At the intersection of the country’s labor shortage and move to get workers back to the office, Deloitte has released new data, titled Return to Work in the Food Industry, which finds the majority of executives currently seek to offer employees choice when it comes to where they work.
Based on a survey conducted by Deloitte in partnership with FMI—The Food Industry Association, more than 150 U.S.-based food industry executives were polled on their top goals for returning to work. The analysis revealed that the top return-to-work goal for 60% of executives is to provide maximum options/choice to employees on working from home or in office.
A smaller number of executives, roughly 1 in 4, want everyone back into physical locations, according to the survey. Regardless of the goal, the industry is expecting about double the level of remote work after the pandemic relative to 2019, finds the survey.
What’s driving this flexibility? “It all boils down to the war for talent,” said one survey respondent. “As much as some may want to get back to where we were before, it’s going to be something in the middle.”
Throughout the pandemic, grocery executives have repeatedly shared with WGB that a critical component of their role is to visit stores, talk with customers and gain first-hand knowledge of what’s happening in-store. Many of these executives have been eager to get back to doing just that with their teams. Add to this, the survey’s findings that some executives feel it’s unfair to allow office workers to continue to work from home, when their colleagues working in-store never had the option to work from home. As such, many executives find themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place.
“Grocery executives are in a bit of a conundrum. And it is not just about fairness and comradery with front-line workers,” Barb Renner, vice chairman and U.S. consumer products leader for Deloitte, told WGB. “They naturally want their people on-site doing visits and connecting with customers. And no matter what, they will find ways to keep doing that. But the executives we interviewed also realize that they are in a war for talent. People are looking for the flexibility to work remotely when they can and will seek employers that allow it.
“By the way, remote hasn’t only affected workers,” she continued. “In fact, our survey results said that 7 out of 10 retailers and 8 out of 10 suppliers currently have in-store restrictions for third parties. That’s been a new obstacle to doing business. However, only 2 out of 10 expect these restrictions will stick post-pandemic.”
Renner further notes that while digital technology deployments such as virtual store visits and leveraging business intelligence to get information on what is selling and what isn’t in retail locations have alleviated some of the need to meet in person in the last 16 months, fewer food industry leaders are committed to a future of remote work than executives in other industries.
The survey’s most surprising revelation for Renner was that only 10% of food industry executives want to keep their people working remotely as much as possible—far less than in other industries.
“However, this could be a function of where they are located,” Renner said. “CPG and retail tend to be much more dispersed both geographically as well as urban [vs.] rural.”
Vaccinations may also be a decisive factor, as the report finds that 18% of both food manufacturers and retailers will require vaccination for workers—perhaps presenting a potential limitation to their talent pool, added Renner.
Deloitte notes that the 18% who require vaccination may shift “based on early experiences and further clarity on legal and contractual grounds, [but] for now, many are taking the carrot approach instead of the stick.”
Like one executive surveyed said, “We’re not demanding, but we encourage. And the way we encourage every employee that gets the vaccine is we give them a hundred dollars.”
Ultimately, said Renner, a hybrid model of work from home and in office will go a long way in broadening the talent pool especially in office workers. She foresees companies applying different hybrid scenarios with varying degrees of flexibility in terms of the number of in-office days required, management style and workplace efficiencies.
“The primary goal of companies on getting back together in the office is culture and innovation, so there will have to be some compromises.
“We have seen this shift in the future of work, including related cultural changes, coming for several years,” continued Renner. “The fact that so many were successful in going remote and changing practices and norms in such a short period of time, I do think that some of the shift will stick. The change needs to stick to remain competitive to meet the needs of talent. Digital and other technology investments were accelerated during COVID 19 and continue and has changed what work is done and by whom.”