British tech innovators PixelMax have warned that Britain’s biggest employers face an exodus of talent this year if they do not empower their employees and adapt to a rapidly changing workplace landscape. They believe that the virtual workplace is the solution to stemming the ‘Big Resignation’ flow as a recent survey indicated that only 4% of employees want to return to the office full-time and 82% of employees want a hybrid model with 59% ranking a work from home flexibility as the main choice in employee benefits.
The Big Resignation was the hot topic of last year, with record numbers of staff either leaving, walking out of their jobs voluntarily, or opting to work part-time as they re-evaluate their work-life balance. It follows a tumultuous two years of the pandemic, lockdown restrictions and many people’s lives being curtailed, which has forced employees to re-evaluate their work-life priorities, well-being and aspirations. The implementation of plan B restrictions including WFH (work form home) policies for employees, yet again reinforces the notion that we need to learn to live with Covid and employers need to re-think how they future proof their businesses and retain their talent.
The tech industry has always been ahead of the curve in terms of workplace culture, but with a massive skills shortage in the tech sector, the workplace landscape has dramatically changed. A recent report commissioned by London- and Manchester-based leading tech recruitment firm Burns Sheehan found that only 4% of employees polled wanted to return to the office full time and only 14% wanted to work three to four days in the office. What did emerge was that a staggering 49% wanted to work in the office one to two days a week, 33% wanted to work fully remotely, 82% of employees validating the desire for a hybrid and virtual workplace.
When polled on the Burns Sheehan employee benefits survey, 59% of employees wanted WFH flexibility as their main employee benefit over annual bonuses and share options. This was followed by 25% of those polled wanting a learning and development budget, 22% a clearly defined career path, 19% favouring an annual bonus, 17% wanting childcare flexibility and least important, 12% wanting share options.
During the pandemic, employees were just expected to adapt to a new regime of working fully remotely, with employers not aware of the consequences and underlying issues that would affect their employees. Many were suffering from Zoom and Teams fatigue, isolation, burnout, disengagement with their office workplace and a lack of social interaction with colleagues. This in itself brought to the surface many issues of wider mental health aspects and well-being, with many employers not understanding how this was impacting on their workforce. Many employees complained of not being able to detach themselves from their work and home life and feeling that they were not able to switch off, while others missed the office culture. The culmination of these issues resulted in the Big Resignation.
Rob Hilton CEO and co-founder of PixelMax, said: ‘Remote working enabled many companies to resume a degree of normality during the lockdown periods, equally, there was a price to pay with regards to employees’ well-being and mental health. The Big Resignation is all about employees voting with their feet and making the shift change, choosing who they want to work for, how they want to work and when they want to work.
‘In order for business and industry to retain the best talent, they need to rethink the workplace environment. It needs to reflect a modern hybrid of the office and remote working from any location but interconnected within a platform that is engaging to all employees and makes them feel connected to their work colleagues, whether that be in the physical sense in the office or from their remote location.’
This in turn has also had a major impact on UK businesses and how they have to adapt and rethink a new workplace culture; one that will allow them to retain their best talent and also act as a recruiting beacon for new and emerging talent. Employers need to radically rethink how to manage staff both in an office environment and remotely. Throughout the pandemic, employers were slow to adapt the workplace environment and to understand the wider issues their employees were facing in remote working environments. If employers don’t act quickly, they will get left behind because hybrid working is expected by employees. If remote or hybrid work isn’t available within your company or organisation, potential recruits are turned off. Businesses that don’t invest in making hybrid working an enjoyable experience will struggle to attract and retain the best talent as the Burns Sheehan report clearly indicates.
Businesses are no longer restricted by geography when it comes to recruitment. Employees no longer need to live at a commutable distance from work or be based in the city centres. For some businesses, access to a wider talent pool changes everything in their business model. It now means companies no longer need to be based in city centres either, which historically has always been the norm. Now companies can have the option of being based in bustling suburbs as connectivity is improved with faster broadband and cellular connectivity with 4G and 5G. Companies now have the ability to attract a much wider talent pool.
Burns Sheehan co-founder, Jon Sheehan, said: ‘The tech hiring market has been the busiest Burns Sheehan have ever seen. I’ve never seen anything like this in the market before; most candidates will have four to five job opportunities and firm job offers on the go within 24 hours. This isn’t even about bigger salaries; that’s just a side perk. Employees are much more focussed on their work-life balance and wider aspirations in the working environment.
‘This is very much an employees’ market, driven by employees calling the shots. Many are opting for a virtual workplace model, where they have the option to work from home and the office of their choosing, but also still to remain connected to the office environment even while working remotely. If employers don’t embrace this new model of working, then the ones who have adapted quickly to change will have the commercial advantage of hiring and retaining the best talent.’
Although this can be a daunting thought for some employers, they need to think of it positively. Employers need to understand that employees at their company are there because they’re happy – it’s not just about paying the best salaries; they’re aligned with company values and purpose. However, in the current climate, employers must focus on company values and work on how this can be reflected in the way staff are treated and what makes them happy, productive and fulfilled in the workplace. Homeworkers should benefit from well-being initiatives too; this isn’t something that can only exist in the office.
