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Return-to-work wars: Execs at Citi, Manpower, and McKinsey on why they’re embracing remote and hybrid work

The return-to-work wars demonstrates a disconnect between some employers and employees, as many workers say they prefer working from home.

Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images

  • Companies are deciding which pandemic-era changes will endure regarding how and where we work.
  • The return-to-work wars demonstrate a disconnect between some employers and employees.
  • Insider spoke with C-suite execs who shared why they are embracing remote- and hybrid-work models.

In January 2020, when news broke of a mysterious pneumonia-like virus creeping through the Eastern hemisphere, Nancy Hauge, the chief people experience officer at Automation Anywhere, would not have predicted that only months later the coronavirus outbreak would force an overhaul of the HR operating model at her organization.

By October 2020, 71% of workers with jobs that could be done remotely were working from home all or most of the time, according to data from Pew Research. Hauge was among the HR leaders facilitating this remote-work revolution within her organization.

Although she describes 2020 as the most complex period of her career, Hauge reached a compelling conclusion by year’s end. “What’s been most surprising about the pandemic is social distancing created more intimacy,” she said. “In many ways, we are more connected than before.”

Remote-work wars

More than two years into the pandemic, organizations are grappling with whether to reopen workplaces. A new Microsoft report says that about half of the leaders it surveyed are looking to end remote work in the next year.

Amazon, Google, and the accounting giant EY are among the many companies requiring employees to resume their old commutes and return to work. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, made headlines when he issued a staff memo telling employees to return to the office or “pretend to work somewhere else.” Meanwhile, employers including Atlassian, Coinbase, and Gusto are offering permanent remote- or hybrid-work options. 

The return-to-work wars demonstrates a disconnect between employers and employees, as most teleworkers say they prefer working from home. A survey of more than 3,000 employees conducted by Blind, an anonymous employee community app, found that 64% of employers, including Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, would rather work from home than receive a $30,000 raise. 

Insider spoke with 10 industry leaders who shared why they are embracing remote and hybrid work for the foreseeable future.

The responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.  

Nancy Hauge, the chief people experience officer at Automation AnywhereNancy Hauge, Chief People Experience Officer at Automation Anywhere“What’s been most surprising about the pandemic is social distancing created more intimacy. In many ways, we are more connected than before,” Hauge told Insider.

Automation Anywhere

Automation Anywhere is a global software company that develops cloud-automation services.

The future of work is about custom-configured work environments and more connected relationships with teammates. The value of human connection is at an all-time high.

Remote work has created a more extended reach because I can see into your home, I see your children, I see your dogs coming by. I now know more about the individuals that work in the organization.

In the past two years, working remotely, I’ve become invested not just in our teammates’ needs but in their families’ needs. So how do we support that whole ecosystem around them?

Jennifer Alessandra, the senior vice president and chief people and communications officer at Frontdoor, Inc.Jennifer Alessandra, Senior Vice President and Chief People & Communications Officer at Frontdoor, Inc.“As today’s work environment evolves, so should organizations,” Alessandra said.

Frontdoor

Frontdoor, Inc. is an appliance repair and maintenance company. It services appliances from water heaters and garbage disposals to smoke detectors and refrigerators. The company’s brands include American Home Shield, HSA, OneGuard, and Landmark.

Frontdoor has decided to become a virtual-first company. While sparked by the pandemic, our teams carefully evaluated the benefits of adopting this practice, one of which included expanding our potential talent pool. In addition, allowing virtual work and encouraging in-person collaboration, when necessary, has allowed our current and prospective associates to contribute to the team from a geographic location that fits their unique family, personal, or even financial preferences.

Casting a wider net for candidates also allows us to create a workforce composed of varying interests, backgrounds, and experiences. This diversity of people, talent, and ideas makes us stronger. As today’s work environment evolves, so should organizations.

Sara Wechter, the head of human resources at CitiSara Wechter, Head of Human Resources at Citi“We know talent wants flexibility, and we’ve broken traditional industry norms in embracing hybrid work,” Wechter said.

Citi

Citigroup is a financial-services holding company that provides a range of financial products and services, including consumer banking and credit, corporate and investment banking, securities brokerage, trade and securities services, and wealth management.

We know talent wants flexibility, and we’ve broken traditional industry norms in embracing hybrid work. Our model gives colleagues flexibility to better balance work and life while also providing the benefits of working in person — benefits such as belonging, collaboration, apprenticeship, and learning, to name a few.

 

Becky Frankiewicz, the chief commercial officer and president of ManpowerGroup, North AmericaBecky Frankiewicz, Chief Commercial Officer and President of ManpowerGroup, North America“As an employer, once you’ve realized that flexibility comes first and that flexibility is here for good, you only have one way forward — and that’s to fundamentally transform.” Frankiewicz said.

Manpower

ManpowerGroup is a global staffing firm. 

The crisis created by the pandemic gave employers a new level of insight into people’s lives. It eliminated barriers between employers and employees. It’s created a new level of trust.

