At the recent RL100 virtual summit I presented a synopsis of an excellent briefing paper by the Entrepreneurs Network on “The Case for Remote Work” and, specifically, its impact in the world of talent management and talent acquisition.
It is well worth reading in full but there were some key takeaways which were subsequently supported in the excellent group conversations that followed:
Unstructured activity is hard
Lot’s of behaviour and activity in the “traditional” workplace is unstructured – a chance conversation, getting to know someone at the next desk, the water-cooler moments that we used to enjoy.
It is very hard to replicate this sort of activity in a virtual environment. Lot’s of the conversations touched on how, in moving virtual, organisations had surfaced parts of processes which had previously “just happened” and now needed to be formalised.
The good news is that, with this better insight into what was going on, it was felt that the innovations introduced in the move to virtual could deliver permanent improvements.
The impact on diversity and inclusion
Once again this was a double-edged sword. There was genuine concern that new ways of engaging could be exclusive – through variable access to technology (and a quiet place to work) and comfort with the tools, particularly with a neuro-diverse audience.
At the same time, virtual engagement can also increase reach and allow the inclusion of audiences that would otherwise be unavailable. People in global organisations talked about how much they enjoyed being included in activities that were previously out of reach. At a time when other changes are potentially reducing the access to talent this could be a counter-balance.
The key point is that organisations have had to move very quickly into this new world and, to a large extent, the jury is out on the impact on D&I. This needs to be watched carefully and organisations need to be flexible in their approach.
How to deal with volume
The increase in reach offered by virtual engagement brings opportunities as well as challenges. If people can work anywhere then you can offer opportunities anywhere, and the briefing paper considers this a fundamental shift that was already happening and has merely been accelerated by the pandemic.
Finding the right people then becomes an exercise in sifting ever greater volumes of candidates with a limited amount of information (and resource) available. It is clear that technology (in particular matching algorithms) will play a part but the evidence is that they are not a “one size fits all” solution. Tapping into people networks to get better insight (in both directions) is also key.
Technology also enables a more flexible approach to engagement and assessment. If physical barriers are removed there is much lower friction in engagement – which enables conversations to happen earlier, over a longer period of time and in smaller “bite-size” episodes. Rather than replicate a two-hour group interview over Zoom why not split it into several shorter calls?
Blending conversations, creating a “third space”
Which brings us to a proposed model for building and maintaining relationships with people which is flexible enough to cope with geographical separation, diverse social and communication needs, and a constantly changing working environment.
The briefing paper highlights the impact of social networks and the opportunities they offer to maintain and leverage “weak ties”. At the same time online communities, built around shared interests, show that new relationships, and friendships, can be built in purely digital spaces.
For people relationships, whether that be external talent, onboarders, employees or alumni, the model to use is a flexible approach that blends short intense interactions (either physical or via real-time communications tools) with longer-term low-intensity interactions on a social-networking platform.
The balance of needs will change over time, as relationships evolve and circumstances change, but if you offer a flexible range of ways to engage then you can offer all the benefits of the move to remote working in a supportive and inclusive environment.
What to do next
Our conclusions from the paper and the discussions had at the summit were that there are actionable steps that can take place to support remote working:
- Formalise the informal – there are a lot of opportunities to create a formal, virtual activity that was once informal; the water-cooler moments and other serendipitous moments. We have seen examples of webcams being left open with colleagues while work is being done, just to feel that somebody is there with you, or have an open Zoom session just to check in and chat
- Use technology to create a more diverse, inclusive and engaging organisation – remote work and technology allow an organisation to be borderless, to involve colleagues in activities that they might not have been able to before and to reach out to a more diverse candidate pool
- Prepare for volume – we have moved back to an environment where a higher volume of people are applying for roles. The increase in reach and the high unemployment we are seeing is creating the perfect storm. Technology enables a more flexible approach to screening and assessment
- Create a third space – build and maintain relationships with people which is flexible enough to cope with geographical separation, diverse social and communication needs, and a constantly changing working environment by implementing a social network or online community like Hollaroo