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Why the next generation of CEOs must embrace flexibility

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The US labour market hasn’t seen anything quite like it in living memory. The number of job vacancies hit record figures in 2021, coupled with a record number of people quitting their jobs.

The pandemic was the catalyst for millions of Americans who decided they’d had enough of the daily grind, being stuck in traffic, being stuck in the office, having less spare time, or working even longer hours from home, and the knock-on effect that all this has on mental and physical wellbeing.

Lockdowns also revealed that modern companies can function perfectly well, without everyone being in the office every day, and without any negative impact on productivity.

Also, according to an IWG survey the majority of employees would actually prefer the option of flexible working over a pay rise.

The future is flexibility

“Right now, companies who analyse the job market and the workplace are hearing that flexibility has become just as important as wages,” says Andy Challenger. He is Senior Vice President at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc, which has been providing insights into the world of work since 1966. The company also specialises in outplacement services and executive coaching.

“We did a few recent surveys of HR leaders because they’re the ones that are on the ground,” says Challenger. “It’s the HR department that does the exit interviews. And we asked them, ‘Why are people quitting?’

“The number one reason why HR leaders think people are resigning is because of burnout, followed by flexibility. Wages come third or fourth. So it’s absolutely the case that people are reconsidering how and when they want to work. And in some cases, they’re willing to take less money. Flexibility is the future.”

But working from home for months on end also taught us the value of human connection. “When people are working remotely I think we lose that connective tissue of a company,” adds Challenger. “Getting to know each other on a personal level is really hard to do via Zoom.”

The hybrid solution

Companies looking to provide that flexibility as a way to retain talent or bring in new people are increasingly adopting hybrid working to meet the changing expectations of the workforce.

Hybrid working means people can split their time between a central HQ, working from home and a local workspace. But, as Challenger explains, a lot of US companies are still trying to figure out how they make a successful transition to hybrid.

“The biggest challenge is that there isn’t a best practice already out there for hybrid working,” he says. “It’s still a relatively new phenomenon. Many companies, including ours, are going through an exploratory period with hybrid.

“There are all sorts of different configurations that companies need to think about in terms of who’s going to be in the office at any point in time, and how much autonomy each individual has over their own schedule.”

In the case of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc, which employs 500 people across the US, Challenger says: “We’re rethinking how much office space we need at any given time. Some days of the week, we’re just going to be a small company in Chicago, where we’re headquartered.

“Maybe once a month, we’re a medium-sized company, where we fly in some of our people. And then four times a year we’re a larger company, where everyone is together at the same time. We’re flexing up and flexing down, literally day by day, week by week.”

What has enabled Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc to ‘flex up and down’ is a long-standing partnership with Regus that dates back over 25 years. This means that it has a real estate programme that is tailored to the ever-changing needs of the business, with flexible workspace locations across America.

Boom time for new CEOs

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc published a report last month (November), which revealed that US-based companies announced 142 CEO changes in October, which is the second-highest figure on record.

“It’s the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) that have retired in droves,” explains Challenger. “That has created loads of leadership roles. The next generation is stepping up into these roles for the first time, and they’re doing it during the midst of a crisis!

“And so we’ve had a lot of companies come to us and say, ‘Hey, we just promoted these five new executives. Would you come in and do executive coaching with them for the first 90 days in their new role to help them get used to it?’”

Empathy and understanding

That coaching will increasingly place a greater emphasis on the softer skills.

“You must also have a flexible attitude on human issues,” says Challenger. “HR is the department of the moment because it really sees the way people want to work and how they like to work, and how that world is changing.

“What I’m hearing from heads of HR around the country is that they’re trying to connect with employees on a deeper, more empathetic level, really hearing them and understanding them, and perhaps Gen X and Millennials are more comfortable using some of that emotional language.”

As Challenger concludes, hybrid is here to stay. The question employers need to figure out quickly is how to make hybrid work for their business and their employees.

The key takeaway, he says, is that “ultimately, it’s all about flexibility.”

With locations in thousands of neighbourhoods all over the world, find out how Regus can help your business thrive in the new, hybrid world of work.

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