Our world has turned upside down in the space of a few short months with many companies closed for business, some temporarily and others permanently. Despite the despair and uncertainty in the air, some industries and companies are experiencing highest-ever demand that requires that they adapt to - and continue to work - while we figure out how the world will work. I’m confident that eventually, with some marked changes, we’ll be able to return to a new normal - so we need to prepare to accommodate the new hiring landscape we’ll face once that happens.
According to research by OWL Labs, a little more than half of workers in the US worked remotely at least once a month in 2019. Following this crisis, more businesses than ever will likely offer more comprehensive telecommuting options for all their workers. Adzuna, a platform that tracks jobseeker search and recruitment trends globally, found that remote working jobs postings have increased by about 270% since 2017.
“Employers are recognizing that flexible work practices can improve employee productivity, aid talent attraction and retention, and support diversity and inclusion initiatives through more inclusive recruitment practices,” says Andrew Hunter, co-founder of Adzuna. “While it’s still too early to know the full effects of COVID-19 on working practices, our data so far this year shows a continued increase in remote working vacancies. Companies are heeding public health recommendations to encourage home working where possible and are now effectively embarking on a giant work from home experiment.”
Clearly, the results of this experiment remain to be seen but the evidence we have so far points to the need - and desire - for a radical change to recruitment and onboarding in the future. So let’s go over some key strategies to consider when hiring now - and to prepare for the future - to see success with remote employees.
The Job Specification
With the possibility of periodic lockdowns and reduced capacity in public spaces extending through the end of the year, jobseekers are looking for security and safety for themselves and their income. Adzuna notes a 600% increase in jobseeker queries that includes the words “remote”, “telecommute” or “work from home”. When writing a jobs spec now, the scope of telecommuting should be elucidated clearly in the description. Inform candidates if there will be instances of work travel throughout their tenure (i.e needing to go to HQ for evaluations or meetings, travel to meet clients) as some may not be able to do so for a number of reasons (i.e inadequate childcare, being immunocompromised).
When hiring for an in-office role with some remote capabilities, the job description should state that the company follows all cleaning and social distancing protocols instituted by public health authorities. Communicate what the business does to protect employees and minimize the risk to them. These assurances build trust in the company from potential employees, aiding talent attraction and retention and making it more likely for strong candidates to follow through the entire recruitment process. These differentiating practices will make the posting and company unique and shows that you’re willing to reward the risk they take by being customer/office facing.
Remote working is not for the faint hearted; it requires discipline and a proactive and self-motivated attitude which isn’t common among all workers. When reviewing applicant resumes, try to glean where they may have worked remotely in the past (if not explicitly stated) and how successful they were in that position. Indicators of success here include the length of the position (or if they contract/freelance, how many remote projects they’ve completed), whether they had multiple remote jobs or any accolades and successes they achieved while in these positions. Ideally, hiring people with a great level of experience working remotely will be advantageous as they’ll hit the ground running since they already have familiarity with productive telecommuting.
With unemployment drastically high, try where to find talent where you normally wouldn’t. There is a vast amount of talent on the market with the transferable skills, personality and culture to be successful in your business. It’s possible to even secure these employees at a slightly lower market rate due to their lack of experience in the field but their strong background and desire to work. They deserve to be compensated fairly of course, but if you have to tighten your purse strings as a business owner, concessions need to be made to find talent that resides within your budget. (Plus they can always get a raise once times are better!).
If the resume looks good (and passed the “6 second” recruiter test), it’s time to move on to the interview. Now, I’m stating the obvious here when saying the interview will be conducted via video conference. Video interviewing may be new to some employers, but there’s already a treasure trove of resources that make it easier and articles with common sense advice about how to evaluate during an interview. Here are strategies I’ve found work best for me.
The first thing will be to arrange the interview as early as you can in the day. This is the first test and just like an in-person interview you’re evaluating the candidate’s first impression. Pay close attention to their appearance. Do they look fresh, prepared and full of motivation or do they look like they’ve just fallen out of bed? Is the location they’ve chosen relatively quiet and free from background distractions? These factors are important to consider as they’ll show how seriously candidates can take working from home, as well as how well they’ve prepared and the ability to present their best selves. This is a good indicator of their work philosophy and future output.
Do your best to make the candidate comfortable by encouraging them to talk about themselves and lead the interview with descriptions of their career path and accomplishments. Encouraging candidates to talk about themselves, as you would in an in-person interview, helps them to loosen up and get more comfortable with the format. Occasionally, candidates may deflect and try to complete phone interviews in lieu of video interviews citing discomfort with video calls. However, with the increased necessity of remote working, I would personally advise against this. You need to know that your employee is willing to set aside the time to commit to work and due to our current reality, you need a candidate who can at least complete a video conference to get the job.
During the interview, be sure to ask about their previous experience working remotely. Investigate how they adapted to the workstyle and the different habits and tactics they used to be as productive as possible. Specific examples are essential here and help you to evaluate the fitness of a candidate to manage themselves without the physical space and structure of an office.
So they aced the video interview and seem to be a good fit with all the skills you need (including being suitable for remote work): congratulations! You’re ready to make an offer. As much as our work habits have changed, you must also adapt the terms of employment offered to new employees. In addition to standard salary and benefits, consider adding additional provisions relevant to our current situation.
Offer a paid subscription to a new wellness app, or complimentary meal/grocery delivery services; these offerings not only make a person feel valued; they are a constant reminder that they are part of a team and a company that cares for them. This is critical at this time as you don’t have the luxury of natural team-building that comes when people come into the office daily. These little gems when they first join the team, let new employees know they are valued and appreciated and improve employee attraction and retention metrics.
Managing a remote workforce is different to a traditional one and requires an increased effort from you to keep productivity and spirit is high. As the leader, you need to install a routine in your workforce. Start the day with a message to your team at the beginning of their shift. A group message on Slack or Teams that’s casual and tries to engage everyone in the conversation breaks the ice and brings the team together (so they know we’re all on the same page).
In this same vein, set very clear tasks and deliverables to guide workflow throughout the week. Create a check-in schedule that allows you to monitor progress, address issues, concerns or roadblocks and make any needed changes before a deadline. Provide your staff with plenty of resources to help them complete their work and don’t be shy to drop in the odd call once a week to just check-in with how they are coping and if they have any concerns that might affect their ability to work.
Keep the social aspect of work alive by arranging things like virtual lunches or happy hour, where food is on the company (it’s difficult to coordinate timely delivery so allow employees to claim back on expenses). This builds a break into the workday and gives people a chance to decompress, socialize and break the monotony and isolation inherent to working at home. You should insist that your workers take part in this to make sure they feel included and most of all, keep a routine.
Being adaptable and teachable are traits that everyone, be it business owner, manager or employee should cultivate - especially for times like these. Your ability to rise up to this challenge will make or break your organization. Having the tools to best tackle the challenge head-on helps mitigate the negative effects of change and crisis and keep you and your employees safe, productive and healthy.
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