The hybrid workforce post-covid
Could anyone have imagined in January of 2020 that 18 months later we’d have met our colleagues’ pets and children? That those digital tools the IT folks had been pushing (that we resisted) would become second nature? Remote work, flex schedules, tech adoption and other COVID-era adaptations ensured business continuity when so many people suddenly had to work from home.
The workplace flexibility that allowed this massive shift to remote work was already gaining traction in certain environments well before COVID-19, and now it is unlikely that the world will return to pre-pandemic norms. How organizations adapt to this disruption will have significant, lasting implications for organizational success, however that success is measured.
Several critical decision points loom large as organizations imagine and ultimately construct their post-pandemic model: their version of a “hybrid office” and how they make the shift, the implications for recruiting and retention, identifying key leadership skills for a hybrid workforce and addressing hybrid’s impact on people and culture.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF A HYBRID WORKPLACE FOR RECRUITING AND RETENTION?
Organizations are struggling with the acquisition and retention of great leadership talent. The long hours, the travel, not seeing the kids grow up—executives don’t want to do it anymore. And they don’t have to.
A projected 41% of the global workforce is planning to leave their employer within the year, and 46% are planning a career transition.19 If these intentions remain unchanged, the opportunity to recruit and the challenge to retain will be reaching new highs.
ATTRACTING TALENT TO A HYBRID OFFICE ENVIRONMENT
Top talent has had a year of working remotely, being with family and in many cases enjoying the flexibility and autonomy the pandemic afforded. Now they have a lot of choices about how they want to work going forward, and candidates are asking hiring organizations for their policies on hybrid work. The answer will be important.
Multiple surveys have identified employees’ strong preference for continued flexibility:
Leadership candidates are looking for employers who will respond to their unique needs and expectations. Those expectations can be aligned values, that they can work remotely, or that they’re going to be able to add value. The talent is assessing how clients show up differently along all of those lines.
CASTING A WIDER NET FOR TALENT
Hybrid and remote workplaces are suddenly open to the wider world of talent. In a work-anywhere environment, candidates are everywhere, including those from under-represented groups or with special skills who might not have been accessible before.
- Candidates in another geography are no longer required to move, disrupt their families, or confront a higher cost of living.
- People for whom commuting or navigating a physical office environment is untenable no longer have that barrier to employment.
- People with primary family responsibilities who need flexibility can both work and provide care.
Robust inclusion for a far-reaching community of colleagues is a challenge. Organizations should consider location-agnostic perks and benefits, concerted and innovative integration efforts and culture-building designed to create belonging for all. Soliciting feedback and adapting as necessary can help ensure that remote and hybrid hires experience genuine inclusion and equity.
RETAINING TALENT IN THE HYBRID WORKFORCE
While the hybrid model opens the talent pool worldwide for a hiring organization, it also opens new opportunities to that organization’s existing talent. If anyone can work anywhere, retention strategies are ever-more important. Some key moves to retain top talent:
- Customize an individual’s hybrid experience by asking what they need in terms of their remote/on-site balance, flexibility to attend to family matters, and the boundaries they need to set.
- Understand and help talent work toward their professional goals: invest in mentoring, professional development, and building an actionable career path.
- Communicate regularly, making certain each team member understands how their work contributes to the greater mission of the organization.
A key element of talent success in the hybrid workplace is accessibility. Employers need to make sure that when they’re thinking about accessibility, they’re thinking about it in the broadest sense. That will help them to attract people, to retain people, to be innovative.
The search and retention implications of the hybrid workplace are enormous, and the organizations that get this right are going to have an advantage over their competitors to attract and retain top talent.
LEADERSHIP IN A HYBRID ENVIRONMENT
The pandemic has reshaped the modus operandi in the C-suite. Leaders are being asked to think about fulfilling their responsibilities not only in a vertical way, but horizontally, as well. Leaders are working together more closely and looking at their roles during the pandemic more broadly, as opposed to thinking like a technical expert with a ‘this is all I do’ mindset.
IN IT TOGETHER
First, working in the virtual space to solve broad organizational challenges has put the C-suite into each other’s company much more. As a result, individual leaders may be absorbing what their fellow leaders are thinking and doing. Exposure to each other’s roles and sharing the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis has created more rounded leaders and better teams.
ESSENTIAL (SOFT) SKILLS
That soft skills are important for leaders is hardly news, but COVID-19 tested the theory. Through digital transformation and the ever-accelerating pace of change, the ability to adapt, communicate, and empathize has risen in importance and impact. These skills will be crucial for organizations and leadership teams in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.
According to renowned future-of-work strategist Heather McGowan, adaptability is the most significant determinant of success for individuals and organizations, now and in the future. “In work as in life, evolutionary success belongs to those who can most readily adapt.”23 With new work models, reconfigured supply chains, and myriad other changes bearing down, decision-makers need to be ready and able to adapt.
The ability to communicate effectively may be the most important leadership skill coming out of the pandemic. In the context of ongoing uncertainty, continued change and evolving global health threats, trusted and authentic communication is going to hold teams together, keep employees engaged, and secure the trust of all stakeholders, even in times of upheaval.
COVID-19 provided several examples of empathic leadership. The ability to listen, understand and be vulnerable fosters connection and trust. Empathy is impactful both in personal interactions and in policy decisions, for example family leave, flexible work, and health support.
ASSESSMENTS FOR THE FUTURE
The world is changing, and leaders must adapt accordingly. How can hiring organizations assess for softer skills like adaptability, communication and empathy? Which candidates are leaders who can show employees they are human, drive change, lead inclusively or connect authentically?
- Skilled interviewers can get at some of these in-demand qualities. Sophisticated psychometric testing, scenarios and role play are illuminating, as well.
- Assess for vulnerability? People talking about their values often can be a signal that they may also be comfortable sharing themselves in a vulnerable way when the time calls for it.
- Leadership consultants understand it can take 12-18 months to change a behavior. Changing multiple behaviors in an entire organization is going to be a Herculean task, and leaders who can drive change will be in very high demand.
Leadership itself has completely changed. It requires adapting to the way that the world is changing, not only to improve productivity in a shifting environment, but also to earn the trust and confidence of employees as organizations continue to adapt.