Hiring & managing in the age of COVID-19

Posted 08/21/20 Team Vaco

Whether or not your team has already returned to work or you’re still perfecting the work-from-home lifestyle, hiring and managing in the COVID-19 era is going to look very different than it did at the start of the year.

So what can you do to make sure that you’re hiring the right talent for our changing and challenging times? How can you lead effectively and compassionately during a time when our world has been profoundly altered? We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we have a few solid ideas that we hope you’ll find interesting and inspiring! 

Agility and remote-readiness are critical

Even if you’ve successfully resumed operations after following all the tips for safely reopening your business, it’s a smart move to have a contingency plan (or two) in place. If nothing else, the pandemic has taught employers the importance of agility and remote readiness at any time. Should stay-at-home orders be reissued, you’ll want to be ready to roll.

Here are some ways you can ensure that your business is remote-ready … at a moment’s notice: 

  • Review and revise your contingency plans regularly
  • Be ready to prioritize tasks at any given moment
  • Identify critical staff members who can execute high-priority tasks
  • Have a well-defined plan for allocating key resources 

If your team knows what to expect, what your key initiatives are, and who’s responsible, you’ll minimize confusion and time lost to unnecessary and unproductive scrambling.

Leverage contingent talent for increased flexibility

Resilience has been identified by many executives as one of the emerging work trends in our COVID-19 world. Several months into pandemic time, we’ve learned that the lean operations of our pre-pandemic world set the stage for limited flexibility, supply chain stress, production disruptions, and process breakdowns. Which is precisely what we don’t need right now. Hiring temporary talent is a great way to bolster your bench and achieve a high level of flexibility.

And you wouldn’t be alone: the Global Business & Spending Outlook by American Express found that 75% of companies surveyed said using contractors, freelancers, and temporary employees would be important to their employment practices two years from now. This was up from 43% in 2018!

Strategic return to work staffing can help you increase flexibility by:

  • Quickly accessing high-performing contingent workers when you need them most 
  • Finding highly specialized talent to knock one-off projects out of the park
  • Retaining reliable employees for time-limited projects or peak-demand times
  • Gaining access to specialist freelancers and contractors with niche skills
  • Improving permanent employee retention rates by easing heavy workloads
  • Covering unexpected and expected absences caused by COVID-19, illness, maternity leave, unpaid leave, sabbaticals, or FMLA

It’s okay to ask for help with hiring

Since the pandemic, the supply of available talent has shifted. Although unemployment is on the rise, we’ve found that the demand for high-performing tech, accounting, and finance roles remains high. However, we’ve also noticed that there are a lot more people applying for jobs … whether or not they’re truly the best fit for the position. 

While it’s nice to have options, too much of a good thing can make it tougher to find the right talent. It also makes the hiring process much more cumbersome. From pre-screening, initial phone interviews, skills testing, video interviews to reference checks, the sheer number of applicants can easily overwhelm in-house HR departments. And take a lot of time.

Working with a talent solutions firm is one way to ease the hiring burden and speed up the hiring process. When you partner with a recruiting expert, you’ll have access to:

  • Pre-vetted, highly-qualified candidates who have the skills to thrive in remote or in-person settings
  • A team of recruiting professionals to handle the details for you
  • Insight into fair market rates for salaries
  • The latest video interviewing and onboarding capabilities

A new era means a new approach to leadership

Hiring isn’t the only thing that’s changing as a result of COVID-19. The way we lead and manage teams is also changing. As we navigate our new normal, it seems pretty obvious that new, highly-coveted leadership characteristics are emerging. 

Ruthless efficiency is being supplanted by resilience and the caution camp is seeing some tough competition from team innovation. Here are a few qualities and skills that you’ll want to cultivate in your existing leadership team (or to look for as you bring in new talent for a new era):

  • Boldness. Look for leaders who are willing to try new, perhaps even untested, ideas.
  • Reassurance. Moving forward, successful leaders need to be able to embrace — and, if possible, neutralize — uncertainty.
  • Confidence. Confidence will never go out of style and your leaders need the courage and the confidence to make quick decisions.
  • Strong listener.  Good listeners who can find inspiration in surprising places.
  • Empathy. With so many families juggling full-time jobs and virtual learning, empathy is critical.

Manage with decency 

To meet employee demands for flexibility and work-life balance, the world of virtual work has been growing steadily over the years. However, shifting from working from home “occasionally” to a COVID-19 model — where large portions of the workforce are working from home every day — calls for a new approach to management.

Despite earlier concerns about productivity, companies — and managers — now understand that remote work can be quite effective. And even though many companies have successfully made the shift from the office to the home, managing remote teams provides a new set of challenges. 

Here are a few tips for directing your team from a virtual environment:

  • Manage with decency. This means holding yourself and others accountable; offering grace and compassion; practicing civility; managing with honesty and good intentions; and not being afraid to show your humility and humanity.
  • Find new ways to motivate. In Leadership–Pandemic Style, Steve Harrison writes “… avoid the ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ trap with employees who are working virtually. It means finding new ways to continue development activities and committing to recognizing employees who may be electronically tethered to the organization.” 
  • Acknowledge your employees’ fears and anxieties. This goes back to managing with decency, but it’s worthy of its own call-out. Recognize that we’re living in a moment in time that will live in the history books. Leaders who are understanding, appreciative, and supportive will get their team through to the other side. 
  • A little small talk is good for the shop talk. When you’re on a virtual call, it’s easy to jump right to the subject at hand. But it would be a mistake to do it all the time. Encourage folks to join the meeting a few minutes early or stay a few minutes after the business discussions have ended to have a short chat. After all, the water cooler is a thing of the past, too.
  • Pay attention to the details. Just as some employees thrive in a virtual, work-from-home world, others are going to struggle. If you notice that someone isn’t performing at their pre-pandemic levels, check-in with them. Have a conversation about how you can support them and help them feel more connected.

We’d love to hear from you! Find out what our experts are doing to bring businesses and community back stronger than ever … and then tell us what you’re doing to lead boldly during the age of COVID-19. If you need some help finding the right talent in the age of COVID-19, we’re here for you.