Small Business Adviser: A Whole New Threat Emerges in the Quest for Talent

May 2021

By Scott Quinn

Ending work-from-home can be risky.


As health metrics begin to sound the all-clear that humans can once again gather in groups safely, it remains uncertain what the “new reality” for workers will look like. 

The 2020 COVID-19 scare imposed upon the world the largest business-social experiment in history. Remote work, once primarily the privilege of information-technology specialists, suddenly became the default work model for almost anyone with a computer. 

The effect of remote work on employers was of critical importance. What impact on the bottom line would 2020 have? Surely it was going to prove profound. After all, the Big Question from employers concerning remote workers was, “What are you really doing working in a space where I can’t see you?” The answer was: working.

Productivity rose. So did employee happiness. Remote workers overwhelmingly prefer to work from home. And why not? Remote workers report less stress and anxiety, have fewer distractions, get more exercise, and gain an average 8 ours per week by not commuting to and from work (not to mention the savings in gas and maintenance on transportation), among other insights gained from multiple surveys. 

Employers get healthier, happier, and more productive workers. That’s a win-win, right? 

Yet the temptation exists among not a few companies to resume work practices that mimic 2019–or 1919, for that matter. 

There is a push among some companies to “Return to the office.” Why? To “collaborate.” There’s even a term to give a patina of respect to lull employees to accept this new normal: the hybrid model. As in, “We don’t expect you in the office every day. Instead, we are going to toy with your schedule and have you come to the office one or two or three days per week.” 

In survey after survey, employees aren’t buying it. So why are some companies tempting fate by insisting on it?

Put another way, why, after a year of successful remote work, would employers insist on killing the very work model that makes workers happy? Put yet another way, what, given the obvious benefits of remote work to employers and employees alike in 2020, would necessitate the presence of employees in a specific location even one time per quarter?

I have no idea. But I do know this: Companies that want to attract and retain top talent are playing with fire if they insist on bringing back to the office those employees who manifestly oppose such a move. 

Moreover, the game—indeed, the very landscape—changed during the past year. Today, there are plenty of companies whose search for talent is no longer restricted to a particular locale. For these companies, talent exists everywhere, and they intend on engaging this talent irrespective of location.

And this is where the problem for Kansas City becomes acute. Despite its many advantages for companies and em-ployees, Kansas City has three distinct disadvantages in the scramble for talent.

Consider the following:

Many Kansas City-based companies do not have budgets that can compete with salaries on either coast, effectively sealing off key areas of the country from recruiting efforts. Companies that adopt even a hybrid model place self-imposed barriers to recruiting by limiting the size of the talent pool available to them. At the same time, companies from outside Kansas City are tapping talent from the same dwindling pool of resources. For these companies, conditioned to paying much higher salaries on either coast, even a “low-ball” offer from their perspective represents a windfall to workers in the area. A higher salary and remote work? These will prove irresistible to any em-ployee, especially top-performing ones. 

The adage that people join companies and leave bad bosses is about to be turned on its head. No boss is good enough to compete with higher salaries and an employee-preferred work model. 

Given that, here are some suggestions to help companies attract and retain talent:

  • Empower employees to decide whether to come into the office. Do not mandate in-office work. 
  • Respect that not everyone wants to live in cities or suburbs. The Great Towns project highlighted by Jack Cashill in the March 2021 issue of Ingram’s is an example of new priorities for employees.
  • Trust your employees. Remote workers are grateful for the opportunity to simplify their lives and want to keep a job that provides them the opportunity to do so.
  • Communicate your vision for growth; let employees know where they fit in this vision. Embrace technology to keep employees engaged, inspired, and connected.

Remote work is here to stay. Are your employees?