Location, location, location: the new talent battleground?
June 18, 2021

Location continues to be a critical consideration as global businesses and their ambitious, purpose-driven employees plan the future.

Promoting a back to the office strategy, Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon prompted the discussion earlier this year.

Many businesses have diverged, promoting ‘working from anywhere’ programmes empowering employees to make the best decisions to suit their circumstances.

Then this week, Apple made headlines when CEO Tim Cook announced all employees would be mandated to work from the office for some of the time.

At the same time, talented candidates resist the idea that where they work is a significant factor.

The result is a kind of face-off – CEOs are back, their teams are working from home, a friction that could all too quickly lead to attrition.

Re-thinking ‘presenteeism’

‘Presenteeism’ is the executive who leaves a jacket on the back of their office chair to indicate that they are still present as it is the CEO with a ‘never surrender’ and ‘first in, last out’ mindset.

Today, many executives no longer feel the need to make the hollow gesture.

“I would love to work from home permanently, especially if I had a quiet home office. I am still expected to be seen so I’m in the office quite a lot,” one senior director told us.

Their “new boss is a ‘presentee-ist’ and is always here from 9.00am. If the leader is a control freak, if they believe the employees are not responsible or will need to be controlled, then they will want everyone to be in the office,” they said.

When ‘presence’ is identified with ‘performance’ then it often becomes enshrined in ‘policy’.

“Everyone will be told what to do,” they told us. “HR sets the policy on how long people have to be in the office.”

“As a manager and director I can’t affect that in any way.”

However, everyone has some power, and directors can use their position to structure teams that create workarounds to company location policies.

“I can change the structure in my team so that I appoint people who aren’t even in the same office or in the same city,” another director said.

“What do I care if she’s not in the same office or city, or if she’s at home?”

Measuring impact

High earning professionals are data-led decision-makers and it is evidence that is driving their assessment of how location affects how they conduct business.

“I don’t care what time my team does things and where as long as it’s compatible with other team members providing their input. But I do need to know that people are synchronised on Teams when they need to participate in a meeting.”

Virtual working can actually deliver better results than being in one office.

“I have never been so early in presenting documents,” one person said. “When I had an LNG tender it would be the very last minute that we would put in the detail in. It was always tense, the printer would go wrong, it was a mess. Now it is so much better working on Teams because everyone is sharing information.”

Lead with the role

“From a trading perspective jurisdiction is important,” we heard. “In a commodities trading business there are tax and legal issues that impact where you are and how you will be able to conclude the deal.

“Business development and other types of roles you can do from anywhere but if you have a P&L accountability then there are tax implications.”

While at the start of the pandemic there was concern around virtual origination and business development, a year in the industry has found solutions.

“It depends on the client or the counterpoint. We bought a renewables business in North America and we don’t even know the people. There are M&A transactions going on all the time.”

There is no question that “With a Japanese or a Chinese customer it is very difficult” though what we are hearing is that increasingly, a lot can be achieved where there are established contacts.

The willingness to resume business travel as restrictions are lifted is another conversation. As one director of trading said, “You can do a commodities trading business from anywhere because most of the time we are on a plane, we are not actually anywhere.”

Diversity matters

The conversation around location almost invariably veers towards diversity – especially increasing representation for women.

Female employees are aware of the data showing the disproportionate and generally negative impact of the pandemic on women. They want to reverse this and where they work can be a critical factor.

“I think women normally want to be at home. Now I’m operating in a much less international environment there is much less focus on diversity and inclusion. When you dig in a bit and look at how much a woman makes against a man, you realise it doesn’t mean much,” we were told.

There is already a risk of a dual culture where women take flexibility and work from home, and men come are physically present in the office creating a potential negative ‘echo system’.

Change is inevitable

“Presenteeism is only temporary. Younger generations will change the agenda,” is the overall perception. Daily commuting, especially on days when there are no meetings or team-based activities, will increasingly seem pointless and will lead to attrition.

“The new generations earn a lot less money. They also spend less. You get an innovative culture that’s lower cost and everybody is happy. And what is blocking it? One guy that is earning ten million bucks. I really think it will get there before we know it. It will come back to risk return.”

The conclusion? People should get paid for what they deliver and not where they work.

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