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Employee Retention in Times Dominated by Remote Work Demand, AI and Layoffs

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Employee Retention in Times Dominated by Remote Work Demand, AI and Layoffs

Remote work, AI revolution, layoffs - some of the news that’s keeping the business world busy. After the pandemic struck, people were quick to jump to conclusions and most of them were positive that the pandemic would end in a year or two. It’s now over in a way. Some or the other news of new virus mutations keep coming in but it has not been significant. Those two years were the ones that disrupted the normal way of life.


Since then, the business sector has seen never-before changes and witnessed things evolving drastically. Immediately after the pandemic, remote work, which was otherwise associated with freelance workers, became a daily use term for every worker. It has ushered in remote work-specific challenges for employers and also created a need to tackle other things like layoffs and the scare created due to the advancements in technology, especially AI in a holistic manner. This is important to ensure a healthy employee retention rate and overall, continuous business growth.



Most businesses saw unprecedented growth during the pandemic


The work never stopped – there were video calls (Zoom made the most out of it), collaboration tool startups (companies like Monday, Slack, and Asana saw their fortunes changing instantly), remote work visas from foreign destinations were issued in the form of attractive packages, online training, and certifications became routine, hirings were done completely online, team meetings were through video conference calls, and much more of course.


And it continues to be the same way as it was during the previous years. And it will be this way for a long time to come or might never change. Overall, the businesses boomed during the pandemic except the local brick-and-mortar businesses that found it hard to survive due to lack of funds. 


Technology has meant a boon for businesses in the most challenging times humankind has seen in the last century or so. Employee retention is the key when you are introducing various technologies in the office. The scare related to AI replacing humans needs to be addressed lest it might create job insecurity in the minds of employees. Seamless communication from HR holds the key to ensuring both hiring the best talent and employee retention. 


Failure to communicate well has hampered employee retention during layoffs. Whether it’s Amazon layoffs or Google layoffs, job insecurity can be seen among each and every employee. This insecurity is fueled even more when employees get to social media to share their experiences openly.


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Workplace technology will decide the future of remote work


With disruptive technologies coming up that are centered on making remote work easier for every job and in every industry, entrepreneurs don’t just have to change the way they introduce technologies but rather plan and implement people-friendly ways. 

This will help them maintain their remote teams well and do everything that’s not just technological all the time to ensure a high employee retention rate through employee satisfaction by providing fair and equal opportunities to everyone across the organization. 


Here are some more challenges the entrepreneurs and HR teams face as they prepare themselves to embrace remote work as the new norm instead of seeing it as a passing trend.



Equal access to remote work for everyone


Very few remote employees wanted to join back the office (or you may say none). In the second half of 2021, employers took the matter a bit more seriously as they wanted to call back remote workers to the offices, which did not go down well with everyone and had a direct impact on the employee retention rate. Remote work has offered a new perspective of work-life balance to the workers and given them more time than ever to spend with their families, pursue hobbies, and save valuable time they wasted stuck in traffic jams or traveling on public transport. 


Remote employees are able to spend more time planning their finances, taking care of their kid's education, watching movies, helping their spouses with various things, woodworking, boating, gymming, and everything they always wanted to do but could never do because of lack of time. Because of this, they have been more productive than in the office, mainly because their minds are more focused and their energy levels are higher. 


No worker would want such times to end and this means a big challenge in employee retention efforts. The entire responsibility to ensure that every employee is treated fairly and given remote work opportunities if available lies with HR. They have to create schedules and chart out the work process in a manner that no particular employees on the same job are called to the office while others work from their homes. 


The flexibility to work entirely remotely or in hybrid mode should be equal for all the workers and the managers have to plan this carefully if they want to overcome the employee retention challenge. In addition to this, if an employee expresses the desire to work in hybrid mode instead of entirely remote, you should consider the request if the office is still operational. Forcing employees to come back to offices in times when there’s an acute knowledge worker shortage simply won’t work and will hurt your employee retention plan.


Another important thing to avoid is to use the layoffs as an opportunity to threaten the remote workers to join back the office. Statements like from UK Head of PwC that Gen Z needs to return to the office when AI is becoming a dominant force sends out a wrong message. It's a threat call where AI is being used as the cover. It's true that AI is one of the main reasons behind layoffs - something which the CEOs have been hesitant to say because they know that it sends out a wrong message. Employees are aware of this but to hear a Chairman say this loud is certainly not a good move.


Most of the layoffs happening in companies, including Google, Meta, Microsoft, and Amazon, are due to business restructuring, revised business plans, and automation. Layoffs, as far as known, are not due to remote workers not returning to offices.



