To state the painfully obvious, the pandemic initiated – some would say accelerated – a cascade of workplace consequences, precipitating a revolution in how, where, why, and for how much workers wanted to work, or if they wanted to work at all.
“The consumer technology sector is suffering the labor challenges that most, if not all sectors, are facing in today’s overall labor market,” agrees Lew Brown, Partner, bluesalve partners. “In recent interviews with dealers and distributors in the residential integrator markets, I was continually told of the problems…retaining and/or recruiting installers and sales help. There seems to be continual pressure on both pay AND demand for a more respectful work culture.”
Companies are now faced with two new employment realities: one, workers have discovered how much they enjoy working from home and are reluctant to return to offices, and, two, retail workers have discovered they’re in great demand and have begun to search for a more perfect union with an employer who’ll give them what they want.
So how do consumer technology companies deal with these new workplace realities, to recruit and retain employees, and keep them motivated and happy?
Here are five suggestions.
1. Accept the New WFH Reality
“It would be a mistake to assume that now everything will resume as it was pre-COVID,” warns Ted Green, president of The Stratecon Group, a tech business consulting company. “As companies move to transition remote workers back to a central office, they have already discovered that if they demand total compliance, their workers will push back. Leverage continues to favor workers, and they know it.”
So how do you find that happy medium, that you get what you need from your workers and workers are happy enough so they don’t quit? The solution is easier than you think.
“Ask your employees what they want,” says David Lewis, CEO of the Norwalk, CT-based HR consulting and training firm OperationsInc. “It’s scary, I get that. Companies who talk to their employees hear what their feedback is and then convert that into some level of action. You don’t have to give your employees everything. But if your employees see that you’ve listened and that you are meeting them halfway, or some way, they’re going to stay.”
But how do you give employees what they want and still maintain some sense of operational stability and control?
2. Be Flexible
Workers now find they want a better work-life balance that is focused on continuing to work at least a few or most days at home. Lewis has developed something he calls the “14 for 8” model, giving workers a 14-hour window to get their eight hours of work done.
“That flexibility now translates to, I’m going to take a walk in the middle of the day, I can take a nap for half an hour, I can go ahead and I can take a break at 3 o’clock and do laundry or prep my dinner, or I can pick my kids up from school and take them home and have the quality half hour in the car to hear really what happened during the day versus the stressful moment that I get later,” explains Lewis. “That balance, that approach towards life, [are what] employees are more inclined to ask for.”
A more flexible attitude towards workers working from home, however, doesn’t mean giving up on getting your staff back into the office.
3. Offer Office Incentives.
If you want to return to some semblance of pre-Covid work conditions, you need to make your employees want to come back to the office and avoid staggered scheduled workers commuting to an empty office. “Make some level of effort strategically to have things going on on those days if people come in,” Lewis advises, “so that it’s not just, oh, the boss wants me in the office.”
Lewis advises having all members of a division or department assemble on the same days. Create “special” days for everyone to come to work – training days, collaboration/brainstorming events, as well as feeding them to create a more social/work environment. “These little things,” Lewis notes, “carry minimal relative expense and bring such great ROI.”
4. Offer More Opportunity
In a more challenging retail environment in which consumers have gotten used to e-shopping, brick & mortar sales staff are going to have to acquire more and new skills and be more adaptable. Fortunately, workers, especially younger ones, are keen to be given opportunities to learn, and to be challenged.
“Retailers will make other changes to create the versatile and flexible workforce needed for new multi-channel retail models,” reports Jill Standish, senior managing director and global head of Accenture’s retail industry group. “In addition to equipping employees with the expertise specific to one job, retailers will train workers to read data and analytics, as well as manage end-to-end consumer experiences. The result? A much more rewarding and interesting role for the employee.”
Diversifying your workers’ skill sets, of course, first requires recruiting workers to begin with. Brown suggests diversifying your workforce as well. “Representation is painfully low,” Brown notes. “I hear the continual echo of ‘there isn’t a large enough pipeline of talent’ in underrepresented communities. This is a false wall, and surely it has been proven that a more diverse company culture is better for the bottom line as it brings better ideas to the table that are more representative of the people we sell to.”
5. Offer Better Compensation
No, this doesn’t necessarily mean offering higher salaries to hire the best talent, but maybe you can offer benefits that maybe you thought you couldn’t afford.
A PEO (Professional Employer Organization) such as Insperity, Justworks, and PayChex, offer turnkey solutions that include employee medical insurance, 401K, workers’ compensation, payroll, and HR technology and support. According to Lewis, a PEO can save a small consumer tech company around 30% over procuring these services separately.
A PEO “levels the playing field between you and much larger companies because you’re often competing for the same talent,” Lewis states. “If you’re sitting there with some candidate [who] is also looking at working for Amazon or Apple or somebody else, you are in a much better place. The tech is fantastic, and the support that the employees get is tremendous, and provides [a company] great things for their employees.”
“It is imperative that companies do whatever it takes to keep employees happy and productive,” Green concludes. “We are at the vanguard of a new world that requires new manager skills and company tools to remain a ‘best places to work’ company.”