COVID-19 Changed the Workforce Forever. Is Your Business Ready?

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The COVID-19 pandemic created a workforce crisis on the same scale as the Great Depression. Within a matter of months, 17.75 million Americans were out of work, and businesses were scrambling to cope with financial and productivity losses.

Recent months have seen a decline in unemployment numbers, but business leaders still have their work cut out for them as they navigate an uncertain economic recovery. Optimistic experts expect growth to pick up later this year, but the economy is still struggling amid further outbreaks.

There is one silver lining, though. In the face of this ongoing crisis, business leaders have the opportunity to create a more resilient and future-focused workforce.

An Eye to the Future

One of the biggest disruptions to business has been the sudden need to transition to remote work arrangements to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus. Rather than anxiously awaiting a return to the office (and the status quo), businesses should develop more dynamic work-from-home infrastructures.

Those infrastructures must include day-to-day communications and deliverables, as well as systems for everything from management to hiring. Before COVID-19, hiring managers and preceptors could work side by side with new recruits to observe their performances and help them through difficult adjustments. That isn’t possible right now.

In the current environment, much of that process has to happen online. As a result, businesses must leverage digital employee screening tools and software platforms that support effective remote work policies. It will be vital for companies to recruit skilled and adaptable people who can maintain excellent performance and productivity in a remote environment.

What Makes This Moment Different

From the recession in the 1980s to the dot-com collapse to the Great Recession, the US economy has ultimately rebounded from every downturn to date. However, the opportunity at this moment is even bigger. We now have the capacity for people to work from home en masse. This is an exceptionally fertile ground on which to rebuild the workforce, and harnessing the broadened scope of remote work will be critical to our economic recovery.

The companies that survive this moment will be the ones that recognize  it calls for agility, innovation, and flexibility. To survive the COVID-19 recession and come out stronger, leaders must use the tools at their disposal to develop strong, dynamic teams that are prepared to grow and adapt.

How to Build the New Workforce

To thrive after the economic recovery, companies must be forward-thinking. They must invest in systems that will serve them in the immediate and long term. Indeed, the companies that do so will be the ones that make economic recovery possible. They will be the ones creating the jobs and driving the growth in their industries.

Here’s how your company can be among their ranks:

1. Hire for Hybrid Work Environments

With new outbreaks continuing to crop up across the country, the future remains unclear. Assume that hybrid work environments will be the norm for some time. That means you need to hire people who can thrive whether they are in the office or working from home.

Your hiring managers must learn to identify the skills and abilities associated with successful remote workers. These attributes include resourcefulness, self-motivation, discipline, strong communication skills, and a proactive mentality. Ultimately, you’re looking to recruit people who perform well even when their manager isn’t down the hall.

2. Invest in Smart Employee Screening Tools

Personality testing has become highly popular,  and for good reason. These tests allow you to assess a candidate’s conscientiousness and independence, both of which are essential for successful remote work.

Generation Z workers are particularly keen on personality tests, but the benefits extend to workers in all age groups. That’s especially true now that so much (if not all) of the hiring process must be done remotely. Personality tests and skills-based assessments are powerful resources when evaluating employee skills at a distance.

3. Rethink Your Training Processes

We’re used to pulling up a chair beside a trainee to help and encourage them in their work, but that’s no longer an option. How do you recreate that experience in a virtual space?

A skills test that mimics job duties can help determine whether someone has the wherewithal to be trained. Use a combination of different technologies to provide interactive training, video feedback sessions, and even casual social opportunities so new employees can get to know their colleagues. Think through each element of the typical onboarding experience, matching different virtual tools to those touchpoints to give new hires a thorough orientation to the company.

Making sure new hires are technically proficient is important, but making them feel like part of the team is even more crucial. The pandemic has created plenty of challenges in this area, but good leaders must find ways to rise to the occasion. Those same leaders will be the architects of both the new workforce and the economic upturn that will eventually come.

Patrick Nooren, PhD, is the president of Biddle Consulting Group, Inc., which develops online pre-employment testing platform TestGenius.

By Patrick Nooren