Colleagues collaborating on workplace terminology using a whiteboard

Defining the 'New Normal' in Workplace Terminology

Flexible. Remote. Hybrid. Virtual.

Over the last three years, our vocabulary around work has expanded considerably and accelerated at an unprecedented rate. The pandemic was the precursor of the first—but likely not the last—major global paradigm shift in work culture as we became a perpetually online society. Now that we recruit on the web, search for jobs online, and even interview virtually, we find ourselves struggling through a collective effort to reach a consensus on the words we use to define work.

That lack of clarity inevitably presents issues in attracting, vetting, onboarding, and retaining employees. Vagueness causes frustration for leadership, not to mention the disruption to services and operations. It’s (past) time for precise definitions, consistent policy, and straightforward, proactive conversations.

There are innumerable shades of gray regarding words like “remote” and “flexible.” It is incumbent upon today’s People teams to facilitate, dare I say to lead, conversations about how an organization defines these key terms because they are table stakes in the modern job market for any company hoping to compete for in-demand talent.

Consider the findings from our recent College to Career Survey of workforce-bound, college-aged adults.

Flexibility and the Ubiquitous Side Hustle

Eighty-five percent of respondents said they either definitely (27%) or possibly (58%) expect to have a side gig in addition to their primary job. Many potential hires may see a company tout its “flexibility” and infer a green light to integrate a side gig in tandem with the advertised position. It’s crucial we, early and often, set and reinforce clear expectations regarding how much time and at what times an employee can participate in other professional pursuits and ensure systems are in place to resolve conflicts between primary and ancillary work.

Work From Anywhere! Anywhere?

Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed are somewhat or extremely likely to consider an entirely remote job. If your organization doesn’t expect daily in-office attendance, you may believe that’s what you’re offering. However, employees often plan to use their remote status to enable travel. If you require participation in the occasional in-person team building in Cincinnati, will you pay for an employee’s ticket from Brazil or Taiwan? Do you know the legal requirements for hiring someone living full-time in another state or country? How will you respond if internet access is unreliable in the location your employee is visiting/residing? What (if any) are the expectations regarding compatible time zones and working hours?

The Hidden Costs of Global Collaboration

Eighty percent of students would consider taking less money for their job if it allowed a remote option, which would seem like a boon for remote-friendly companies looking to save on top-tier talent. But when remote is an option instead of a default, the lines get blurrier about company-provided resources. What have you agreed to provide your employee regarding equipment, home office setup, and other work-related expenses? Will it be a regular stipend or an upfront investment? Can a salary adjustment recoup that cost?

Estimates have shown that a typical company saves well over $10,000 per year in costs for each employee who works on a hybrid model of half-time in the office and half-time remote. This is due to increased productivity, lower real estate costs, and reduced absenteeism and turnover. On the employee side, estimates show that each employee saves anywhere from $600 to $6,000 per year in this same hybrid model from reduced costs associated with commuting.

Defining the New Normal

The dust will eventually settle on remote work as a standard way of working, and these issues will likely reach both market equilibrium and definition alignment. In the meantime, though, the risk of ambiguity is too great to let terms go undefined and assume common understanding. Therefore, if you are going to attract and keep the right talent—and save everyone some time and trouble—clarity upfront is key.

By Sarah Fern, Chief People Officer at Velocity Global

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