As an employer, once you’ve realized that flexibility comes first and that flexibility is here for good, you only have one way forward — and that’s to fundamentally transform. We can’t forget that, and we can’t take that away from workers.

What’s next on the horizon is a much more connected workplace where people feel accepted for their whole selves, where people not only feel but know that they belong. This is a gift of the crisis, should employers choose to take it, and we are definitely choosing to take it.

Sarah Dunn, the global human resources officer of Tapestry Inc.Sarah Dunn, Global Human Resources Officer of Tapestry Inc.“Most of our teams come into the office one or two days a week, and we’re trying to make those days count,” Dunn said.

Tapestry Inc

Tapestry, Inc. is a multinational luxury-fashion holding company. Originally named Coach, Inc., Tapestry is the parent company of three major brands: Coach New York, Kate Spade New York, and Stuart Weitzman.

We’re now very much in a hybrid environment. Most of our teams come into the office one or two days a week, and we’re trying to make those days count. So having a creative, vibrant community in the office together, and then on other days, they can catch up on work remotely on things they need to do individually.

There’s still a lot to learn. We frequently say we’re in the largest test-and-learn environment from a future-of-work point of view, and we’re just listening to our teams very closely. We’re doing surveys regularly to understand what they’re enjoying, not enjoying, and how we need to adapt.

Katie George, the senior partner and chief people officer at McKinsey & CompanyKaty George, Senior Partner and Chief People Officer at McKinsey & Company“In our industry, we have always offered flexibility, with a heritage that allows for autonomous work and purposeful presence,” George said.

McKinsey & Company

McKinsey & Company is a management-consulting firm with offices in 65 countries and annual revenue estimated at $10 billion. The company advises corporations, governments, and other organizations.

With more jobs than jobless, we’re in a new talent reality, and companies face an unprecedented hurdle to attract and retain talent and a pivotal moment to develop skills. In our industry, we have always offered flexibility, with a heritage that allows for autonomous work and purposeful presence, such as traveling or working in an office when the impact is clear.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for flexibility so that every colleague can benefit from the philosophy of purposeful presence.

Bruce Larson, the chief human resources officer at The Carlyle GroupBruce Larson, Chief Human Resources Officer at The Carlyle Group“Our ability to attract talent in this environment is strengthened by the fact that we take a more flexible approach than a lot of other companies,” Larson said.

The Carlyle Group

The Carlyle Group is a global investment firm specializing in direct and fund-of-fund investments, with more than 1,800 staff worldwide. The company has more than $325 billion in assets under management.

Our ability to attract talent in this environment is strengthened by the fact that we take a more flexible approach than many other companies. We’re seeing an increase in the demand for roles with a hybrid element to them, and as an employer of choice, that is an attractive approach that has certainly increased our candidate pool. 

Talent is our most important asset, which is why we are continuously taking action to ensure employees feel supported and valued.

 

Elizabeth Crain, the chief operating officer at Moelis & CompanyElizabeth Crain, Chief Operating Officer at Moelis & Company“We’ve introduced more flexibility and are continually thinking about how we can optimize our office environment to promote collaboration and creativity,” Crain said.

Moelis & Company

Moelis & Company is a global investment bank with 21 offices worldwide. The firm has advised on more than $3.5 trillion worth of transactions since it was founded in 2007, with deal sizes ranging from $100 million up to $160 billion.

Part of continuing to attract great talent will be adapting to the changing needs and wants of our team. They’re as passionate as ever about performing at the highest level, but they’re also looking for greater flexibility, which we can provide.

As a result, we’ve introduced more flexibility and are continually thinking about how we can optimize our office environment to promote collaboration and creativity. How and where people work has changed, but we’ve maintained the collaboration, teaching, and mentoring that are such critical elements of the Moelis culture and key to client success.

 

Laura Miele, the chief operating officer at Electronic ArtsLaura Miele, Chief Operating Officer at Electronic Arts“Remote work has opened up opportunities for us to bring in the very best talent no matter where they live,” Miele said.

Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts develops and distributes games, content, and services for game consoles, PCs, mobile phones, and tablets.

Traditionally, anyone who wanted a career in the game industry had to live near a studio, but remote work has opened up opportunities for us to bring in the very best talent no matter where they live.

We’ve brought some incredible talent into EA over the past couple of years. Many of them point to our strong values, principles, and flexibility in how we work as the key reasons for joining the company.

Kate Burke, the chief operating officer of AllianceBernsteinKate Burke, Chief Operating Officer of AllianceBernstein“Our current hybrid approach of three days in offices and two days remote seems to resonate,” Burke said.

AllianceBernstein

AllianceBernstein is a global investment-management firm that offers research and investment services to institutional investors, individuals, and private wealth clients. The company has more than $600 billion in assets under management and more than 4,000 staff worldwide.

Candidates want clarity around flexible working, and our current hybrid approach of three days in offices and two days remote seems to resonate.

We recognize that flexibility looks and feels different to current and potential employees, so empowering the manager to work with their teams on how flexibility best works for them remains at the forefront.

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