Scott Hirsch on How COVID-19 Changed the Way Small Businesses Hire

Jul 20, 2020 9:00 PM ET

Despite the toll that COVID-19 has had on employment in the U.S., many businesses are still hiring. However, as each state takes its own approach to prevent the spread of the pandemic in the workplace, employers are finding it necessary to address a whole new variety of employee needs and concerns.

“The pandemic has fostered an environment of mixed messages, confusion, and fear for job seekers,” says Scott Hirsch, founder and CEO of Media Direct. “As a leader, it’s your job to adjust the recruitment, hiring, onboarding, and training processes to ensure that your prospective and new employees feel safe, confident, and comfortable.”

Consider Virtual Skills During the Hiring Process

As parents struggle to navigate the world of distance learning for the first time, prospective employees will face similar learning curves in the emerging workforce. “Many employees are going to be working remotely or in modified and different ways to make accommodations for health and safety,” Hirsch affirms. “That’s why it’s important for CEOs, HR leaders, and hiring managers to consider what additional skills may be needed now. Even if they’re working remotely temporarily, you need to screen potential talent for the skill sets that can make them successful in that environment.”

This may feel a little obvious, but Scott O Hirsch warns that you can’t leave anything in the hiring and vetting process to chance right now. “Companies are already taking big hits. The potential losses associated with hiring and training the wrong person are even more impactful than they have been in the past. You don’t have the time or the money to waste re-recruiting, so be open and frank with your hiring team about what you’re looking for.”

And what should you be looking for in a remote worker? Scott O Hirsch suggests finding an employee who possesses strong written and verbal communication skills, is resourceful and a self-starter, keeps deadlines, and shows interest in collaborating with your team during the interview process.

Accommodate Concerns Over Physical Contact 

While states like Florida are continuing to ease restrictions as coronavirus cases surge, other states such as Texas and California are combating the virus with different tactics such as reversing their re-opening policies. “No matter where you live, you need to make new policies and accommodations for people who are concerned about physical proximity during the interview and onboarding process,” advises Scott Hirsch. “They may have a medical condition, care for a child or elderly relative who is more susceptible to the virus, or just be particularly cautious. No matter the reasons, it is your job as an employer to create a safe environment for your employees. You could lose top talent faster than it takes you to say ‘in-person interview’ if you’re not careful.”

Once your employees have been onboarded, Scott Hirsch recommends finding company collaboration apps that suit everyone’s work needs, while also encouraging employees to find their own team preferences outside of corporate channels. “Let people make their own decisions about what they’re comfortable with. If you don’t make unreasonable demands and you were careful to hire the right people, remote work can be just as productive – if not more so – as in-office work,” he advises.

Manage the Pace of Your Onboarding Process 

“Remote onboarding sounds easy at first,” says Scott Hirsch. “But doing it right takes a lot more than emailing your new employee a digital copy of the handbook and attending a few virtual training sessions.” Onboarding should be paced, and when employees are working remotely, you have to be even more careful not to overwhelm them with information.

“We’re so used to being in an in-person environment that allows people to ask their questions, take bathroom breaks, interact with the other employees, and generally get a feel for our company culture,” says Scott O Hirsch. “It’s easy to forget that virtual encounters take away a lot of that experience. New employees don’t have peers sitting next to them whom they can ask their everyday questions – like how to log in or which file they’re supposed to get their information from. Now they have to ask their direct supervisor for every small thing and it can be intimidating. You risk making them feel stranded and overwhelmed because they’re afraid to ask the questions you have to ask as a new employee.”

There are a few different ways to alleviate this pressure. First, Hirsch recommends spacing out onboarding sessions to give new hires a chance to ask questions and interact with others in the office. Giving new hires several scheduled breaks throughout the day gives them the opportunity to absorb all of the new information and observe the company culture. Another suggestion is to assign each new hire an “onboarding ambassador”. This individual should be an employee who has a similar role within the company, but is not someone in management so they can act as a pressure-free mentor. “It’s a little like a buddy system,” laughs Scott Hirsch. “When you’re working remotely, one of the things that’s the hardest to transfer over is a sense of community – of company culture. You want your new employees to feel like they have friends at work – like they fit in and have people to talk to. Otherwise, it can be a very isolating and uncomfortable experience.”

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