she has learnt from exit interviews, is the opportunity for career growth, a theme quite like that of Gautam’s, where he talks about the diversity of work. “If they [people] could see a faster growth trajectory somewhere else, that seems to rank very high on why they are also leaving,” having learned this from various exit interviews.

Question 2: Moving on, into that journey, into employment, how do we keep people? What strategies do you currently employ to retain your current employees and top talent? What benefits are you offering, and how is your hybrid policy impacting talent retention?

Here, aside from good treatment and a generous paycheck, Gautam believes creating a culture of learning would go a long way. “You’re not only learning on the job, but you’re also learning something else,” he states and has learned that it is something people look for in their employment.

Judi added on to Gautam’s personal-touch approach by talking about how to mitigate flight risks during the pandemic. It is hard to gauge who is one when everyone is working from home, and so one good way to prevent this is engagement through formal mentorship programs with peers. It sends a message that the employee and their ideas and work are valued at the company. It creates a great learning environment and encourages people to ask questions, make connections, and verbalize their ideas.

Agnes then built on this by citing what her own company did to go above and beyond for their employees during the height of the pandemic, such as adding a crisis leave, giving every employee a COVID-19 plan, adding mental-health days to the calendar, and quite simply, acknowledging that people are dealing with unprecedented pressure, and aiding them in there anyway that they can. Aside from this, they provide a generous benefits plan, including often overlooked aspects such as a commuter and lunch plan.

Robin weighed in with agreement to having a flexible work environment, as well as offering additional benefits such as an education budget that helps employees build on their skillset, team-building exercises, be it virtual or in-person, and most importantly, making a consecrated effort to promote internally and give employees a solid career trajectory, living their values and keeping all the promises that were made during the recruitment process.

Poll Question to Audience: How many days per week do you want to work from home in the future?

Less than one day: 2%
One to two days: 32%
Two to four days: 38%
Four days or more: 28%

Question 3: What impact has work from home had on your culture, and what have you been doing to improve it?

Robin begins the conversation by stating that much like Agnes, being a geographically distributed company, her colleagues were quite used to having the technology and culture set up to accommodate a work-from-home workstyle. However, now that everyone has gone remote, they have had to work harder at maintaining their social culture. This process, she states, begins at recruitment and through onboarding, to help the new hires feel supported and included right away. After the restrictions were lightened, they all went on a company retreat, and the impact of seeing the new hires interact with each other and the rest of the team in person for the first time was immense. Further, they have implemented several surveys looking at EDI, employee engagement, feedback on various initiatives, etc., to really listen to their employees and take their opinions into account.

Agnes spoke about how they have around twenty-five engagement teams across the country who were focused on topics such as sustainability, women’s network, black employee network etc. The events that they did in the past were always in-person but have now managed to pivot it all online. Further, they send their employees to care packages etc., to replace in-person company events and adjust to the hybrid world. Now, however, people can come back to the office, and so the office has become a destination. To encourage a return to the workplace, they are focusing on making it a destination and creating meaningful experiences when they come in.

Agreeing with Agnes, Gautam spoke about codifying their company culture into something called SHAPE, which stands for Smart, Humble, Active, Positive, Excellent., which has helped them grow and solidify their company culture. He emphasized once again having personal connections and making both new and old employees feel valued and supported and incorporating fun into the culture.

Question 4: From a performance perspective, is your company suffering from remote teams and lack of communication, or have you managed to find ways to circumvent those issues?

Agnes talks about how collectively, they have not really faced any major hindrances in their performance, however certain groups or tasks did struggle a bit. For example, with the onboarding of new hires. With an in-person workstyle, people are more accessible, and questions are answered on a more immediate basis, whereas with a remote workstyle, it is often harder to integrate. Even so, it helps to be well-versed with tools and creating a communication plan to keep up collaboration etc. and continually try with employees, and this has helped them reduce the negative impact on performance.

Gautam talks about how the creation of a good environment is most conducive to excellent performance, and so focusing on people rather than their performance is vital. For them, their company performance has been saved from the negative impacts of remote workstyles thanks to this philosophy.

Robin also agrees with Gautam’s idea that good work environments encourage good work. She points to the fact that the performance at her workplace has not really suffered through the pandemic. The size of their team has more than doubled since the onset. They make sure that they are providing enough support through the different stages of the lifecycle of the company, based on the feedback of employees and what the company needs at that time. The key, according to Robin, is to be agile, flexible, and listen to the employees.

