Several weeks ago, I wrote about an emerging challenge in the specialized IT labor market having to do with an increasing number companies issuing return to office (RTO) mandates, while large segments of the contingent labor force remains steadfastly committed to a remote approach. Since then, the situation has continued to develop, and we’ve reached a point where the market is truly splintered. While both sides have valid viewpoints, something has to give for companies to maintain forward momentum on their technology transformation initiatives and for the contingent specialized labor market to find the challenging and meaningful opportunities to apply their skills.
Differing Perspectives Beg the Question: What Best Serves the Program?
At the outset of the pandemic, most organizations were necessarily operating in a fully remote mode. In the spirit of “we’re all in this together,” people rose to the occasion, proving that even an undertaking as complex as a full SAP S/4HANA transformation initiative, for example, could be successfully handled almost exclusively remotely. Productivity skyrocketed and many companies accelerated their modernization programs. Was a remote approach ideal? For some, yes and for others, no—and that goes for both the hiring organizations and the contingent workforce.
Certainly, there were some upsides for enterprises. When you are sourcing expertise nationally or even globally, your pool of talent broadens considerably. If you’ve located critical expertise outside your regional area, you don’t have to bear the burden of travel expenses. From a talent perspective, spared long commutes, noisy offices, and constant interruptions, many people thrived. Despite initial productivity gains, small cracks in the model began to develop, and as time has passed, they have become wider. Many companies have embarked on this approach with an inherent presumption that a good onsite manager is just as effective managing a remote team, when that is not always the case. Without regular, face-to-face interactions, some managers struggled to understand how—or even if—work was progressing.
On the workforce front, some people found that with no physical separation between work and home, it was impossible to disconnect. We’re seeing the long-term impacts of this reflected in a recent study by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence indicating employee wellbeing is in decline. Still others struggled without the infrastructure and support that comes with traditional, on-site work and started missing milestones or going silent. We’ve also seen a rise in exhausted, overwhelmed employees quiet quitting—doing as little as necessary to get by—as well as a less common but the very real issue that some contingent resources are committing to more than one full-time role at a time.
These are just some of the challenges driving companies to return to office mandates. And while I ultimately see the pendulum swinging even further toward RTO, the hard reality is that we simply are not there yet. Remote work existed long before the pandemic, and it will continue to exist: the number of employees working on site may never return to pre-pandemic levels. In the short term, I think it behooves us all to think less about what way is the best way or who is in the right here and more about what best serves the program.
Flexibility Is Key to Meeting Short-Term Demand
While experience has shown that these types of critical technology infrastructure projects can be completed without resources on site, it’s a riskier execution model. CTOs and program leadership understandably want to get to know the people who are contributing to them to ensure their integrity, commitment, and congruity with their internal team. At Baer, we are increasingly engaging with clients whose net new and reinvigorated initiatives have mandates to be on site, at least for the initial phases of the program. I think it’s a sign of the times and engagements will increasingly be structured this way. That said, early adopters of this strategy have been—and will continue to, at least in the near term—face challenges in attracting consultants.
To mitigate the realities of these splintered dynamics, I would strongly recommend flexibility and compromise wherever possible, both on the part of the hiring organization and on the part of the contract labor. Companies that have or are planning to shift their posture from remote to an RTO mandate should be aware that we are very much in a transitional market, and you may be competing for expertise with companies still offering more flexible arrangements. If you can work with your leadership team to help them understand the market dynamics and how certain roles may lend themselves to remote work, then offered greater flexibility as the undertaking advances, asking contingent employees to work in the office two or three days a week, it would be a wise choice. If not, then be aware it may take longer to retain critical expertise and your pool of options may be limited.
When planning your initiative, the more stringent your RTO policy, the more time you should allocate in your resource plan to build your project team Budget is also a consideration here, as many consultants will have elevated compensation expectations to work on site.
Unlike typical technology staffing companies, Baer is a true enterprise performance partner. We have a deep understanding of the scope of enterprise technology transformation initiatives and the highly specialized skillsets you will need at different stages of the process.
To learn more about how Baer can make a positive impact on your enterprise transformation, please reach out to Brian Trout, email@example.com, Executive Vice President, Sales, or John Wilson, Vice President of Strategic Accounts, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to speaking with you and learning about your specific challenges.