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Study looks at needs of DSM workforce as companies navigate return-to-office strategies


Employees want to maintain their hybrid, remote work environment and the flexibility it offers, according to the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Workforce Trends and Occupancy Study, released today.

The study is the result of a collaboration among the Partnership, business management consulting firm Baton Global and software company Reworc. The conversation about the need to conduct a survey to learn more about the behaviors and needs of both employers and employees navigating the return-to-office journey began in December. More than 11,000 invitations to participate were sent to knowledge workers, or those in information technology fields. The response rate was nearly 50%, well above the typical response rate of between 10% and 20%, said Matthew Mitchell, a partner with Baton Global.

Companies of all sizes have been working on their plans to return to the office after working remotely for two years because of the coronavirus pandemic. The study addressed what employees want and, conversely, what employers prefer for their future workforce.

The results were broken down into five insights for the future of work in the Greater Des Moines region, and five insights for the future of downtown Des Moines.

Maybe the most notable feedback received was that participants indicated they wanted to continue the flexibility that remote work offers.

According to the study, only 15% of an employee’s time was spent working from home before the pandemic. Now it is 60%, and participants said they would like that to continue. By comparison, executives who took the survey preferred that employees spend 60% of their time working in the office, and only 40% at home.

“It reinforces the notion that hybrid work is here to stay,” said Mitchell, who is also an associate professor of business and strategy at Drake University. “We’ve trained our leaders, we’ve trained our workers how to be effective and productive in a hybrid environment, and employers are going to have to determine how they approach this shift and manage through that.”

The survey also found that employees who participated placed the highest value on activities that are more complex, collaborative and judgment-based. Those include analyzing, programming, coaching and designing. A low priority was placed on lengthy meetings, which were viewed as less productive. Meetings, while on their list of valuable activities, ranked high on time spent.

“This is super important as we peer into the hearts and minds of these workers and really direct the conversation to what they value most, but more specifically what they think is going to be most directly supportive of their individual goals and their organizational goals,” Mitchell said.

According to the survey, salary, work-life balance and employee benefits are the critical components that make an employee feel valued.

Participants also indicated that they feel more teamwork and innovation will be necessary for companies to achieve their goals in the future.

John Economos, a consultant with Baton Global, said the need for greater teamwork and innovation can be achieved while meeting the desire by employees to continue working from home.

“The core topic or assumption to unpack or challenge is, does collaboration mean we have to be in the same room?” he said. “I think what our knowledge workers are saying is no. Employers are going to have to determine how they handle this general shift, thinking about pre-pandemic levels versus their signaling for the future, but how they’re going to handle this divergence within their own ranks.”

Economos said there are more best practices that can be shared among organizations.

“I think it’s that belief that how do we collaborate when I can’t see you and I can’t touch you and see your body language, and we’ve had that experiment over the past couple of years,” he said.

Tiffany Tauscheck, chief operations officer at the Partnership, said the study results show there is an opportunity to think differently.

“We used to create these memorable experiences off-site for retreats and having collaborative conversations outside of the office, and there is an opportunity for us now to rethink that and reshape that,” she said.

When it comes to addressing the future of downtown Des Moines, survey participants said cultural events, socialization and outdoor recreation are priorities.

It also found that priorities differed by generation.

People in their 20s are using downtown more than anyone else, while people 50 and older care most about parking and those 60 and over place a priority on amenities such as shopping and services that are available.

The survey also found that 86% of participants said they would use downtown more with continued improvements, which Tauscheck said “was very exciting and the direction we are headed.”

Fifty percent of those responding said greater walkability was needed, while 32% said the mix of walking versus driving is ideal.

The survey also indicated there is a need to look at downtown traffic patterns, Tauscheck said.

“We have an opportunity to move forward with two-way streets, and that is something this study reinforces that there is a need and desire to do so,” she said.

The Partnership held a major employer roundtable where the results were shared, with the results also being shared with Partnership stakeholders and investors.

Tauscheck said she hopes the survey results will be used by organizations to customize their own plans.

“It’s one thing to have data, but it’s another to be able to take that data and put it into action,” she said. “That’s part of the beauty of this is we will have an actionable plan moving forward and it will be designed in a way that businesses can help customize for their own business.”  

Tauscheck said the world has changed and it will continue to evolve, and that creates opportunities as the region looks to build its workforce.

“I think part of this macro approach here is understanding that because this is unique to DSM and specific to downtown, this sets up our community to have an action plan to move forward and helps set us apart from our competitors as we’re looking to attract talent,” she said. “We’re going to have the playbook because we know how our workforce feels, what they need to do their best work. So this is a game changer for us.”

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