April 14, 2022

Barclay and Zach Yell About Remote Work


Episode Highlights

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Are you dreading going back into an office after 2 years of working from your couch? Are you dreading telling your employees that they have to come back into an office after 2 years on your couch? 


In our recent Talent Insight Series, Barclay Burns and Zachary Hilbun yell about the foolish attempts at gaslighting employees to get them back into their cubicles. They’re taking the market’s temperature by covering the empty justifications put out by senior management and the new caste system your office is becoming. They try to educate on ways to make a return-to-office fair, steps to evaluate the benefits of a remote work environment, and a plea to let your once-a-week WFH “privilege” die upon the barricade of ping-pong tables and cold-brew taps. 

Episode Transcript

Welcome to Hirewell Talent Insights. My name is Barclay Burns. I am with Hirewell’s managed recruiting team and joining me today is Zach Hilbun from our tech team. Zach, introduce yourself. Yeah, my name is Zach Hilbun. I sit on the tech team. I am their sourcer-er. Maybe? Yeah. Man of many talents. I try! But yeah, I wanted to come on today because I’m so excited.

A lot of what we are seeing, not only in the tech sector, but especially in the tech sector- big companies are trying to get their employees to come back into the office. And I think it’s absolutely absurd. So I wanted to come and yell about it. So thank you for having me on Barclay. I can’t wait to talk about this.

The internet is a good place for people yelling about things. So yeah. No, I know it’s been on my mind a lot because I know last year, 2021, there was an attempt at return to office across the board. And those attempts got squashed by re surging COVID numbers. Here we are in 2022, things are looking better.

Knock on wood, the COVID front. And so more robust return to office initiatives, we’re seeing it across the board. And they’re taking different forms, right. Some are wholesale. You have to be back in the office five days a week. But more often than not, it’s some sort of hybrid thing, and that’s going to vary from company to company and even within the company from department to department.

And that has a lot of ramifications for employees and employers and hiring managers, managers specifically. Yeah, I think we should start off just kind of- I do want to say, I love yelling about this stuff. It’s something I’m super passionate about, but we do kind of want to use this platform to educate both hiring managers and our candidates.

What should you be asking for if you’re starting to see some of these things at your companies? What questions should you start asking yourself? So that’s kind of the purpose of all of this is we want to educate based off of what we’re seeing in the market. Again, a lot of my stuff is going to skew just from the tech, but I myself have come from the HR office administration world. Before that I’ve worked jobs that like what we would consider,

I don’t know if we’re still using this term, essential workers. I’ve been there versus I’ve been the most non-essential employee at a company. So like I’ve got the gambit there and I think that remote work or some kind of hybrid work should be involved in every single job that can possibly allow it.

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, yeah. Let’s talk about tech because you know, that’s what you’re focused on and those are a lot of the jobs that we’re talking about, right. That may have been in the office before COVID just because that’s what people did. They went to an office. That was what work was.

COVID forced everyone obviously to go remote. And now that that’s folks have been successful at that, they can’t kind of unlearn that idea. And now we’re to try to convince them to come back, it’s got to be met with some kind of reason rationale and the, as a hiring manager that has to be communicated effectively or

people will start to just look at other options, right? And I tried my best to do my due diligence and find a, so I searched through a bunch of the bigger companies and their press releases on why they’re bringing people back in the office. You know, some of it is intercompany memos, so it’s not being published.

Some of it, they had either a small press statement or something. I have not seen any decent justification for my ridiculous standards. Let alone just kind of any good justification, you know? I would say that the most common thing that gets thrown out there is being in an office breeds better collaboration.

And I have not seen a single aspect of data to back that up and it could possibly be just, you know, we’ve two years entirely remote. We’re still kind of in remote. We can’t trust the recency of this data necessarily because a lot of the times ROI will happen a year later, two years later, five years later. That’s when we’re really going to have hard data to see the difference on this.

But I’m not really one who’s going to take a hiring manager’s word on that. Like if you’ve been surviving for two years, every news blurb you’ve ever seen says that companies are having record profitability. If that’s the case, then like what is the in-office going to do when it seems that remote work has been better?

Yup. Yup. Yup. I know, I know. I’ve heard from hiring managers who their supervisors have come out with initiative to say, we’re going to bring people back. We’re going to have to start putting in policies, which makes the middle manager scared because it’s like, oh my gosh, I- I’m going to have to sell this to my people.

