Many businesses, particularly in certain sectors, are growing through the pandemic period. Digital and online businesses anyway already had the infrastructure to quickly shift to the ‘work from home’ mode.
Growth means better productivity and efficiency. During the initial lockdown periods, there was enthusiasm at all levels in a business to make it work, and achieve higher productivity levels. Technology tools and the internet made it a viable proposition. Many businesses decided to extend the duration of ‘work from home’, keeping in view the safety of all individuals and their families, even after unlocking began to unfold. I too am a CEO of a company and carry the responsibilities of making the online model work, including in the educational setups of schools and higher education.
That’s all fine. Prolonged, of course, the voluntary decision of our group of companies to switch to ‘work from home’ has helped keep our colleagues safe, and yet meet most milestones and follow timelines. After the first few months of the excitement of working from home, not having to commute, being with family, etc., I can sense a fatigue factor creeping in. We have to fight that off, and design our days to learn new stuff, develop new hobbies, write our memoirs, and rejuvenate friendships.
While we can improve efficiencies and automate certain functions, explore and adopt new tools, there comes a time when we just need to support growth by hiring, and hiring aggressively. The good thing is, we have learned to accept that the location of work does not matter, as one doesn’t have to go to the office or campus. While this sounds good, we have had some senior individuals agree, and who later do not turn up. Some of them do turn up, get through the onboarding process, and are assigned to teams and tasks. And after a week, some of them log off from everything and go absconding. If we had met such candidates, in person, we could have assessed better and would get to know the softer aspects of their personality. To a reasonable extent, you can also validate their seriousness to work with a company.
While virtual induction and onboarding has its challenges, it’s really about the company, its history, culture, values, domain specialization, and skills, which is not easy to pass on and expect them to ‘get it’. So, if you are lucky, you may have a few virtual hires that really ‘fit in’.
Pure virtual hirings, if they work out, leave us lucky; individuals who accept and don’t show up have only reduced the confidence level of the job providers. Ethical standards in this Industry are being compromised. Large technology companies, who anyhow have a presence in all key locations in the country, can continue to hold in-person ‘interviews’ and onboarding, after which the workers can be assigned to teams; for them, the ‘work from home’ mode is okay. But for the smaller and medium-sized companies that aspire fast growth and want to play it absolutely safe, the situation is skewed.
A return to the ‘hybrid model’ is a perfect balance. ‘full-time at office’ model also has its inherent problems of too many breaks and rumor-mongering that result in lower efficiencies and productivity levels. Moreover, I am sure that all of us do want to meet our colleagues and friends face-to-face. We cannot live and work in social isolation. We cannot create hermetically sealed environments.
Well, the problem continues and makes it harder and challenging for the HR team to find the right person. Training needs analysis, planning, and delivering training to the virtual hires, are also difficult. There is an element of risk, but one of the two things should happen.
Having learned hard lessons during the pandemic, the attitude of the job seekers towards their careers and employers should change for the positive. The use of technology and automation in assessing the attitudinal, sentimental, and emotional predispositions of the candidates should be automated.
Given such challenges, my personal thoughts are that we keep our offices going through the pandemic period as long as it lasts, and when it is time to return to the office, we implement a blended model of working: “Work from home by default, but come to the office for important sessions involving team meetings, issue and conflict resolutions, escalation handling, etc.”. However, once travel frees up, insist on a face-to-face meeting with new hires, but still, be okay for them to ‘work from anywhere’.