The compensation-related decision if an employee moves to a new cheaper location


It’s understandable that some remote employees might move to locations where the cost of living is low. Lower school fees, cheaper and bigger houses, a better standard of life, and attractive visa packages to work abroad are tempting for many to explore new places, which is pretty natural. Some companies have slashed pay packages for such employees, which has not been taken well by them and impacted employee retention.


The idea to move to a new location because of the affordability is beaten if the compensation is reduced, whether in single or double-digit figures. Let the remote employee save money and lead a better life. For you as the employer, it’s the location of the worker that has changed, not his productivity or his commitment to the company. 

It might even prove beneficial to the company as employee performance tends to get better if the standard of living improves. Cutting down the pay will have a negative impact on employee morale and there’s a big chance of resignation after some time.


This way, you cannot maintain an ideal employee retention rate. Especially in times when layoffs are rampant - from giants like Amazon, Google, and Meta to startups - every company is cutting down the employee count. Tech sector layoffs have made employees insecure so this is the worst time to think of pay cuts.



Big resignation means a shortage of knowledge workers. But don’t let established workers feel left out 


The pandemic, big resignation, remote work, supply chain disruptions, economic ups and downs, and layoffs from 2022 till now (Google announcing big job cuts recently) – it’s all happening at the same time. This is not the perfect time for HR to sit and relax even a bit because employee retention is a big requirement in such times. There was sudden remote work implementation across the business sector, and that gave ample time to the employees to think about their purpose in life. That led to a massive number of resignations, which in turn led to an acute shortage of workers, meaning a low retention rate. 


Shortage of knowledge workers meant higher joining bonuses, premium packages, and additional benefits that were not available to the established employees. That can create friction in the teams that comprise both new and old employees and, worse than that, create dissatisfaction among the old employees and they might resign while creating challenges for HR teams’ efforts in employee retention.


For employee retention, HR has to think strategically here and ensure that some of the benefits reach the established employees as well. At the same time, employee engagement is continuous to ensure the gelling of the old and new employees. 


Remote work means a physical disconnect among team members. Hence, it’s critical for HR to ensure training and development, fair compensation, and employee engagement at all levels and on a regular basis. In times when fear of job loss is at an all-time high due to the widespread layoffs and introduction of AI in many business processes, this is the time to show to your employees that you truly care and layoffs are only the last option. 


Amazon layoffs, Meta layoffs, Google layoffs, and others in the tech sector have meant a big dent in the progress that HR teams were making in employee retention after the great resignation phenomenon.



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Onboarding new employees with a personal touch to make them feel they are part of the team


Hiring online sounds like a good idea and it has worked out very well in times of pandemic when the offices were closed. For recruitment teams, conducting online interviews was the only way possible to hire new talent. Inducting new talent in a remote environment means newer challenges for the HR teams. Now, there’s AI for HR teams - making most of the recruitment process automated.


Since the newly hired employees have never been able to visit your office, never met you personally, and interacted at a personal level and there was virtual onboarding, it’s a possibility that they might never feel the ‘connection’ with your company which usually happens during the onboarding process in the real offices. 


Compared to remote work, in real offices, the inductees meet employees personally, shake hands, drink coffee, go out for lunches, and attend training and induction sessions where they are exposed to real things, which helps create a personal touch with the employee. They feel they have entered a new company, not just a virtual chat room. This is important and plays a big role in the employee psyche. This increases the final selection rate and also has a direct relation with employee retention.


The new employees must not feel left out. They should not feel that it’s only the old employees who know everything about the company, all about loyalty, know the names of colleagues, and feel the office culture like it was before the remote work started. 


The new workers should feel equally comfortable and feel like they are a big part of the company where there is oneness for them and everything is shared equally and they are being treated fairly by everyone. This will help new remote workers settle down fast and easily and ensure they stay in the company for a long time, boosting your company’s employee retention rate.


Remote hiring means broader reach – the challenge is to promote diversity


If your office is in a place where Black, Latinx, or Asian workers are not much, a less diverse workforce is understandable. But in remote mode, you are free to hire across the nation and even the entire world, which means access to every location and every race. Maybe nobody questioned it when it was a real office in some location with not such a diverse workforce to hire available but remote hiring will certainly raise questions if the teams are not diverse. Your current employees will also see it as an unethical practice and might lead to a low employee retention rate.


