How hybrid workforces can take on the Great Resignation

Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index estimated that 41 per cent of people are likely to consider leaving their jobs over the following year, with more and more voluntarily leaving the workforce or switching roles. Although the Great Resignation became a growing phenomenon during the pandemic as employees searched for much-needed flexibility, businesses experiencing the churn can mitigate its effects by embracing a more hybrid workforce. Here Ashmita Das, below left, CEO of Kolabtree, open talent platform for scientists, explains why flexible working may be the cause Great Resignation — but also its solution.

Without a doubt, 2021 was a year of turbulence and change for employers — while some brought their staff back to the office, others were still embracing the novelty of remote working. Meanwhile, a growing trend was reshaping workplaces across the US and UK — mass walkouts have left some businesses struggling to plug skills gaps and many are now soul-searching as they plan their post-pandemic futures. If there’s one word that sums up last year’s employee surveys, it’s discontent. Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey found that 44 per cent of employees are “job seekers”, with 33 per cent of these being active job hunters that looked for new work in Q4 of 2021.

Understanding the trend

After two years of virtual hibernation, it’s natural some employees would seek change. The traditional working experience was turned on its head, with the social aspect largely removed and people having to settle for Microsoft Teams and Zoom meetings around their kitchen tables. Victoria Short, CEO at recruiting firm Randstad UK, made exactly that claim:

“Some teams have been running too hot for too long. The pandemic has changed how some people think about life, work, and what they want out of both. It’s made people step back and rethink their lives. Covid has reminded them that life is too short,” explained Short.

A mass exodus caused by an increasingly unsatisfied Gen Z is another reason suggested. According to the Future of Time Global Study from Adobe, by 2025 Gen Z will make up around 27 per cent of the global workforce. It also found that more than half of Gen Z employees were planning to switch jobs in the following year for better work-life balance, and in the hope of gaining more control over their schedules. Whatever theory we choose, a common thread emerges. The remote working arrangement brought much-needed flexibility in working style, but the same flexibility inspired people to rethink their careers, work/life balance, working condition and long-term aspirations — a catch-22.

The buzzword is flexibility

While it’s easy to focus on employee discontent, getting the bigger picture means looking at how the industry changed. During the pandemic, there was an increased demand for tech skills, with recruitment company Robert Walters reporting that over 70 per cent of technology employers were experiencing skills shortages.

Although we were promised remote working would only be temporary, as skill demands changed and the emphasis on tech grew, more businesses began talking about reducing their office footprint and trialling remote working as a permanent fixture. In 2021, the Valuation Office Agency estimated that the amount of office space in England dropped by 18 million square feet in the 12 months leading to March 2021 — the equivalent of around 35 times the floor space in the Gherkin building in the City of London.

However, this wasn’t a uniform picture and while some companies encouraged remote working long-term, others saw it as only a temporary measure brought on by necessity. Whichever route companies took, some employees were simply dissatisfied with their employer’s long-term plan and working models. Therefore, flexibility doesn’t just mean the freedom to work from home, it meant being able to work where they wanted without being restricted from above.

Entering the hybrid workspace

When we talk about hybrid working, our mind instantly jumps to remote working. Even a cursory Google search brings up practical guides to working from home, managing remote employees and how it can help promote company diversity and inclusion. The term “hybrid” actually takes on a much deeper meaning — combining permanent in-house staff with freelance employees that are recruited temporarily.

The popularity of freelancing is evident — around 1.9 million people in the UK were freelancers in 2021, and, according to research by MoneySuperMarket, 22 per cent of these were engaged in business support in the previous year. Other popular areas include design (20 per cent) and writing and translation (17 per cent).

So, what does this mean for the Great Resignation? If more companies are experiencing a loss of staff, an increasingly diverse expert economy could provide the perfect pool for replacement talent. Companies can post projects on gig platforms, often for free, that freelancers can bid for and then businessowners can then select their expert. Some platforms, like Kolabtree, even require its consultants to display a public CV along with any previous research to help the selection process.

Hiring an external specialist is an easy way for companies to access vital skills and knowledge without relying on inhouse teams, which are at risk as workforces continue to churn. More businesses are willing to experiment with new methods of managing their workforce than you may think, and, with the Great Resignation ongoing, freelancers could help them manage risk.

Getting started

In my experience, there’s a notable difference between companies experienced in hiring freelancers and those that are new to it. Sometimes, it can be challenging to integrate contract employees, but this is only a temporary hurdle and, once overcome, businesses can weather any skills shortage.

When integrating the first freelancer, businessowners must adjust payroll processes, HR policies and recruitment strategies to factor in contract employees as well as permanent staff. There are also logistical matters to consider — companies can protect intellectual property (IP) by asking the freelancer to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and protect data by only allowing restricted access to certain documents.

Preparing inhouse teams is also essential. Is the team used to working with freelancers and, if not, how can businessowners bring everyone up to speed? It’s important to set the parameters of the freelancer’s role as early as possible to help reassure and inform existing staff exactly what the specialist will be working on. Therefore, defining the scope of the project is key for a structured and robust onboarding process.

With nearly half of the workforce looking at the exit door, now is a crucial time for businesses to rethink their recruitment pools and how they onboard skills. With inhouse teams now at greater risk, turning to the gig economy could be the solution they need for ensuring business as usual.

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