Nearly three years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new era of work is emerging. While many organisations were already operating in a remote environment before 2020, the pandemic forced scores of others to join those ranks. And today, as the Great Resignation continues to affect the business world, executives are searching for creative ways to hire and retain top talent.
Flexible work arrangements are key to successful hiring. Robert Half's 2023 Salary Guide, released at the end of September, reports that hybrid working has risen in popularity over fully remote work options. From polling executives, senior managers, and employees from organisations across the UK, the survey reported that 69% of respondents believe a hybrid workplace is a compromise that works for employers and employees. And a 2022 Gallup study found that 59% of survey respondents in the US also prefer working in a hybrid arrangement.
"We have noticed our clients are not hiring for fully remote roles as much as in past months, and hybrid work is becoming more prevalent," said Grace Matich, a UK-based Robert Half practice manager in West London. "Standard hybrid arrangements we see are favouring three days in the office and two days working at home."
For some organisations, providing flexible work arrangements tailored to individual employees' needs can lead to a successful and productive work environment, but it involves careful planning.
Whether you offer a fully remote or a hybrid work environment, the process comes with challenges and rewards, Matich said.
Matich, along with Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA, an independent recruiter in the US, outlined best practice for overcoming logistical issues and hiring the best and brightest employees.
Define expectations for hybrid and remote work
Before starting the hiring process, employers should clearly define what hybrid or remote work looks like at their organisation and be prepared to explain it to potential new hires.
Transparency is key from the outset, including a well-defined job description and a solid understanding of how employers expect people to perform their jobs, Matich said.
"Employers must also be clear on the tools, skills, and qualities job candidates need to do the job," she said.
During interviews, hiring managers should clearly outline company policies around availability in specific time zones, work hours, and requirements for attendance at meetings — both in-office and virtually. Transparency also means informing prospective employees of workplace changes that may be coming.
"The most important thing for employers to do is be upfront about their current hybrid arrangements and what the future looks like," Matich said. "I've seen a couple of instances where candidates have started in roles on the premise that it would be fully remote, [and] then after they were on board, they learned they were expected to work in the office two days a week."
Failure to paint a realistic picture of the future could lead to further employee turnover, leaving an employer back at square one, she added.
Tailor interview questions for the flexible workplace
Along with a changing work environment, the rise of the remote and hybrid workforce has inspired a new generation of interview questions.
Berk recommended starting interviews with an icebreaker question to gauge how job candidates handled their work arrangements during the pandemic.
"Then drill down to explore their workdays, if they were fully remote or hybrid, what aspects were positive, and where did things break down," she said. "This may provide valuable information about whether they may or may not be a good fit for your organisation."
This line of questioning opens the door to gain further insight into their capability of working independently in a home office, the challenges they faced, and how they overcame those challenges.
"Employers also want to know if job candidates have adequate space at home to accommodate a professional working environment and adequate systems in place, including internet and mobile phone connections powerful enough to conduct business virtually," Berk said.
A skills assessment may be useful during the interview process, to understand the complexity of their past work, the types of transactions they have completed, the kinds of software they have used, and any leadership roles they have held, she added.
Conducting interviews online will also gauge a prospective employee's screen presence and grace under pressure, as well as their level of self-motivation — all important characteristics of successful work-from-home employees.
Provide support virtually when onboarding
From settling on a work-from-home schedule, to tailored training and review of office policies and procedures, onboarding new employees into a remote or hybrid workplace can be challenging.
"Bringing new employees into a hybrid or remote work environment is quite different than in a physical office, where they can shadow a senior executive, get to know their colleagues, and take trainings with other new employees, knowing that help is right down the [corridor]," Berk said. "In a remote environment, new hires may need extra support."
That support can include ensuring your IT providers help your new hires install their equipment, technology platforms, and tools before their first day on the job.
Berk also suggested assigning someone to help new employees set up their virtual office including the telephone arrangement for voicemail and forwarded calls from an office number, their email signature, testing their software, and scheduling the training they may need to learn the systems they will be using from their home office.
"In addition, help them connect with colleagues by assigning them an office buddy or mentor, who is available to answer questions and raise their comfort level," Berk said.
Integrate new employees into the organisation's culture
Building and maintaining camaraderie in a remote workplace requires diligence and creativity.
With in-person teams, communication and bonding usually occur organically. But in a remote or hybrid work environment, natural team-building events, such as chatting over coffee in the break room, don't happen.
Workplace leaders must be intentional about creating opportunities for new employees to build rapport and find their fit within the office culture.
Virtual or hybrid gatherings around food and drink is one good way to do this.
"Encourage local employees to meet in person regularly for lunch or happy hours, and include a virtual set-up for remote colleagues," Berk suggested.
Clients of Robert Half are encouraged to begin building camaraderie during the interview process, Matich said.
"Clients that interview to fill remote or hybrid positions do express concerns that freshly hired employees don't get that interaction or opportunity to build camaraderie with their team," Matich said. "One idea is to schedule a final interview stage that includes a tea or coffee hour with organisation leaders and employees to spark interaction and give job candidates a snapshot of their future workplace culture."
Ensuring that employees are connected, regardless of location, is critical to developing a strong company culture. With extra effort, you can build a highly functioning cohesive team, even across borders.
— Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Oliver Rowe at Oliver.Rowe@aicpa-cima.com.