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Lack of employee work flexibility has caused CIOs to lose IT talent. Three years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, some organizations have announced a mandatory, full return to the on-site workplace. This approach has adversely impacted retention; performance; and diversity, equity and inclusion. Employers are left vulnerable to talent being actively poached by employers offering more flexibility.

As hybrid work becomes the default, organizations that do not adopt a hybrid model will struggle to attract and retain talent in a hybrid world. Gartner has found 70% of technology employees who have been fully remote during the pandemic expect to continue to work in a hybrid model. CIOs and IT organizations are especially vulnerable to high turnover in this emerging talent market.

SEE: Here’s what you need to know about employees’ mission to seek out better pay and work-life balance.

To avoid the talent flight risk, IT leaders must adopt a mindset of radical flexibility that provides employees with more autonomy for where, when and how work gets done by developing new policies and practices to improve employee engagement, company culture and team performance.

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The need for a flexible, human-centric workplace

Gartner has found most employees in a technology function would prefer a hybrid work arrangement, whether or not they are currently working remotely. Sixty-nine percent of all IT employees prefer a hybrid work model, and this is not significantly different from the 70% of technology employees who were fully remote during the pandemic.

SEE: Discover how human-centric work drives greater productivity and retention.

On-site work should be an exception, rather than a default in the future of work. IT employees who worked remotely during the pandemic have indicated that if they were given the choice, nearly half of them would prefer to work remotely two to four days a week, while only 9% would never or rarely want to work remotely.

Identify the impact of return-to-workplace decisions on talent

Organizations who force their IT employees to a fully on-site arrangement will face several key risks. The first risk is attrition. More than half of technology employees have found that whether they can work flexibly will impact if they stay at an organization. Most workers require location flexibility when considering a job change. In addition, most workers in an IT function would only consider a new job or position that allows them to work from a location of their choosing.

Requiring employees to return fully on-site is also a risk to DEI. Underrepresented groups of talent have seen improvements in how they work since being allowed more flexibility. For example, most women who were fully on-site prior to the pandemic, but have been remote since, report their expectations for working flexibly have increased since the beginning of the pandemic.

Employees with a disability have also found a vast improvement to the quality of their work experience. Since the pandemic, Gartner research shows that knowledge workers with a disability have found the extent to which their working environment helps them be productive has improved. In a hybrid environment for this population, perceptions of equity have also improved, as they have experienced higher levels of respect and greater access to managers. Organizations must take these improvements into consideration if they are to offer a work arrangement that is inclusive of traditionally underrepresented groups of talent.

Avoid the myth of linking culture to being in-person

Organizations considering a return-to-office on-site model are often convinced that their culture is compromised by the lack of regular in-person interactions. A flexible work environment does not compromise culture but rather benefits it. Most of the workforce, including IT workers, report an improvement in organizational culture in a hybrid workplace.

Organizations that dictate work arrangement against employee preference are more likely to damage culture and have long-term consequences. The quality of day-to-day experiences for employees has not only been unchanged but improved by more flexibility.

Organizations that are opting for return-to-office mandates should not only be aware of the risks but the lost opportunities as well. Flexibility fuels performance. Organizations that adopt a model designed for flexibility will see the benefits in organizational outcomes such as performance, retention and DEI.

To prepare for this environment, CIOs must:

  • Adopt new interaction and communication practices to ensure a diverse, equitable and inclusive experience for all team members in any location:
  • Develop a set of human-centric principles to guide communications and interactions that set the expectations of radical flexibility.
  • Survey and consult with IT employees to validate expectations, experiences and options.
  • Work with C-suite leaders to determine how to accommodate a flexible work approach that leverages a hybrid environment, supports workforce retention, promotes engagement and delivers high performance.
Jose Ramirez, senior principal analyst at Gartner, headshot
Jose Ramirez, senior principal analyst at Gartner

Jose Ramirez is a senior principal analyst at Gartner Inc., where he focuses on upskilling the IT workforce, IT talent management, DEI strategies, and diagnosing and changing organizational culture. Gartner analysts are presenting additional insights on IT talent and organizational culture at the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit, taking place June 12–13 in San Diego, California.

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