The recruitment plan has to be devised in a way that includes Black, Latinx, Asian, and other races equally. The same applies to gender. Remote work has benefitted women who could not work because they had to be at home for some reason. Remote work means a diverse workforce in the organization. The biggest benefit for your company is that it will be able to represent itself as a brand that provides equal opportunities to everyone and maintains fair policies at all levels, thereby promoting employee retention.


It’s not easy, though, as it entails a revised recruitment plan, working in sync with a diversity specialist, and hiring from a large talent pool of knowledge workers spread across all states. However, once you can streamline the process, it will prove to be instrumental in ensuring better hiring processes that are future-oriented and present your company as a strong brand to all the stakeholders.


Fair and equal access to online tools and software and a fair criterion to measure performance through these tools


Ensuring that every remote employee has equal access to every work tool that is used in the company, providing optimum cybersecurity to make remote work safe, creating less interference or avoiding any kind of intrusion through digital means, and ensuring top-level data security (recorded audio/video calls, performance analytics through advanced AI tools), are some of the major challenges that IT teams and also the HR teams face in the remote work environment. 


Ensuring a high level of integrity in handling data for all the remote employees and providing them with a safe online work environment should be the main task for the CTOs and CIOs. Training on online work etiquette should be ongoing so that no worker is bullied or harassed should be given due importance. The companies use these tools to measure performance as the work quantification has reached new levels. 


This means there is a need to record every bit of information fairly and ensure transparency when using it for performance analysis. Based on your company policy, you can provide free access to the data to the remote workers or even the entire team. The bottom line is that the performance measurement criteria should be fair and consider equality at all levels to ensure employee retention.



The vaccine controversy in the corporate sector – It was a big deal


The virus is still around. It might not be creating any destruction at all but it’s still around. The vaccination is more or less at a halt now but when it was in full swing, it was slowly implemented in many companies and some even enforced it. 


Some companies even issued pink slips to the employees who refused to get vaccinated. On the other hand, companies also offered bonuses, one-time cash payments, or some form of prize that is sometimes money or some items (Amazon gave away cars and $100000 cash bonuses) to the vaccinated employees. 

All in all, the target was to get everyone vaccinated – through prizes or by telling them that they could not come to the office until not vaccinated or might even have to resign. This had all the ingredients to become a controversy and it did actually become a controversy and affected employee retention plans in a big way.


The companies could have handled it better earlier and can still do a lot of work to make it less controversial (it can never be zero controversies as anti-vaccine sentiment is bound to remain fresh in the minds of the employees for a long time). Employers have to ensure that the trust that was once lost is regained.


At that time, the mandate was clear that everyone had to be vaccinated. But the truth is that companies failed to facilitate vaccine drives for all the employees and sensitize the ones who did not wish to get vaccinated. They were encouraged to get the jab the wrong way. That simply came across as the way it was done - mostly forcibly. That was the need of the hour and times were tumultuous. But now, some correction work can be done to promote yourself as an organization that focuses on everything from employee welfare to employee well-being. Employee retention challenges are automatically reduced with this plan.


Fairness and equality in vaccination mean a lot today as the virus keeps mutating and keeps coming back to hamper the normal way of life. Sharing data with employees simply means that you are sending across a message that you are serious about it and wish to make everyone part of it because, as an employer, you care about them and focus on employee retention. The agenda is still talked about. It might be slowly declining but there need to be strategies in place to meet any such future contingencies holistically.


The virus stays. Remote work stays. Layoffs will continue. Be prepared for future challenges to ensure a high employee retention rate


The virus is here to stay. As we said before, it is not destructive right now but still, it’s here and new cases keep coming up. Even now, nobody is sure about the end of the pandemic after the recent mutation news and the new waves in some countries. In such uncertain times, disruptions in the business sector are set to continue. The best way to see through such times is to keep your employees motivated and retain them by showing your best in terms of transparency. Transparency comes through equality, fairness, and diversity in the workplace. 


The C-suite in various companies has realized this the hard way after Great Resignation showed them a new side of what employees want. From times when the companies were not ready to accept it as something that would never happen, they now understand that it’s real and can happen anytime and set you off course from your employee retention plans.


Companies are now framing policies that promote transparency among remote workers. The companies that are still behind the race are trying to catch up. In the end, only those businesses that will succeed that will maintain the best professional relationship with the employees will win their trust to make them stay longer. If they stay longer, it reduces the hiring requirement and ensures a good employee retention rate. AI will keep advancing, and more layoffs will happen but the quest for hiring the right talent will always remain. 


This makes it important to pay heed to everything - remote work requests, fairness and equality demands, and human touch in hiring. There is also a need for careful manpower planning along with strategic and realistic business projections to avoid unnecessary layoffs in the future.