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I heard it for the first time a few weeks ago, and I’ll admit I haven’t really looked for any existing material online to see where it originated, but I believe it: The Great Resignation is coming, and for many it’s already here.  The pandemic has made people re-evaluate what’s important to them in their lives, and for many it isn’t their jobs.  It’s connecting with family, connecting with the planet, connecting with themselves in a way they didn’t have time for pre-pandemic. 

Reports indicate that 1 in 4 American workers are either currently looking for a change in their job or are planning to as things “return to normal” in the working world.  The thing is, in my opinion that “return to normal” is just never going to happen.  The way things used to be is not going to be the way things are again, at least in our lifetimes, and probably ever.

The market for talented individuals is wide and deep.  Those who have marketable skills, specific industry experience, and in many cases just raw talent, attitude and aptitude are finding themselves with opportunities they never dreamed of.  They can do it anywhere, everywhere, any time and often at their own pace.  The working world has shifted, no matter how many corporate boards or senior executives want to believe that they have the power to control it.  They don’t.

So how does a small business owner, a chief executive of a major multi-national company, or a department manager of a mid-sized global organization deal with this change?  Embrace it.  For those companies and small business owners that know who they are and what they want to be when they grow up, this particular moment in time represents the biggest opportunity to attract and retain key talent in human history.  And talent takes many forms – it could be full-time employees, consultants or other contracted professionals engaged directly or through outside firms. 

Because of my position in the workforce, I end up talking to lots of executives at major companies — mostly in the financial services industry, but through my travels and my network I have insight into other industries as well, particularly in the technology and business services sectors.  Sure, there are many sectors of the economy that can’t support remote work (think restaurants, brick and mortar retail, construction, landscaping, etc.).  These sectors have their own challenges which I’m not addressing here, other than to say by embracing what’s happening, they will benefit over the long term from a more flexible workforce that has more money and time to spend on these parts of the economy.

The smartest companies that aren’t letting their corporate ego get in the way are going to have access the best talent in the world by embracing the remote work environment.  They will be able to engage with professionals regardless of where they live if they have the bandwidth to get where they need to go virtually.  I see some companies that I think are going to really struggle in the coming years to retain and develop the talent they need to thrive by taking a strict view of “Return to Office” policies, such as mandating a full return or mandating workers’ compliance with an arbitrary schedule that doesn’t reflect the interests of their team members.  Workers subject to these policies that can work effectively from home will seek opportunity elsewhere and create a brain-drain like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

So we should all embrace the change and work with our employees to build a better future for the environment, for families and for businesses.  Worried about connection and collaboration?  You should be.  But you don’t have to go back to the way things were.  Take half of your office building budget and re-allocate it to monthly or quarterly employee meetings in a central location where people can get to know each other better and create the kind of relationships that will foster greater collaboration, trust and respect while working remotely.  This not only offsets the pollution and personal stress of commuting, but generates activity for the hotel and restaurant industries that suffered the most during the pandemic. 

Countless examples of benefit to doing things differently are right in front of our eyes if we only look up and look forward and take the time to really listen workers’ wants and needs.  It’s time to move forward in new and creative ways if we want to make the world a better place for ourselves, our companies, our customers and our employees.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to get back together again, but don’t cut your nose off to spite your face when it comes to flexible workplace solutions for your most valuable asset – People.

John Henning is the Chief Client Officer at Granite Solutions Groupe. He has over 35 years of leadership experience in the financial services and technology industries, and currently oversees all client account management, professional services, marketing strategy, business development and sales operations for GSG.