And even if you folks who might not want to leave, but if they’re getting options to go out to a new place and work completely remote, they’re going to lose people, right?

If I’m a hiring manager and I’m being told to bring my people in the office beyond three, four days a week, I am concerned I’m losing people right away, right. Well I mean, as a recruiter, you’re absolutely right. If I hear that a company is going back into the office, I am targeting them, not just for their tech roles.

We now live in a world where I can pick out your executive assistants, your HR team, pretty much everything, all the way down to what you would consider your essential workers. If someone works as a shipping clerk, there’s no reason that they can’t go to another company that’s like, okay, we have to have people in, but let’s do benefits so that we can help

those essential workers feel like they’re included. I jokingly called it the caste system of an office, but that’s exactly what it is. There will be those jobs that no matter where you go, they are considered remote optional. Generally, they’re going to be either in your tech sector or they’re going to be your upper upper management.

I cannot tell you, I have turned down jobs where I was supposed to be an EA supporting a 100% remote executive but I was supposed to come into the office every day. Oh, right, right. And not for any real legitimate reason or nothing that had to do with your work? Or was it just- to be fair in that specific example, I’ll tie this back into the shipping clerk thing.

Rotational shifts is something that companies embraced during the pandemic and is particularly at the height of the pandemic. I don’t understand why we can’t keep doing that. You have to have, like, there are brick and mortar shops where you have to have someone on premise all the time. Why can’t we reward those employees equally to make up for the fact that they do not get the luxury and the benefit of working from home. Not only all the money that it saves you working from home, not having to pay for lunches, transportation, things like that, but just the benefit of the fact that

it’s a real psychological perk for your mental health and you have to do something if you’re going to require your employees to be back in office, you have to do something to bridge that gap. And I have not seen many companies doing that at all. Luckily at Hirewell, we have a couple of clients that are starting to play with ideas.

I think I can divulge, one of them they were like okay, we wanted to give everyone half days on Fridays, but our office wouldn’t be open for that time where we need essential people to come in, it would negatively affect them. So what they did is they were then, okay, why don’t we take extra holidays and give it out to the entire company?

So we will close down our offices so that everyone feels like they are getting the benefit of. And I think that’s a fantastic strategy, especially because holidays are completely made up and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have more of them. But that’s one thing that was directly put to make sure that all of their employees felt equally valued in a return to office.

And we’re not seeing enough of that. That’s incredible. Yeah. I mean, I, I read in the Tribune recently that in Chicago alone, I think that downtown occupancies at 35%. So we’re still way below obviously what we were before, but that’s probably up from what it was late last year. Oh yeah. You know, it’s not going away.

Of course, it’s just we cannot go back to a world where everyone’s going, at least not anytime soon where people are, think of work as a place you’re going five days a week. Again, talking about office type work that can be done remotely that has since migrated to remote. But more and more employee experience is at the forefront.

And I think that’s awesome. And creative ways, like you just said for companies to consider those who may not be able to work fully remote, but how do we create something where they feel they’re at least gaining- they’re benefiting like everyone else from this transformation that we kind of, we’ve all gone through.

I think that’s huge because yeah, I mean, humans are very keen to notice when they’re on the short end of the stick at the workplace compared to their peers and coworkers. I think we even heard about a client or not our client, but I company recently that had it just depended manager to manager.

So if you happen to work for one manager, you’re remote all the time and another manager who may be rooted in kind of the old school traditional way didn’t believe in it. Now if I’m thinking I’m sitting in this team, how do I get to that other team? Or if I can’t, do I just need to leave? And so I think that’s a terrible idea to have it just be on the whim of the manager, right?

Absolutely. That certainly ties into what I think one of the benefits of remote work is, is it’s very easy to identify dead weight. If you’re the manager or you’re sitting on the team where you’re having to be in the office four to five days a week, when, and pretty much identical other team only has to be in one day a week, you’re going to start to see attrition and it’s going to come back to, okay

this manager is clearly the dead weight. Yeah. Again, I just don’t know why we’re going back into the office. I think either, you don’t value yourself with a company like those managers where they feel they need to be hands-on or you don’t like your family. That’s the only other option that I can come up with where you would want to be in an office five days a week when you have not been previously. There is that I think. That does exist.

