In post-pandemic workplace reshuffle, some in Sonoma County switch career paths
Kim and Dave Lockhart were living in Santa Monica when the pandemic began, working in the Los Angeles area where they thought they had to be to advance their careers in the movie industry.
Last summer, the couple and their young son, Jack, fled the spreading coronavirus in that urban setting for a safer haven in Sonoma County, where his parents have a cabin he’s visited since childhood.
Their intention was to wait out the pandemic with his family in Guerneville, said Kim Lockhart, part of the creative content team in the marketing department at Sony Pictures.
Then the completely unexpected occurred.
The Lockharts, both 47, found out that River’s Edge Kayak & Canoe in Healdsburg was for sale. They stopped by the shuttered business and got a tour of the kayak, paddle board and canoe rental operation on Healdsburg Avenue along the Russian River.
For the remainder of last summer, they worked alongside the crew that had operated the company, then in November they bought the small business. Earlier this month, they moved into their own home and became county residents. As first-time business owners, they’re still learning the ropes at River’s Edge from experienced staff they rehired.
“Once COVID happened and everything blew up, we stepped back and reflected on what makes us happy,” she said. “So, we decided to buy the business rather than buy a house in LA. It was an opportunity to do work that’s important and fulfilling our desire to be out in nature.”
In doing so, the Lockharts joined many in the workforce in Northern California and around the country who used the pandemic to reevaluate the balance between their careers and personal lives. Most everything at home and in public was disrupted or upended over the past year, prompting broad introspection, according to experts in workplace strategy and organizational behavior.
That’s led to a massive wave of job changes.
To be sure, not all remote workers the past 12 to 15 months are starting their own businesses. However, most white-collar employees have proved themselves to be productive working at home. And now most are not willing to give up their flexible work arrangements to return to the office, despite the waning pandemic.
As a result, millions of U.S. workers across a wide range of occupations and pay levels have voluntarily left behind positions in recent months, a trend that has forced employers to make difficult decisions about the post-pandemic workplace model they choose. Nearly 4 million people quit their jobs in April, the most on record, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Flexibility in demand
Many employers have been trying to overcome a talent shortage by offering people more money. Mark Allen, chair of the master of science human resources program at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Business School and an expert in talent management and strategic workforce planning, said that might work in the lower-paying leisure and hospitality industry but it’s not a game-changer for most people.
For companies, “the most valuable currency today is not money, but flexibility,” Allen said. “Employers need to offer workers what they want … flexibility,” as well as incentives to continue developing their careers.
From a recruitment standpoint, traditional expectations of reporting daily to the office is “going to be a deal breaker for a lot of people,” he said.
According to a recent survey by FlexJobs, an online site for remote jobs and career management information, 58% of workers said if an employer is inflexible they would look for another job and 40% would consider quitting. This survey of people who have been working remotely in the pandemic showed that 65% of them prefer to keep that work arrangement.
Is this demand for greater employer flexibility merely part of a short-term transition from pandemic lockdown to an ultimate return to the office?
“I don’t think post-pandemic we’ll go back to what it was like in late 2019 or early 2020,” said UC Berkeley business professor Homa Bahrami, explaining that she thinks the ongoing evolution of the workplace is fundamental rather than transitional.
“I think there’s a fundamental shift in society. I don’t see the workforce of the future being like it was pre-pandemic.”
As they reshuffle priorities, Bahrami, who for many years has studied future organizational trends, said many people are making career decisions according to the following mantra: “Life is too short. How do I want to spend it?”
While working remotely, many people’s lives went from being centered on work to revolving around family. At the same time, workers are thinking about future employability and seeking to expand their skills, experts say. Some feel stale and bored and so companies are increasingly looking at rotating people among different roles.