QA With Liz Wilke, Principal Economist at Gusto

Q&A With Liz Wilke, Principal Economist at Gusto

Summary:Liz Wilke is Principal Economist at Gusto, researching the state of work and business in the modern economy.

Q&A With Liz Wilke, Principal Economist at Gusto

Summary:Liz Wilke is Principal Economist at Gusto, researching the state of work and business in the modern economy.
QA With Liz Wilke, Principal Economist at Gusto

Table of Contents

This interview is part of a series on Workology that features an HR Technology company, its founder and its features. For this post, we’re talking to Liz Wilke, Principal Economist at Gusto.

Liz Wilke is a Principal Economist at Gusto, researching the state of work and business in the modern economy. She is a veteran of both the technology and government sectors, where she directed research programs and public spending that supports dynamic, resilient companies and workers across the globe. Liz currently lives in Washington, D.C.

5 Questions With Liz Wilke, Principal Economist at Gusto

Q: How does Gusto serve SMB employers and their HR teams?

Gusto automates and simplifies payroll, benefits, and HR for SMBs and their teams, all while providing expert support.  Our mission is to create a world where work empowers a better life. Every year we process tens of billions of dollars in payroll, while helping companies create incredible places to work.

Being an entrepreneur is tough. We see it as our job to simplify some of the complex parts of running a business, like compliance, tax filing, and people management – ultimately giving business owners and their teams the peace of mind they need to do their best work.

Q: You recently released data about what makes remote and hybrid SMBs successful. Can you share some of the results?

As the head of Gusto’s team of economists, I see it as our role to surface data and research that help business owners make smarter decisions. Part of that means decoding major shifts in the world of work that will have a huge impact on businesses for years to come – and I would argue the shift to remote and hybrid work is one of the biggest shifts we’ve seen in decades.

We did a deep dive into how SMBs are thinking about remote and hybrid work, surveying nearly 1,000 SMB owners and key decision-makers on their experiences with remote and hybrid work.

It was fascinating to see this next generation of entrepreneurs is leading the charge on remote and hybrid work. Companies that started in the last three years tended to be either completely remote (31%) or hybrid (47%) – and less than half of companies that were fully in-office before the pandemic are still completely in-office. 

These owners are also more likely to experiment with new ways of working, like a four-day work week – 10% of businesses in knowledge-based industries are already offering it, with another 14% considering it. 

What was also interesting is that flexibility had a high correlation with better performance. SMBs that gave their teams more autonomy – not just over location, but also over their working hours – reported higher performance and less employee burnout. Plus they were able to attract higher-quality talent. 

But these SMBs are also more likely to be intentional when designing the right remote or hybrid work cultures. Successful businesses tended to rely heavily on documentation for their knowledge and processes and set clear goals for their teams. They also tend to hold regular check-ins for managers and employees, ensuring everyone feels connected to the business. The takeaway here is that remote and hybrid work are here to stay – but businesses need to be really thoughtful about how they set up their teams for success. 

Q: What are things that we can do as employers to create a healthy hybrid culture?

We found several steps employers can take to create a healthy hybrid culture in our remote and hybrid report. 

First, based on our data, I recommend having employees in the office 1-2 days a week as we found that is optimal to maximize company productivity and foster a positive culture. That said – one thing came through loud and clear. Whatever the decision about the number of in-office versus remote days, employees want to be involved and listened to. They are more likely to accept a decision if they feel their inputs were seriously considered. 

Many companies we surveyed said they delegated the decisions about in-office and remote days to each team, and this behavior was correlated with owners’ saying they were satisfied with their business’ remote-work experience. 

In addition, it’s critical for businesses to get really clear about what they want their people to achieve. Our data found having clear team goals is the biggest differentiator between companies that believe remote work has been a positive development for the company and those that don’t — but, just half of SMBs said they have clear goals in place. So for all of your leaders and managers, make sure they’re communicating regularly and clearly to their teams about what they expect and what the bar is for performance. 

Q: How do we handle communication when we have a hybrid workforce? For example, when we have team members working in other countries or time zones, how can we create a truly asynchronous work environment?

SMBs can’t assume employees will simply pick up on the information they need to do their jobs.  They need to document it, particularly in hybrid work environments. 

Documentation isn’t so much about handbooks for employee expectations and behaviors – though those have their place. It’s about giving employees the information they need to complete their work at the right time – which is increasingly not the same time for everyone. 

This is especially important for project documentation. When you have teams working in different time zones and locations, you can’t always tap your coworker on the shoulder with a question, so documentation really becomes key to keep work moving on individual projects. 

Companies with ‘highly effective’ documentation are more than twice as likely to report their company has been able to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives of remote work, compared to companies with ‘somewhat effective’ documentation. 

Q: SMBs have to work harder to attract top talent, especially in tech. What advantages do SMBs have to make themselves stand out to top candidates?

If you talk to any business owner today, you’ll hear one of their biggest challenges is finding – and keeping – the right employees to support their growth. And that’s no surprise – there are currently 1.4 job openings available for every unemployed American. Because of the aging population and technological change, qualified workers are going to remain in short supply. It’s what I call the “forever talent shortage.” 

So the name of the game becomes keeping the talent you have right now, and investing in them so they stay with you and keep growing your business. SMBs typically don’t have the resources to keep offering pay increases – so they need to get creative about what else they can offer their people. 

As our remote and hybrid research shows, flexibility is definitely a big driver of employee engagement and retention. Beyond that – SMBs should also get creative with benefits. We have research showing health insurance and retirement benefits are “sleeper benefits” that a lot of SMBs overlook – but they can pack a huge punch when it comes to retaining people.

Our data shows that when offered health insurance, employees in professional services (like tech) are 30% less likely to quit in their first year. And employees with a 401k plan are 40% less likely to leave in their first year. 

So often business owners skip these because they think they’re too costly, complicated or difficult – but they don’t have to be. And they can make a huge difference to the bottom line of a business. Our calculations found offering these benefits can save businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in turnover costs. 

One thing is for sure – SMBs have evolved through all of the changes we’ve seen in the economy,  and they’ll continue to test new ideas and approaches to work in order to ensure they get the right talent at the right time for their businesses. 

Learn more about Gusto here.

Connect with Liz Wilke on LinkedIn.

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