Are hybrid work schedules, which call for a combination of at-home and in-office workdays, the new norm? It looks that way. About 90% of employers have adopted some sort of hybrid work model, according to a survey by consultancy McKinsey & Company. And recruiters say that a growing number of job candidates aspire to jobs that can be done remotely.

It’s a hot-button topic. When online employment platform Glassdoor analyzed conversations on its site late last year, it found that mentions of “return to office” had shot up by 476% over the prior year.

“Almost every company I talk to or have been working with in the last year has some sort of hybrid work week policy,” says executive recruiter Sheri Baker, president and CEO of HHI Search. “A company almost has to offer that now.”

“We’ve had clients that traditionally were, ‘absolutely not, no remote work,’” says Laurie Hyllberg, vice president, Kinsa Group. “And we say, ‘if you could offer some remote work options, it would open up your talent pool,’” she continues. “And it has. It’s either that or you have to pay someone an awful lot more for the extra hours for commuting or to make it worth their while to make a job change.”

Actalent account manager Isabel Michniak, who recruits for roles in the sciences at the staffing services company, says she’s seeing more food science professionals making career path choices driven by their desire for hybrid schedules. Specifically, some food scientists who work in a lab or R&D department are looking to transition to a role in an area like regulatory or quality assurance documentation that allows for more work-from-home time.

“Even two years ago, when we were recruiting for regulatory individuals, a lot of people didn’t want to move into regulatory if they loved working on the bench,” Michniak says. “Now it’s kind of the opposite, where a lot are looking for more of that remote option, that flexibility.”

“It's not an ideal option for an R&D person to have to work remotely because they just don't have all the tools that they probably need to do their day-to-day work,” says Hyllberg, “but they still want a piece of it because they see other people are doing it. So, companies work with them to try to make that work and balance [the] project load.”

Science of food professionals surveyed for the 2024 IFT Compensation and Career Path Report averaged 2.1 work-at-home days per week, but more than one-third (36%) of those surveyed said they have no work-at-home days. At the other end of the continuum, 14% have fully remote schedules.

Executive recruiter Moira McGrath, president and CEO of OPUS International, says candidates’ expectations about working remotely or locally with a hybrid schedule can be unrealistic and have made filling positions more challenging.

“A lot of people still think they can work from home, but food science is not an in-home [job],” McGrath says. “We're in a lab, we're in a plant, we're in a corporate headquarters. We're working with cross-functional teams.

“Senior-level scientists, directors, vice presidents—they want them in the corporate headquarters because again, communication, cross-functional teams, you’ve got to be there,” she continues.

What’s more, she adds, the lower profile that often accompanies remote work can slow career progression. The person who works primarily or exclusively from home “is not the person who’s going to get promoted,” she maintains. “That’s one of the issues of working from home. Nobody knows who you are. Don’t expect to be promoted when they don’t know who you are.”ft

About the Author

Mary Ellen Kuhn
Mary Ellen Kuhn is executive editor of Food Technology magazine ([email protected]).

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