Poll Question to Audience: Given the impact of COVID-19 on the way we work, what do you think is the most likely effect on your office space in the future?

Downsize and relocate: 19%
Upsize and sublease a portion of existing space: 17%
Upsize and relocate: 10%
Change to coworking: 21%
No change: 33%
Rapid Fire Round:

Are you going to have a mandatory attendance policy? Would that be on a monthly, weekly, or quarterly basis?

Gautam: No.
Robin: No.
Agnes: No.

What’s the biggest surprise or lesson you have gained from this COVID-19 experience?

Agnes: How important it is to build an agile and resilient organization.

Robin: How quickly we can adapt, but how difficult it is to change. There was a lot of trepidation about going remote, and now there is trepidation about changing it again.

Gautam: How quickly trust can develop without actually meeting people face to face!

Judi: How easily we can adapt but also, how difficult it is to change. Also, now it is a candidate-driven market, so candidates can now make their demands, which hiring managers are not used to.

What is the golden nugget of advice you would like to share about the future of office designs and experience?

Agnes: Be prepared. Our guiding principle is “flex the flex.” So, creating a very flexible office design that you can change based on the needs of the organization.

Robin: I agree with the flexibility piece, and then also be thoughtful in the design of your space because your office is one of the biggest cultural artifacts that you have that really sets the tone and the standard for the work culture of the organization.

Gautam: Just make it fun in whatever way that you can in your office

Judi: Flexibility has proven to be a key consideration. From a personal perspective, I feel like natural light in Vancouver is important, but that’s just my personal opinion.

What are you most excited about moving into 2022 in terms of working environments?

Agnes: I am really excited to see some of our colleagues more in person, and about re-imagining, the best hybrid setup for our organization moving forward. Also, how to entice people to come back to the office.

Robin: Really looking forward to spending more time with our team and all of the in-person collaboration that can hopefully happen in the near future.

Gautam: I think that too! We’ve hired so many people and we have our management team and we don’t meet that much, and those are the people you work with the closest, so I am looking forward to hopefully setting up some nice sessions with our entire team and meeting them.

Judi: Well, I am a people person. I am looking forward to seeing people, not just through a screen.

 

Question 5: Around that focus on the workplace and bringing people back in, what changes have you already made, or maybe planning to make this year to really adapt to that hybrid environment?

Agnes gives the example of SAP Labs opening their first Future of Work Office in Montreal with the SAP Labs Network of Canada. There was a 60% reduction in space, which meant that we did not have assigned seats any longer, but did have assigned team neighbourhoods, and we have a brilliant book tool, a flex connect app where people can plan their day, knowing when it’s a good day to come in to maximize your time in the office and see your colleagues. It’s a very data-driven workspace so they have sensors on the workplaces just so they can see how it’s being utilized so we can change things after.

Robin explains how they have put together an entire hybrid work model with a lot of different guidelines to make sure that they’re taking into consideration anyone who is remote as well as anyone who is able to be there in person. They also moved away from a physical space and took advantage of coworking spaces in Vancouver. However, now they are looking for a new space to do a fun project and are working with Aura to do that! So they are using data and thinking analytically about what the space needs and creating a new, innovative environment for the team.

Gautam reiterates the need to consider one’s employees’ opinions, and they send out multiple surveys to get them. As of now, they have half their office as co-located desks and the other half as neighbourhoods or sitting areas. This model allows people to come in when they want, and they intend to keep this model at least for the next year.

Audience Questions:

How do you see the job market changing over the next 18 months in terms of lack of talent versus available role? Will we see that adjust or be corrected?

Judi: Everyone wants to know why no one wants to work. There is still some government funding if you qualify it. I think also, that there are still lots of people who have vulnerable family members. Honestly, women are hit the hardest in the pandemic because they’re caregivers more often than men. Some people are also simply in the habit of not working. There are a variety of reasons why people are not working yet, and it isn’t forever. The pandemic has been hard on people for a variety of reasons as well, and many of them are just waiting for things to settle.

The over-arching themes of this TenantTalks were those of flexibility, adaptability, valuing your people, and compassion. We thank our panelists and attendees for taking out valuable time out of their schedules and helping us create a wonderful learning environment. You can see the whole video here and join us for more insightful discussions at our next event. We look forward to seeing you there!