We all know one relationship that was broken up by this pandemic one way or another someone knows of a friend of a friend or a close friend, or maybe it was you. And in that case, I am sorry. I’ve lived in that tiny box, New York apartment with three other smelly dudes. And like, certainly if I had to go through two years of the pandemic, working from home with all of them, one of us wouldn’t have made it out of the apartment alive.

Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. I, I definitely- being in the suburbs before the pandemic, I’d see my friends downtown and think they’re living the high life. And now in this pandemic suddenly I’m like glad to be at a suburban house with a yard, for sure. But going, going back to the idea of dead weight

and there’s ways, there’s obviously metrics and there’s ways to gauge who’s being productive, who isn’t. I don’t think there needs to be any software tracking people with their using their computers or not. You can trust that if you’re hiring the right people, they’re going to do their work.

And actually I think working remotely probably causes people to be more mindful of their output because yeah, I mean, if you’re sitting at home and you’re not working, it’s going to become very apparent very quickly. You can kind of get away if- back in the old days in the office, you could be at the office and think you’re working

because I’m at an office I’m walking around, I’m talking to people, I’m working. Right? And are you actually producing anything? Are you a value? Maybe not. But it feels like you’re working because you’re actually at an office. But if you’re at home, I don’t know. There’s a level of consciousness about doing what you need to do because you know, otherwise you’ll be found out pretty quickly,

right. I completely agree with you. I think it kind of goes back to the argument of we’ve been doing this for two years. What if in those two years you saw an employee’s metrics or their output, or however you want to justify that. If it fell off so hard that you were keeping them on salary, just to get them back into the office, you can get them back on track?

That’s just a terrible business strategy. Yeah. I don’t think anyone’s doing that. I think it’s just been the employees who have stayed and the employees who have thrived in a remote environment will continue to do so. No one is going to be- I mean, we’re doing this in the middle of a workday. I’m not actively sourcing

right now. But it’s fine because I’m going to go back to work and I’m going to make sure that all my metrics are hit, all of my emails are covered. Like, no one’s going to take advantage of remote work because we’ve already had remote work and done well at it. I don’t understand the fear that we have to get people back in the office for an exploitative reason.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, I know. It’s. I love it. I wish this revolution had happened earlier in my life, but here we are. Are you kidding? Yeah. So many- many hours commuting that I wish I had back. So I was actually, I was talking to my partner about this. The commute into the office. I do understand how on a mental level,

some people, it Sykes them up. It helps in their feeling of productivity. I could go one step further and say that it helps to the buy-in of their capitalism that unfortunately we’re all going to have to work 40 hours a week until we die. For other people though, after two years of not having that hour long commute, sitting on the subway train, in your own car that hasn’t been cleaned in a month, whatever that may be, taking that away actually gives them more buy-in because it’s not such a big part of their life.

They don’t have to sacrifice even further to get to work, to put in the hours, to do the job. And I think it’s not something we’re talking about. That remote work should be viewed as a benefit, as equal as healthcare, dental, all that kind of stuff. It saves the average employee about $4,000 a year.

And I can guarantee you that no employer is going to be like, come back into the office but here’s a $4,000 raise to justify it. And if they do, they’re not accounting for the fact that inflation is about 6% this year. So there’s your $4,000, like. Yeah. I want the revolution to continue. I love, I love how Hirewell’s doing it in terms of having an office space

that we can use. And you know, if your team wants to meet, gather here and there as needed, it’s almost more of a social reason to get together and bonding and getting to know each other better in person. I think that’s very important and I don’t want to- I don’t want to come across that like fully remote all the time,

never seeing anyone ever is great. No, yeah. And you miss your coworkers, but I think it makes that social time more valuable. Let’s be honest, we’re a recruiting firm. We know of a lot of other recruiting firms that getting people back into the office is so that they can have, oh yeah, come in and work today

but we’ll give you a bucket of beer for two hours after your work day ends. No one cares about that. We get together, what would you say? Like once a quarter, we have a big gathering. Couple teams do a little bit more, but it makes that- I hate sounding this, but it makes that valuable social time- you work harder at it. I’m establishing deeper connections

because I’m only seeing these people for one day, every other month at best. I’m making sure I’m putting the time in both in-person, but then during the Workday. I’m not having random chats about the weather. Like I’m making time to meet people, talk about our jobs, have a better relationship.