Manchester-headquartered tech disruptors PixelMax immediately saw this disconnect between employers and employees and their workplace environment at the start of the pandemic and tackled the issue head-on. They were one of the first British tech companies to pivot their 3D immersive technology in the early days of the pandemic to create unique virtual workplace platforms and environments for companies.
Shay O’Carroll, co-founder of PixelMax, said: ‘The software PixelMax have developed aims to separate the work from home environment but maintain the engagement and immersive nature of being in the physical office with colleagues. It means we create an experience – regardless of your location – where you walk into the virtual office each morning, have spontaneous conversations with colleagues rather than logging straight onto Teams or Zoom. Employees can wander through the virtual office with their own uniquely created avatars, see messages and engage in meetings with their work colleagues. The virtual office creates presence and also an atmosphere/buzz that doesn’t exist in 2D video conferencing platforms. They can even walk over to the Costa point and order a coffee to be delivered to their physical location.
‘The virtual workplace encourages a positive culture. Employees can take part in wellness challenges, do workouts, meditate and relax with minigames. Previously, businesses might have offered gym memberships. Now, they could offer an online fitness subscription or a smartwatch. Company cultures are evolving, and they will continue to evolve until the end of time. What’s important right now is for business leaders to understand that it is the turn of the employee to dictate how and when they want to work. This business evolution is a collaborative process now and listening to your employees’ wants and needs has never been more important. Investing in employees is how cultures should evolve into something positive and beneficial for the business and employees.’
Recently, PixelMax co-founders Rob Hilton, Shay O’Carroll and Andrew Sands outlined their vision for how they see the hybrid work revolution in a ground-breaking thought leadership document. In this document they outlined the future of the virtual workplace, how that hybrid would take shape in the form of the virtual workplace and how it could emerge alongside a new employee work culture. Entitled ‘The Virtual Workplace – Enter The Metaverse‘, the thought leadership document outlines its vision for the virtual workplace, including how the office and work culture of the future will adapt to change.
Crucially, the way most businesses approached employee well-being became outdated overnight during the pandemic. Businesses are now looking for new ways to add value to employees when they work remotely. Tech companies in particular put money into ball pools, slides, table tennis, free food and social spaces. But now a great number of these workers are at home. The well-being initiatives that worked well in the office need to be rethought to add value for the employees. Improving technology and making their workday as seamless and immersive as possible will make the day more enjoyable for employees. The reality is that if a company isn’t doing it, then its competitors will be.
Crucial to PixelMax’s thinking is creating a workplace culture that is inclusive and diverse, but one which empowers employees, creating an environment that fits in with their work-life balance and aspirations. It’s about creating a workplace environment that is engaging and fun – whether that is remotely, or in person at the office – and it’s about maintaining connectivity, social interaction and feeling valued. Ultimately this creates a desirable workplace culture for employees, allowing companies to retain their best talent.
Shay O’Carroll added: ‘A great source of optimism I have had since co-founding PixelMax is the potential for technology to transform the way we are working and to make it better for everyone. Technology should make our lives better; it should bring people together, not push them apart. In addition, the transition to working from home for most of us has allowed us to establish more of a work-life balance. Investing in technology for your workforce that gives your employees the tools to enjoy work is also important. The technology PixelMax uses encourages spontaneous interaction and employee well-being using the latest gaming technology.
‘This makes work immersive and enjoyable for employees and puts everyone on a level playing field, no matter where they are based. It’s time the world of work learnt from the world of gaming in terms of the immersive team experiences that can now be delivered with the technology we have at our fingertips. With remote work, the limits of geography are now off the table, opening yourself up to a wider talent pool. Not only does this make for happier employees, but those who work for you are likely to be more engaged in the work and share your vision.’
The benefits of a virtual workplace are immense, with increased productivity from employees, reduced absenteeism and happier and more productive employees. With increased employee well-being comes higher staff retention and improved performance, as well as an attractive brand culture to work for.
Dr John Barrow is the dean for entrepreneurship and employability, senior lecturer in biochemistry and molecular biology at the Institute of Education in Healthcare and Medical Sciences, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition at the University of Aberdeen, said: ‘The Big Resignation caused a global shift – employees are less likely now than they ever have been before to stay in their job if they are not content in their role. Both businesses and employees are looking for solutions that suit them respectively.
‘Forcing employees into an office five days a week is causing issues and keeping staff fully remote is also causing problems. Employees are experiencing “Zoom fatigue” and some feel at a disadvantage when working remotely, missing out on spontaneous conversations and potentially career progression. Hybrid is the best solution for many businesses and staff. For hybrid to work well, companies must invest in platforms that staff find enjoyable to use. People love to spend hours on games such as Fortnite, so why can’t this similar culture be adopted in the working world?
‘Businesses don’t just need to consider their existing employees; they also need to think about the talent of the future. From a career perspective, graduates entering the job market can have a difficult time as it is, but one of the major challenges is how you onboard new recruits and how new staff members can truly feel part of a team when everyone is working remotely – it’s fine for the people who already have those established relationships, but for someone new this can be really difficult to forge relationships and professional networks. As we continue to move forward with a hybrid working model, we need to focus on those in the early stages of their career and how best to engage and train this generation.’