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Central Iowa workforce values in-office experience, but continues to want flexibility

Partnership study looks at workforce trends to provide data for region’s decision-makers


The Central Iowa workforce has a greater recognition of the importance of being in the office for collaboration, training and development, according to the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s 2023 Workforce Trends and Occupancy Study.

But they still want the flexibility that working remotely can provide, the study showed.

The study, released last week, looks at workforce trends across the region and provides data on what employees in the region want, giving decision-makers hyper-local data for what workers are interested in and where they want to be in five years.

The study is based on a survey of more than 2,000 employees from 20 organizations. The Partnership worked with Báton Global and Reworc to analyze the data and identify 10 insights regarding the future of work and the future use of downtown Des Moines.

Those organizations included a mix of industries including manufacturing, logistics, insurance, financial services and law firms. They also had to employ knowledge workers.

It was the second year for the study, and the 2023 survey took a more regional approach compared with the 2022 study, which focused on downtown Des Moines.

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Jenae Sikkink

Jenae Sikkink, senior vice president of talent development for the Partnership, said the study provides information that can help decision-makers discover “where the equilibrium is, where the balance is in the workforce” as the region continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jenae Sikkink, senior vice president of talent development for the Partnership, said the study provides information that can help decision-makers discover “where the equilibrium is, where the balance is in the workforce” as the region continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

One insight revealed in the study is how workers feel about remote work culture.

“The workforce recognizes the importance of being in the office,” Sikkink said. “They see the value of being around others, and recognize collaboration and being around others is very important to them. Young workers [in their 20s] understand the importance of being together. They are focused on culture, relationship building and learning from others.”

The data showed a divide between employers and employees in that balance of working remotely and in the office.

According to the study, employees wanted to work 60% from home and 40% from the office. Conversely, employers wanted employees in the office 60% of the time and remotely 40% of the time.

Sikkink said she thinks those results indicate a trend toward more workers wanting to be back in the office.

“But I don’t think it’s the argument of hybrid vs. in-office,” she said. “I think it’s rather that workers want flexibility first. These are critical components employers have taken a look at. Our data shows that employers are starting to get this right.”

Sikkink said there has been a decrease in employee satisfaction with policies that limited flexibility that were in place in 2022.

“That shows employers are moving the ball in the right direction to better support that work-life blend to show that they really care about their employees and their personal lives,” she said.

Another insight looks at how employees learn and shows that they see value in learning opportunities or on-the-job training.

“There is a great opportunity for leaders to ensure that they are providing that on-the-job experiential learning, but it’s also learning from your co-worker or peer-to-peer collaboration,” Sikkink said.

Other findings from the study:

  • Cultural events, socializing and outdoor recreation are the top three attributes for satisfaction for using downtown Des Moines. “Overall, more workers are increasing their frequency of using downtown and its amenities. The workforce values more options for enjoying downtown,” Sikkink said.
  • Workers reported an increase in their satisfaction with their employer. That means employees value competitive salary, work-life balance and flexibility, and benefits. Vacation is No. 4 on the list.
  • Company policy and culture remained obstacles to improving flexibility and work-life balance.

Sikkink said another key item from the study is how learning and development is occurring within organizations.

“The days of sitting in a classroom in a traditional learning setting are evolving, and that is workforce-driven because workers are telling us that is not how they want to learn,” she said.

While not a lot of work has been done yet on studying that topic, Sikkink said she’s eager to learn more about how Central Iowa workers want to learn.

“It has impacts for the success of the organization,” she said. “I can also see the ties in to how learning occurs at our institutes of higher education. We’ve seen an evolution with how learning occurs at the K-12 level with more work-based learning, experiential learning, so if we can get that right it can really help drive employee satisfaction here in the region.”


Michael Crumb

Michael Crumb is a senior staff writer at Business Record. He covers economic development, transportation, energy & environment, culture, sales & marketing.

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