Maybe think about how one, one upside of the remote work world is that everyone’s sort of on their best behavior when they see each other. And it’s almost like seeing extended family that you don’t see very often and it’s where you’re like the best version of yourself,

right? And if you put a bunch of people in a room day in, day out over a period of time, there’s this drama, toxicity, just things flare up, right. And the interpersonal that’s just human nature. And so working remotely yeah, we just, when we see each other, this is very great. Everyone’s happy to see each other. Like you said, put your best foot forward and you really invest in that.

And so you have this like really balanced, nice balance of personal connections are always kind of on the positive side, it seems. And then meanwhile, you were all kind of working, doing your actual work as well, separate from each other, working remote. So if it’s done right, it can be the best of both worlds where everyone’s kind of is performing at high level, both professionally as well as interpersonally with fellow colleagues. You’re absolutely right. Again, recruiting is not the most high stress job ever, but like I would say- that it can be. Any job where like you get to deal with painful people at times, working remotely is so much nicer because you don’t have that pressure to

sit at your desk, keep composure, keep going. Instead I can turn off my screen curse and then go pet my dog and I feel better 15 seconds later, versus the snowball of like one bad call leads to another bad call. You get into quicksand where then you’re not performing at your best. It’s so much easier to reset.

And I love that about remote work. Yep, yep. Yep. Absolutely. I do worry about coming out of college, you know entry level, not being around experienced people and hearing them day in, day out, how they do things. So there’s a, there’s a gap there with training that I think needs to be like, I don’t know. Something needs to be done about that.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how that will be solved but obviously fully remote is not perfect and I think that’s one big gap, but generally speaking, I think what we’re getting at here is there’s a lot of benefits. People love it. Once it’s given, it’s hard to take away.

We did a survey right, hybrid means?. Yeah. So again, a small sample group. We had just under a hundred people, but most people include that 100% remote-

first off, I can’t believe I have to justify this. One a hundred percent remote means that like, occasionally I will have to go interact with a human being. It’s a few days a year, whether that’s all condensed at one week for a company retreat or something, or whether it’s like once a quarter, twice a year, whatever it means, like that’s 100% remote.

Hybrid is less than 50% of days in office. So if you are advertising hybrid work, but want someone to come in four days a week, you’re not advertising hybrid work correctly. I also don’t understand what that one day is going to do. Like work from home flexibility on a Friday is a great perk in 2018, 2019.

Yeah. That was a pre 2020 perk that people liked. Yeah. And especially that, that day was generally involved in, did you hit your metrics this week? Did you go above and beyond this week or worse? The top five people to get X number of things, doing it. So it’s competition. So you’re out to get your other

coworkers to try and make sure that you have some time, not even time off, but time that you don’t have to be in the office. I worked for a company that did not believe in giving people any time away from the office as a reward. And I was just, I never totally understood that. Don’t get me wrong. It was a sales environment.

A lot of sales environments wants you to be smiling and dialing. Yeah, sure. Nine to five, but I never quite got it because sometimes I do my best work when I’m sitting here at the desk with my dog, my giant dog in my lap. I think about things a little bit more cautiously. I’m not caught up in the energy of

people yelling on the phone constantly. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I got a little off track. I’m glad you brought that up though because hybrid is something that we all might end up being majorly on a hybrid environment. And whether that comes from the pandemic never goes away and we just live in this now. Or it’s because finally after like five years from now, the market will have adjusted to people going back into the office five days a week, push back from employers and the market has reset itself to that

two days in office, maybe three, if you’re at a really stringent company. Maybe that will be the norm. I mean I hate it but that’s fine. That’s at least better than expecting people to immediately go back to the way it was before. Yeah. And with no justification. I mean every business is different and there are businesses where everyone is on board with being in the office a lot and it works.

I don’t understand those insane insane people. I love everyone at Hirewell but I have gotten to meet both in-person and virtually, and I don’t want to spend 40 hours a week locked in an office with them. I mean, don’t get me wrong. We’re all crazy here at Hirewell, but still. Like I want to have that time to myself so I can just get in the zone and work like even one day a week.

