Neal Bridges Top Tips for Talent Retention

Neal’s Hot Take: Top Tips for Talent Retention in a Remote World

In the second installment of our “Neal’s Hot Take” blog series, I weigh in on our 2022 prediction, “‘The Great Migration’ part one: to overcome the cybersecurity skills gap, organizations will look for talent in more cost-effective locations across the U.S.”

If you’re new to this series, welcome and let me catch you up. In December 2021, Query.AI’s executive team published six cybersecurity predictions for the New Year. With everything that has taken place already in 2022 in the world of cybersecurity, we thought it would be valuable to revisit the predictions we made throughout the year and see if things are still on track (or if they’ve gone completely off the rails). Our first blog in the series reviewed our prediction that 2022 would be the year of “COVID security cleanup” – check it out here (spoiler: the Russia/Ukraine conflict put a wrench in this one).

Back to the talent-focused “Great Migration” prediction we’re focusing on in this post. Here’s what we predicted in December:

“The cybersecurity skills gap still exists and, according to research from Information Systems Security Association and Enterprise Strategy Group, 95% of companies believe the gap has not improved in recent years. Not only are there not enough skilled cybersecurity professionals to fill the number of vacant positions, but organizations are tired of battling the competitive talent pool in traditional tech hotspots, such as Silicon Valley and Austin. This frustration, in combination with the newfound remote workforce, will spawn a talent migration in 2022. We’ll start to see more organizations build out their teams and close the cybersecurity skills gap by tapping talent in more cost-effective locations across the U.S.”

Yes, this prediction still holds up. But, in light of the “Great Resignation” that took the business world by storm in early 2021 and shows no signs of slowing down, we’ve learned that embracing a remote workforce not only can help with talent recruitment, but also retention as well.

The Cultural Divide

Pre-COVID, working from home was an exception, not the rule. Employees were expected to be in the office every day, and no one questioned otherwise. But, the pandemic taught us that many jobs – especially in the fields of cybersecurity and IT – can be done just as well in a remote environment. And so, as COVID requirements lift and companies are given the green light to head back into the office, many are struggling to figure out which side of the paradigm they want to be on.

Some business leaders are reverting right back to the old in-person way of working. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, for example, has been extremely vocal about mandating a full-time return to the office. Others, such as Drift, a sales and marketing software company, are selling the majority of their office space and taking on a full-time remote operating model. And others still, including Twitter, are adopting a hybrid approach.

Choosing the right operating model isn’t a black and white issue – and each company is figuring out its own path. But, what we have learned over the past 12 months is that business leaders making the decision for their company in a vacuum – without considering the opinions and wishes of their workforce – are only pushing employees out the door and contributing to the unprecedented rate of resignations we’re seeing today.

What do employees want? Many want the option to work remotely. In fact, CNN reports: “Pew researchers said they found that 60% of workers with jobs that can be done from home say they’d like to work from home all or most of the time when the pandemic is over if given the choice.” So, being draconian and demanding a full-time return to the office will have a detrimental impact on retention rates. But, so too will ignoring the wishes of those employees who do want to head back to the office – even if they are in the minority.

The bottom line is that, today, business leaders are challenged to adapt their corporate culture to align with post-COVID employee preferences – which, in most cases, seems to be a hybrid work model. And, they need to understand that the model they choose to adopt will have a significant impact on employee retention (and recruitment, too).

Talent Retention in a Remote World

Empowering employees to choose whether they want to work remotely or in the office is a great starting point when it comes to talent retention in the post-COVID world. But, once that’s settled, the challenge transitions to keeping those remote employees engaged and happy. And, this is unchartered territory for many companies, too.

In an effort to start you down the right path, here are two things I wholeheartedly believe will help companies retain employees in a remote world:

  1. Shift the onus of retention from HR to business leaders. Employee retention has traditionally been a responsibility delegated to HR teams. But, with the tie between corporate culture and employee retention stronger than ever, the onus needs to shift to business leaders.

    At startups and small businesses, the C-suite may be able to take on this job, since there is a limited number of employees to get to know and accommodate. But the job becomes much more difficult at larger enterprises, with hundreds or thousands of employees. In these cases, the C-suite should empower individual team leaders to manage employee satisfaction at a tactical level.

    The goal in either case is to move away from universal HR-led retention strategies (think virtual happy hours and cookie-cutter team building exercises) and instead have business leaders leverage the knowledge and experience gained from working alongside employees every day to think of creative ways to keep their workforce happy. Which leads me to my next point…

  2. Tailor retention strategies for different personalities. To keep employees happy today, business leaders must understand the different personalities within their company, listen to their diverse needs and then build customized retention strategies for each group.

    For example, the retention strategy you use for employees who want to do their job and then disassociate from colleagues until the next workday will look a lot different than the one you use for those individuals who love to socialize after hours. For the former group, you might build in bi-weekly or monthly check-ins to make sure everything is going well in their personal and professional lives, while for the latter you might organize weekly get-togethers after work.

    No one group is preferred over the other; they’re just different. And, embracing the diverse workforce means instituting multiple retention strategies that are tailored to these individual personalities, while building a company culture that celebrates each and every one. Sure, this approach will make your retention program much more complex. But isn’t this a better problem to tackle than trying to fill a never-ending talent shortage?

All of this is a long way of saying that, yes, our prediction that organizations will tap into the remote workforce to build out their teams and close the talent gap still holds true. But, it’s only half the story. Embracing a remote workforce also can help with talent retention. While some factors contributing to the cybersecurity skills shortage and Great Resignation may be beyond your control, this choice is in your hands.