IT and the Great Resignation

The ongoing talent upheaval affecting almost every industry isn't just an HR problem. IT has an important role to play, too.

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One of the biggest stories relating to the pandemic has been the so-called Great Resignation, a talent upheaval across almost every industry as employees reevaluate their professional priorities and the role work should play in their lives. Salary, benefits, employee perks, remote work, relocation, work-life balance, culture, and what workers want out of life in a post-pandemic world are all contributing factors to this phenomenon. It's a combination that's tilted the job market in favor of employees, leaving companies scrambling to retain and attract talent.

It’s easy to see the Great Resignation as an issue to be handled by HR or business-side executives, including the C-suite. HR should take point on the issue, but IT can – and should – play a role in shaping plans to acquire and retain staff at all levels, from rank-and-file workers to managers and executives.

At the most basic level, IT needs to support policies related to remote or hybrid work as well as plans to return employees to the office. Because, depending on how the physical office space will be reworked for a post-pandemic reality, IT will be needed to map out logistics and ensure office layouts function effectively.

The basics are, at this point, table stakes. IT has a unique opportunity to support hiring and retention efforts that go much further than logistics. Getting involved on a deeper level can strengthen the relationship between IT and the rest of the organization.

Appointing liaisons with HR

The most important first step IT can make to get involved in the problem of retention and recruitment is to share ideas with HR executives and staff. Unfortunately, this relationship isn’t particularly deep or strong in most organizations. The primary points of contact are usually onboarding new employees and managing technology access and device returns when employees leave the organization.

But you can develop this relationship by understanding what users want from their workplace technology and working with HR to develop solutions that neither IT or HR could accomplish on its own. Even if nothing tangible comes of this, a big advantage of building a tighter relationship between departments is the sharing of ideas and perspectives. This allows each team to better understand the other and to brainstorm ways to make the company more attractive to current and prospective employees.

Employee choice matters

One thing that can attract employees to an organization is to offer them a choice of the technologies they use. Many organizations have found that allowing staff to select between a PC, Mac, or Chromebook makes the company more attractive to potential hires. Even prospective employees that have no interest in anything other than a Windows-based PC will appreciate that they are being offered a choice. Having options demonstrates that an organization is flexible, willing to listen to employee needs and desires, and gives the impression of an organization with an inclusive or holistic view of work.

Employee choice doesn’t end with the ability to select a computing platform. It also extends to mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. Although the iPhone is generally the de facto standard for business, Android devices are popular and offer enterprise-grade capabilities.

Making Android an option is low-hanging fruit because any organization that has deployed an enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution to support the iPhone already has the ability to support multiple platforms. Most EMM services support iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, Android, and ChromeOS (and even Windows). And most of the policies set for one platform can be easily applied to all supported platforms. With a relatively minimal amount of effort, you can implement employee choice with or without BYOD.

Another aspect of embracing this idea of employee choice is to ask employees to suggest tools they feel will enable them to be more efficient and effective at work. While supporting every productivity app in the App Store or Google Play Store — or an extensive array of cloud services — isn’t realistic, listening to employee input and acting on that input has the dual advantages of attracting and retaining staff while defusing one of the primary causes of shadow IT. Again, listening also demonstrates that a company is open to input and flexible enough to meet employee needs.

To put it another way, this mindset from IT shows that the company respects that its workers are experts at their job.

Remote, hybrid, and in-office

It goes without saying that IT has — over the past two years — done the heavy lifting when it comes to supporting remote work, through a combination of cloud services and VPN. When it comes to hybrid work and returning to office, though, IT needs to become an active participant in the discussion. This is particularly true if an organization is moving from using a dedicated space for staff members toward a more flexible arrangement such as hot desks, collaboration spaces, and lounge areas designed to foster interaction across departments. Supporting a hybrid return to the office also includes designing conference or meeting rooms that include newer videoconference systems designed to be effective for team interaction.

Another thing to consider is how to support flexible hours. Many organizations that have moved to a hybrid or complete return to office have seen workers choosing (or wanting) to work outside a traditional nine-to-five schedules. This is particularly true for employees with children. They've grown accustomed to being home when their kids get home from school and often need to adapt to closed schools and absent childcare. This — and the desire to be closer to family — has led many workers to join the Great Resignation. At a minimum, to attract and keep this talent, you might need to schedule your support staff across a broader range of hours.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

It has often been said that post-Covid, the workplace won’t return to the old normal. We will all need to negotiate our way through whatever comes next. This means every organization will have to revise its IT playbook. While many things won’t change, there are areas that should and will. For IT departments, that means examining what existing policies and solutions work in this new normal and which ones don’t. It also means identifying new opportunities.

To this end, IT departments shouldn’t shy away from shaking things up. Establishing centers of excellence around technologies and policies that include a broad spectrum of staff and management, across the organization, is a great way to bring people together to brainstorm, flesh out ideas, and experiment. Out of these sessions, multiple ideas will emerge that can be tested as pilot projects. Some of these will work while others will be chalked up as, "Well, we tried it." In any case, this allows IT to be adaptive and engaged. Experimentation will almost certainly lead to innovations that are jointly developed with employees and the IT department.

Along with this idea, IT leaders should actively solicit suggestions from the entire IT organization. You can do this through the typical interactive channels like email, Slack, surveys, or group discussions like all-hands meetings or campfire sessions where subsets of IT get together to discuss ideas. These can benefit the technology course of the entire company, refine IT operations, and help retain or attract IT staff.

Research what other companies are doing

No company or organization exists in a vacuum, and everyone is trying to figure out how to move forward. There is a lot to be learned by staying open to ideas internally, but there’s also a lot to be learned from exploring what other organizations are doing. Sharing information and ideas with similar organizations can yield insights, paths forward, and lessons learned that you might never discover on your own.

In addition to looking to other companies, an excellent tactic is to sit down with IT vendors (those that you’re already working with, as well as ones you may not be working with currently) and ask for insights. Vendors work with many different organizations and can offer unique insights into how other customers are adapting. Even just reviewing case studies on other companies' websites can yield ideas that you can mold to your specific situations.

Be part of policy discussions beyond technology

It’s natural that IT tends to focus primarily on technology policies or the technologies needed to support other policy initiatives. But IT leaders (especially CIOs) should actively engage in policy discussions that aren’t technology specific. Often IT leaders will have unique insights to share in these discussions. It’s important that IT take a seat at the table.

As executives across the organization grapple with how to respond to the great resignation, every department has a stake in new policies and their outcomes. Idea sharing and consensus building can help a company articulate its goals, initiatives, and responses in a consistent and coherent manner. HR will almost certainly be the primary department to carry out any new strategies that emerge but input should come from everywhere, including IT.

As much as talent churn reflects a reshuffling of goals for individuals and a challenge for virtually every organization, it is also an opportunity. It’s likely that every company will lose some employees and executives in this great reshuffling process. But that also means that there’s a chance to snap up new talent that can bring new ideas and new vision to your organization. You simply to do the work to attract that talent. Succeeding in that effort will require IT to be an active participant in the process.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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