I also, I want to go back to something you said because it is so important. One of the other big justification is we want to bring people back into the office because it helps with training and fostering personal growth. Here’s my biggest problem with that, entry-level people will undoubtedly across the board national average be affected adversely from this practice because they’re going to be the ones who are going to be required to be in office more.

And the reason you want them in the office, so they can learn and grow from upper management and their more senior developers. Those are the people that are going to be pushing for more days outside of the office. So you’re just bringing them in office to have video calls that they could’ve done from their couch.

Yeah. I don’t understand that justification and I think he gets thrown out way too often for anyone to not be yelling about this. Why am I the only one yelling about this? Yeah, yeah. No, it’s probably going to take more of a conscious effort of managers to bring them into calls and meetings and in even, you know, listening in. This just takes an extra step, but it can be done certainly. Look Hirewell, we are trying our best to do it.

Onboarding people remotely, not something a lot of us have practice in. And I would say everyone was immediately stuck. Once we got into the fact that they’re like, okay, this is how we’re going to have to deal with things. We all had to figure out how to onboard people and we are still trying to do better, but we have our director of talent development now.

Like we are hiring positions to specifically look at our onboarding so we can continue to grow and scale at a remote pace. Right. There will come a time where like, I, I get it. Google probably hires more people in one week than we would hire in two years. Yeah. It’s going to be hard for them to do all of their stuff remotely.

But like five days a week in the office, probably not? Right. I mean, I hate to say it Google one of our biggest targets for ripping people out because no one wants to go back into an office and no one also wants to do two months of onboarding when they first get a new job sitting in an office. That’s a hard culture shock from, you know, I got to roll out of bed and just sign onto my laptop

versus I now have to wake up two hours early, take an hour train in and sit in front of a PowerPoint for nine hours. And I mean, we know right every day in done. I mean, if we have a client that is- not that many probably nowadays, but if we do have a client that is like, no, we really want this person in the office

whatever that number is, if it’s not five days, you know, three, four days. And we know what that kind of reaction gets when we start talking to prospects and candidates, it’s not great. And so you just got to think that that is the trade-off right? If you believe that you need people in the office, just know that that it’s going to become that much harder to recruit and grow and add people.

I don’t have a firm number on our stance. I could pull that data. I did not do it for this call, but I believe it’s something like 12% of our actual talent pool that we can now draw from if you want someone to be in office that much. Again, there’s a lot of weird stuff with like hybrid and like how close are they to come in with, you know. If you were a company willing to make adjustments because like oh, if we open up our search statewide instead of city-wide, then maybe we can have this person come in like a little bit less frequently, like

at least they’re trying. But that’s not going to solve the situation because again, you’ve shrunken your entire talent pool. The other thing that I don’t think we’re quite seeing enough of is if you want someone to come into an office four days a week, you’ve got to be a way more competitive salary. Remote

now, like the reason the market was shook up is remote you now have to compete with the highest job markets because a firm in New York city does not care about paying their HR person or an entry-level salesperson the New York rate, whether they live in New York city or whether they live in Missoula, Montana.

So now you have to compete nationally with the highest cost of living cities. And if you’re having people come back into an office, not only do you have to compete with all of those other jobs that are remote, you now have to pay people for the added hassle of having to come into an office. And I hate to say it, but like if you’re paying market average- again, market average for 10% of your actual talent pool when they are all looking at

the big tech firms, I would say just any big company that’s willing to hire remotely, go outside of the tech world. Sales roles. It used to be a remote sales role, you would never take because they were all very sketchy and like you always wondered if your paycheck was going to come in. Now no one cares.

And now you can get paid on New York salesman rate at your base salary, plus your comp and live somewhere so much cheaper. If a company is not going to adjust their pricing for that I mean, it’s going to take them at least twice as long to hire someone. I would argue even longer and also then you’re just kind of skimming the barrel.

You’re not getting the cream of the crop here. Yup. Yup. Yup. Absolutely. Lots of take in Zach. A lot of ramifications of all this. I’m happy to hear your thoughts on this. And we’ll have to yell about this some other time, a little bit more. Let’s yell about more things going forward. There’s always something.

Thank you for listening. Please subscribe to Hirewell’s Talent Insights YouTube channel and more to come from me and Zach in the near future. Thank you. Have a great one guys.

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